Fifth-year graduate student runner Michelle Joyce set one goal at the start of the 2021 season: qualify for the NCAA championship race.
“Qualifying for nationals was like that top goal that was pretty lofty and that I was gonna try and get,” Joyce said. “But, I wasn’t sure if it would happen or not.”
As her collegiate cross country career came to a close, Joyce became only the second runner in cross country program history to represent Temple University at the national level, six years after former runner Blanca Fernandez.
Joyce was the program’s top runner for much of the year, achieving accolades like the only All-Conference finisher and All-Region runner on the team, assistant coach James Snyder said.
“Becoming the second athlete in the history of our women’s program to ever make the national championship is a huge, huge, huge special accomplishment,” Snyder said.
Athletes across the country had their respective seasons come to a halt due to the spread of COVID-19 in 2020, but the NCAA granted student-athletes an extra year of eligibility to make up for athlete’s lost seasons.
Joyce took advantage of that, opening the door for her to compete this season and qualify for the NCAA championship race.
“[Joyce] cemented her place in our record book,” Snyder said. “As I would believe, as the most accomplished cross country runner we’ve ever had,”
Snyder was confident Joyce would qualify for the championship race because he had been following other opponents’ performances all season. But when Snyder finally delivered the news to Joyce, it was a moment of elation, he said.
“Once we finally got it, to give her that phone call and hear the excitement in her voice are the moments as coaches that we cherish,” Snyder said. “I hope she looks back on it for the rest of her life.”
It took time for the news to sink in, but Joyce wouldn’t take a single moment for granted because this was an achievement she’s been working towards since coming to Temple, Joyce said.
Joyce went on to finish in 141st place out of 250 of the best collegiate runners in the country, with a time of 20:44.9, her third-best 6k performance of the season.
After starting cross country in the seventh grade and falling in love with the sport, Joyce knew running was something she wanted to continue in college. After visiting Temple, Joyce decided it was where she wanted to be, she said.
“I just found that there was a nice balance,” Joyce said. “Between the academics and the athletics here, that kind of got me interested in Temple and wanting to reach out and learn more about the program.”
During her first four years as an Owl, Joyce balanced being a full-time student-athlete and studying biomedical engineering, and she excelled at both, Snyder said.
Her parents encouraged her to focus on school because that was most important, said Chris Joyce, Michelle Joyce’s dad.
As an undergraduate runner, Michelle Joyce helped Temple win team titles at the Temple Invitational and the Rider Invitational as a freshman in 2017, running in the American Athletic Conference and Outdoor championships in 2018 and contributing to the Owls first ever Eastern College Athletic Conference championship title in 2018.
Michelle Joyce’s season was delayed last year because she used the offseason to recover from a knee injury. Though she could not compete in meets or practices, Joyce continued training on her own by going out for runs, she said.
As she trained, her parents supported her as much as possible and even accompanied her to the trails, Chris Joyce said.
“Running was actually something that I could still do,” Michelle Joyce added. “I could still go out for a run and keep a routine with that so it actually brought a decent amount of normalcy into my life.”
After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in Spring 2021, Michelle Joyce is now using her extra year of eligibility to obtain a graduate certificate in bioinformatics.
With the season finished, Michelle Joyce is taking some time off and is slowly returning to training for the upcoming indoor track season, she said.
Michelle Joyce is also applying for several Ph.D. programs to further her education after Temple but plans to continue running in some capacity, she said.
“I just hope whatever she decides to do, it all works out for her,” Jennifer Joyce said. “Hopefully the next school she gets into will have as great an atmosphere as Temple has been for her.”