Kayley Key signing

Andy Anders / The Herald Kayley Key signed her letter of intent to West Alabama Wednesday.

In the six years since she started running cross country, Wetumpka runner Kayley Key has officially transformed into a college-caliber athlete.

Wednesday Key signed her letter of intent to the University of West Alabama, where she’ll run for the Tigers.

“I’m really excited,” Key said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity. I’ve been running for six years for cross country, three years for track, and I’m just happy to be able to carry that on, because running is where I’ve made my friends and found myself.”

Key started running cross country in junior high and said she’s grown both as a runner and as a person since that time.

Her senior season wasn’t her best, she added, but she’s working to return to her past form for the college level.

“I’ve gained a lot more confidence and leadership skills,” Key said. “Integrity, not cutting workouts and stuff."

After finishing 24th at sectionals for cross country as a junior, Key improved to No. 9 in Class 6A section 2 in her final season running for Wetumpka.

What’s made her effective throughout her career, Wetumpka cross country head coach Jessica Holbert said, is her “want to.”

“You don’t have to ever say, ‘Hey you’re not pushing it hard enough, you can do better’ to her,” Holbert said. “She enjoys it. She loves to run, and so she’s always done everything she can to be the best she can be.”

Key joined Wetumpka’s track team three seasons ago, and has developed into one of the Indians’ most versatile runners.

She has competed for Wetumpka in the 400-, 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter run, and participated in relay races as needed.

“Being in shape from cross country helps her. We just train her for whatever events we need her to do, and she doesn’t complain about it,” Wetumpka track and field head coach Warren Brown said. “She’s a really good kid, and we’re proud of her.”

Key said she chose to attend West Alabama due to the low cost and approachable nature of the running program.

“They seemed the most interested and most welcoming of all the colleges,” Key said. “They’re affordable and practical, yet also I can run there. They just seemed like the best fit for me.”

Originally Key had her heart set on attending Auburn, where she said she’d be unable to run. But on the advice of coaches and mentors, she started looking at other options where she could continue her athletic career.

After some research, she reached out to West Alabama’s program and started speaking to the coaches there.

“I was just talking to her before this, there are a lot of students who couldn’t go to a school that’s in a small town like that, because they get bored easily, there’s not a lot to do,” Holbert said. “She’s gonna devote her time to the right things, school and running, and so she’ll be perfect for West Alabama."

Key’s high school career will conclude after this postseason track competition this spring, after which she’ll begin preparations to run for the Tigers’ cross country team this fall.

She’ll major in health sciences at West Alabama.