For redshirt sophomore Stephen Mugeche, the wait was finally over.
After 16 months, Mugeche returned to competition, finishing 35th at the JK Gold Classic last weekend in his debut for the Mizzou men’s cross-country team.
Mugeche, a transfer from Arkansas, missed last season as a result of transfer rules requiring runners to sit out a year when transferring to a school within the same conference.
During his year away, Mugeche trained back home in Blue Springs, Missouri, with his former high school teammates at Blue Springs High School, just outside the Kansas City area.
Missouri head coach Marc Burns described Mugeche as “one of the most decorated Missouri runners in a long time.”
Along with the Blue Springs team, Mugeche won the state track team championship in 2014 and the individual state cross-country championship in 2014 against current MU teammates freshman Austin Hindman and sophomore Dylan Quisenberry.
Quisenberry remembers what it was like racing against Mugeche in high school.
“He was always a phenomenal athlete and definitely someone who, when I was younger, I was chasing after,” Quisenberry said. “He was a super good guy who was always super encouraging to younger athletes who were up and coming.”
Now, Quisenberry enjoys having Mugeche as a teammate instead of a competitor.
“First of all, he is incredibly outgoing,” Quisenberry said. “Always just a phenomenal teammate to have around. Just a super great guy and a really good competitor. He’ll ask you a question and then bounce off 10 more questions to understand you better and to get to know you better because he’s just a really thoughtful guy.”
After sitting out, Mugeche was eager to return to racing. Mugeche’s last competitive race was for Arkansas on May 5, 2016 during the outdoor track season.
“I’m most excited for racing again,” Mugeche said. “It’s been a long time. The fact that I’m going to be able to race again and train with a group of guys again is gonna be great.”
Mugeche’s familiarity with coach Burns and the runners on the team played a major role in his decision to come to Columbia. Mugeche had previously considered attending Missouri out of high school before committing to Arkansas.
“Once [the transfer from Arkansas] worked out I got into contact with a few coaches, and coach Burns is one of the first coaches I talked to afterwards,” Mugeche said. “I went on a second visit after we talked on the phone and that’s when I decided to make the decision to come here, and I think I made the right decision so far.”
So far, the transition has gone smoothly for Mugeche, who is happy to be back in his home state.
“It’s been good,” Mugeche said. “I’ve been out of it for quite some time. Arkansas was good for me, but it just didn’t work out for me. I’m just happy to be back in my home state of Missouri. I’ve known coach Burns and coach Halter for a very long time. The classes and the training have been different, but it’s something I believe I can get used to. Overall, it’s been great.”
Burns has been pleased with the transition as well and is satisfied with how well Mugeche has meshed with the rest of the team.
“You never know how the transition is gonna go, and it’s gone awesome,” Burns said. “The guys respect him for his work ethic and his soft-spoken leadership. He’s not an in-your-face guy, but when he speaks you’re like, ‘Wow that was really good.’ He’s very thoughtful.”
Burns is not only excited for the impact Mugeche can make on the team this year, but he’s also eager to see what lies ahead for Mugeche in the future.
“From a running standpoint he is an incredibly talented kid,” Burns said. “We feel like it’s gonna take a bit of time, but we feel like he is a guy that can help lead us into the future and help our men’s team get back to the NCAA meet here soon and challenge for SEC titles down the road.”
Edited by Anna Sirianni | email@example.com