By Emme Townsend
By junior year, high school students should be looking at colleges. They have to consider where they want to go, and if the school will accept them. Her situation is a little different. Instead of her looking at colleges, colleges are looking at her.
Junior cross country and track star Nicki Southerland is being recruited by many universities, including the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. For now, she is only talking to schools about cross country, but after the upcoming track and field season, she will be recruited for both.
The junior finished runner-up in the 2022 IHSAA state cross country meet. Her time was fourth-fastest in state finals history. Nicki won the Indiana state title for track and field as a sophomore in the 3200-meter run. She also placed second in the 1600-meter run.
Nicki first started communicating with colleges in the summer before her junior year. She reached out to some, and others came to her after seeing her times improve. The first conversation was with the coach at the University of Tampa, a private university in Florida. Nicki was nothing short of thrilled.
“I was excited. I thought it was a good opportunity for me. I was nervous to actually talk to a college,” Nicki said.
From there many more colleges have reached out to Nicki via mail, meets, and social media. She has talked to the University of Colorado, Michigan State University, Purdue University and Butler University among others.
Nicki has visited Notre Dame and Michigan. On her tour, she was guided by the cross country coach at each university. She saw both campuses, met the athletes on each of the university’s cross country teams, and saw their locker rooms. She also learned about academics and buildings on both campuses.
On Nov. 12, Michigan sent Nicki to their football game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Michigan Stadium, which has a seating capacity of more than 107,000. She was able to go out onto the Big House’s field before the game. Other opportunities like this are coming up in the near future. Purdue’s cross country coach has been in contact with Nicki about future Boilermaker basketball tickets.
These experiences have been exciting, but Nicki has not made a decision on where she would like to attend college and continue her running career.
She said she is looking for the right coaching philosophy, success of the program’s team, academic programs, and the training facilities. She is also influenced by distance from the college to home, as she doesn’t want to be too far from home.
As for scholarships, Nicki is hoping for a full-ride. She is counting on her success at Nationals to earn her scholarships with bigger schools.
Nicki qualified for Champs Sports Nationals after placing sixth in regionals in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Nationals took place in San Diego, California on Dec. 10, 2022, but Nicki was not able to compete due after becoming ill on her way to the meet.
With only having completed her junior season of cross country, Nicki is not in a rush to commit to a college and wants to explore her options.
“I could very well change my mind once I see more colleges and talk to more coaches,” Nicki said.
She plans to make her commitment early in her senior year, potentially during her cross country season.
Instead of cracking under the pressure of the choice she has to make, Nicki remembers the wise words her mom shared with her.
“My mom told me that there’s more than one perfect college out there, so I try not to stress too much about finding the perfect one,” she said.
Nicki’s mom, Jen Southerland, is her biggest supporter. Jen believes that what is important will be what Nicki makes out of the place where she lands. Both of Nicki’s parents trust that she will make the right decision for herself.
“(Nicki) will choose herself because I wouldn’t want her to have regrets that it was not her decision ultimately,” Jen said. “We trust her ability to make the decisions because only she knows exactly what she is seeking, and she has made great choices in the past.”