Freshman cross country star finds hope in her new sport

Alyssa Huskinson

Ever since freshman Lauren Mugnaini started to play soccer in fifth grade, soccer was all she could think about. Nine years later, she finds herself on the Sacramento State cross country team.


Mugnaini is a Sacramento native and a recent graduate of Rio Americano High School. She was the first Rio Americano female since 1996 to qualify for the California State Cross Country Championship during the 2009 fall season.


During her freshman year at Rio Americano, Mugnaini joined the cross country team to condition for soccer in the spring, but instead she became a year-a-round runner.


“My (cross country) coach Gordon Hubble converted me into a runner,” Mugnaini said. “I would not be running if it was not for him.”


Mugnaini said Hubble managed to convince her to quit playing soccer and become a cross country runner by implementing positive reinforcement and having faith in the abilities she exhibited.


During her time in high school, Mugnaini became a proficient runner.


She won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title and also won both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter race as she was crowned Capital Athletic League champion.


She said she struggled to let go of her aspirations of becoming a soccer player, while trying to focus on running.


The debut of her Sacramento State career took place on Sept. 11, while racing in the annual Sac State Hornet Jamboree at Granite Regional Park. In the 5k race, she placed 13th overall and second on the team with a time of 18:17.


Seven days later on Sept. 18, the team traveled to Riverside to attend the UC Riverside Cross Country Invitational.


At the UC Riverside Invitational, Mugnaini placed 41st with a time of 18:02.5.


“She has been a real blessing for our program,” said head coach Scott Abbott. “We are really fortunate she made the decision to come here and since day one when she stepped foot in the program, she has been on a roll.”


On Oct. 16, in Sunnyvale, the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational was held at Baylands Regional Park and she continued to lower her 5k time, finishing with a time of 17:57.2 and placed 45th in the invitational.


In a little over a month, Mugnaini is already seeing her 5k time drop dramatically.


A total of 20 seconds has been cut from her 5k time and will have the rest of this season and track and field to lower her times.


Recently her parents have told her it is almost like she is addicted to running. She said she is not addicted, but wants to keep running as long as she can.


She looks forward to both her scholastic and athletic career at Sac State and said being a part of the cross country team makes school a hundred times better.


“When I came on my official visit to Sac State, I knew after coming here, I wanted to stay,” Mugnaini said. “I thought to myself, everything I want is right here.”


With the support of her family and coach Hubble, Mugnaini said the transition from high school to college has been easy.


Abbott said he has seen the team captain and senior Erin Lewis connecting with Mugnaini, not only as a teammate, but as a mentor.


“She has already become a great addition to the team and made an impact,” Erin Lewis said. “We are lucky to have her.”


Lewis posted a season-best time of 17:53.2 at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational – only four seconds lower than Mugnaini’s time of 17:57.2.


Mugnaini said she began to get to know her new teammates during the summer training camp in Mammoth, Calif. She said she remembers she was scared when she first arrived at Sac State to join the team. But since then, the teammates have been welcoming of the new recruit.


During the progression of the season, the team continues to be cohesive as they not only spend time together on the track, but off the track as well.


The team has weekly pasta parties, movie nights and goes on team road trips. In the spirit of Halloween, the girls are going to a local corn maze.


Mugnaini said she continues to enjoy running on the bike trails close to campus, just like she did in high school.


But every now and then, the team travels to Lake Natoma to practice on the trails around the lake.


Even though she said likes to run on the bike trails, it is also a nice change of pace to be able to run at the lake.


Mugnaini said running 60 or 70 miles a week has become routine for her. With that amount of running, Mugnaini said she is used to it now and can put herself on autopilot.


“The sky is the limit for the freshman,” Abbott says.


And as Mugnaini continues to progress this season, she will compete Saturday at the Big Sky Championships in Spokane, Wash.


Mugaini said she made the right choice by switching from soccer to cross country.


“I would not trade what I’m doing for anything,” Mugnaini said. “I have no regrets of my decision. I love what I’m doing, especially being a part of the cross country team.”


Alyssa Huskinson can be reached at [email protected]