June 13, 2014
Generally speaking, Simone Charley doesn't like being the center of attention. But her immense athletic skills just keep landing her in the spotlight.
The versatile freshman capped her remarkable year on Friday by advancing to the finals and earning a ninth-place overall finish in the triple jump at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Charley posted a mark of 42-7, which was the third-best distance of her career and was easily the best among all freshmen in the event.
"We are super proud of her," said Vanderbilt assistant coach Clark Humphreys. "She competed like a champion."
Charley -- who broke the school record in the triple jump four times this season -- earned All-American Second Team honors with Friday's performance.
She said the environment in Eugene was somewhat overwhelming, but said she was able to block out the distractions and focus on her jump.
"I think I handled it pretty well," said the soft-spoken Charley. "I definitely got nervous. With it being a Championship event, the crowd was very involved, and it was the biggest crowd that I've ever competed in front of. But I think I did a pretty good job of keeping a level head."
Charley was one of nine athletes to qualify for the finals, and earned fourth place in her flight.
"(I am) very proud of Simone and how she stepped up today," said Vanderbilt head coach Steve Keith. "It was a fantastic effort. ... She thrives in this pressure-filled championship environment and she has a great future."
Charley, who was the first Vanderbilt athlete to qualify for the NCAA Championships since Buky Bamigboye in 2010, earned her spot in Eugene with a school-record jump of 43-1 at last month's NCAA East Preliminary. Charley will return to Eugene next month to compete in the USATF Junior Outdoor Championships.
"It was a humbling experience to be there and to look around the stadium and realize you are there with all the top athletes in the nation," she said. "It makes you think differently."
Charley narrowly missed out on a top-8 finish that would have enabled her to score points for the Commodores and earn All-American First Team honors. (West Virginia's Stormy Nesbit edged out Charley for eighth place with a jump of 42-9).
"Knowing that I was just two inches short was a little disappointing," she said, "but it will be a big motivating factor for me."
Humprheys said Charley's near-miss of a top-8 finish does not take away from her performance at the meet -- or her season as a whole.
"What she did today was a huge accomplishment," he said. "And it's just been an unbelievable collegiate freshman season for her."
Keith echoed that statement, saying: "While I know she wanted to score, making the finals as a freshman -- the only freshman -- is a super result."
Charley's effort on Friday was a microcosm of her entire year, as the versatile freshman has produced one attention-grabbing accomplishment after the next.
Playing for the Vanderbilt soccer team in the fall, she earned All-SEC Freshman honors. She then transitioned to the track team and continued to make a huge impact for the Commodores.
Humphreys said he is amazed that Charley has been able to "juggle her (two sports) and maintain the competitive academic level that is required at Vanderbilt."
"For her to be a All-SEC Freshman in soccer and an All-American in outdoor Track and Field -- that's pretty incredible," said Humphreys.
And she has done it all with a smile on her face while maintaining her easy-going personality.
"By doing what she has done, she has put herself in an elite class -- and the thing is, I am not sure she is even aware of it," he said. "She's very humble."