The Maneater

Former in-state recruits come running home as transfers, thanks to Schweizer

Five of the six current transfers on the MU cross-country teams started in Missouri, committed elsewhere then transferred back as the program thrived.

Karissa Schweizer practices during her senior season. Her illustrious collegiate career at Missouri includes five national championships, six school records and eight All-American honors.

As he approached the end of a prolific high school career at St. Louis University High, Dustan Davidson attracted a lot of attention from colleges all over the country. Naturally, he wanted to go where the best runners were.

For him, that was Oklahoma State.

The Cowboys, fresh off a Big 12 indoor track conference title, were excited to have Davidson on board. But when he arrived, it became apparent that Stillwater, Oklahoma wasn’t the best fit for him.

“As soon as I got there, there was a lot of turnover on the roster,” said Davidson, now a redshirt sophomore at Missouri.

The old in-state program was undergoing a transformation of its own around the time Davidson was considering transferring. One athlete in particular was putting Mizzou cross-country on the map and making the program appear more appealing – not just to current high schoolers, but to former Missouri recruits who had initially ventured elsewhere.

In the true spirit of cross-country, Missouri-born transfers are taking the long road to the nearby destination, and it's thanks in large part to six-time national champion Karissa Schweizer.

Schweizer may have graduated in the spring, but her lasting impact on the program has been substantial, coach Marc Burns says.

“We recruited a lot of these kids in high school, so they already knew what we were about,” Burns said. “When they saw the success we were having, and especially Karissa’s success, they wanted to be a part of something like that.”

Schweizer, currently a volunteer assistant coach for the Tigers, is quick to deflect any credit for bringing transfers back home.

“It’s so cool to hear them say that I was a reason in them coming here, but I think the ultimate reason people come here is for the family atmosphere,” Schweizer said. “That’s why I chose Missouri in the first place. I wanted to be a part of a family that could compete for and eventually win a conference title. I think coach Burns is the right guy to make that happen.”

This year’s squad has six transfers, two on the men’s side and four on the women’s. Of the six, five are Missouri natives that went out of state originally before returning home.

While Burns generally believes that those transfers are a necessary asset to any roster, he tries to proceed with caution when bringing them in.

“Every transfer has a story,” he said. “Sometimes, the story is really simple – it just wasn’t a good fit, or things just didn’t work out. But sometimes, a runner leaves a school because he or she got in trouble while there and that trouble usually follows them, so you have to be careful with that.”

Junior Melissa Menghini’s story was one of the simple ones, and fairly common – the same mold as Davidson’s. She initially ran at New Hampshire after an accomplished career at Rockwood Summit High School in suburban St. Louis, but seeing the success at Missouri, she saw a way to pursue her path while being close to home.

“I was really homesick my freshman year, so I was looking around Missouri and I saw Karissa [Schweizer] and the 2016 team and how much fun they were having,” Menghini said. “I wanted a team like that.”

After touring the school during her freshman year spring break, Menghini decided to go back to the Midwest to experience the team for herself. She got to be part of the Schweizer era for one year, and through the experience she said she has especially appreciated Missouri’s joint-program. Burns coaches the men’s and women’s teams, which Menghini said has created a closer bond between teams within the program.

“The girls and the guys are super close,” Menghini said. “It’s a change, because my freshman year [New Hampshire] had separate programs, so I didn’t know many guys on the team. It was a completely different atmosphere.”

She said the Midwest is more in her lane anyway. That’s a good thing for Burns and the Tigers, as Menghini is the team’s top transfer on the women’s side.

“She just didn’t fit in with the people in that part of the country as well as she thought she would,” Burns said. “She missed the Midwest.”

Burns, now in his fourth year leading the Tigers, appears to be gaining traction with in-state recruits. More of them are starting to choose Missouri straight out of high school, an increase perhaps also related to the Schweizer effect. In the 21-member 2018 recruiting class, 12 hail from the Show-Me State. Freshmen Tori Findley (Blue Springs South High) and Mikayla Reed (Washington High), who have both finished near the top of the pack in races already, are two such examples. Following in Schweizer's footsteps, they're early indicators of the program's apparent upward trajectory.

“Transfers are great, but we want to get to a point where people want to come here right out of high school,” Burns said. “I think with this year’s roster we’re starting to see that.”

Edited by Bennett Durando | bdurando@themaneater.com

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