Gabe McClain was experiencing a wide range of emotions as he packed his car and drove from his dorm room at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo., back to his parents’ homes in Blue Springs.
The 2018 Examiner Cross Country Runner of the Year was eagerly anticipating his first collegiate outdoor season after playing a key role in the Lions’ conference championship indoor season.
“I redshirted in cross country, but really enjoyed our indoor season and we had a lot of success,” McClain said. “We won conference in cross country, we won conference indoors and we were hoping to get the triple crown and win the outdoor title, but that’s not going to happen.”
Like colleges across the nation, Missouri Southern has closed its doors to all student-athletes. While students will continue their studies online, athletes have to just think about what might have been, though it is expected that the NCAA will grant another year of eligibility to spring sports athletes.
Early in the season, McClain was part of the men’s team distance medley relay team along with Nathan Painter, Jon Johnson and Ryan Riddle that posted a provisional qualifying mark of 9 minutes, 56.42 seconds in a meet at Northwest Missouri State to post the top mark in the nation during the indoor season.
He was also second in the 800 and his team was third in the medley relay and 3,200 (4x400) relays to win that conference title.
“When I was able to compete, college was great,” McClain said. “Like every other student-athlete in the country, I’m disappointed, but at least I’m not a senior. I feel so bad for all our seniors – I don’t know how I would react if they took away my final season of competing in college. That would be tough.”
After winning The Examiner’s Cross Country Runner of the Year award, McClain won three gold medals – 1,600 meters (4.25.81), 800 (1:57.48) and as part of the winning 1,600 relay (Prince Griffin, Celestino Almeida, McClain and Matt Marzolf, 3:23.60) – at the Suburban Big Six Conference Championships last spring.
He then finished second in the state in the 800 meters (1:53.96) and the 3,200 relay he anchored (along with Marzolf, Kevin McClain and David Bushey) earned all-state honors with an eighth-place finish (8:00.92).
That type of success had him primed and ready for any challenges he might face in college.
“I am so thankful that I was a big part of the Blue Springs cross country and track and field programs while I was in high school,” he said, “but I’ll admit, it was nice to go to college and just be one of the guys.
“I’m not the top dog in college, and I think that’s kind of refreshing, because now I’m working hard to be the top dog. I have my freshman year under my belt, we had a great indoor season and now I’m ready for anything.”
But is he ready to move home?
“It’s funny you’d ask that,” McClain said. “I was talking with a lot of my friends, and we’ve gotten used to the freedom we had in college. Some of us were hoping to stay on campus, but they’re closing the dorms, so that’s not possible.
“So now, we’re all moving home. And I said it’s like we’re 12-year-olds again, living with mom and dad. It’s kind of funny, but I’m looking forward to seeing my parents and my friends – well, seeing my friends when the quarantine is over.”