TWIN FALLS — College cross country and track didn’t seem possible to Mulugata Ande a few years ago. In fact, he wasn’t involved in either sport back then.
Around that time, Ande moved from the African country of Eritrea to Twin Falls as a refugee. He played soccer growing up, and he liked to run, but he hadn’t joined an organized running program up to that point.
Ande enrolled at Canyon Ridge High School and quickly joined the soccer team. One of his first high school friends was his soccer teammate Abdelgadir Mohamed, who recently signed with Laramie County Community College. Mohamed also ran track, and he introduced Ande to the sport two years ago.
Soon, Ande was a competitive runner. On Monday, he became a college runner.
Ande held a ceremony on Monday at Canyon Ridge to celebrate his signing with Treasure Valley Community College. The Riverhawk senior will run track and cross country for the Chukars.
“He’s underdeveloped, and that’s a good thing for us because we can develop him as a good runner,” TVCC head cross country/track coach Blas Guerra said Monday. “I like his size and height, and he just loves to run.”
Ande’s first taste of high school running came in the fall of 2016, his junior year. He spent each of the last two falls balancing cross country and soccer, and he only ran four races in 2016. His first official time, at the Jerome/Twin Falls Invitational, was 18 minutes, 43 seconds.
Canyon Ridge cross country coach Ben Benoit joked at Monday’s ceremony that once Ande stopped eating a box of protein bars before each race, his times plummeted. And plummet they did.
Two months after the 18:43, Ande ran nearly two minutes faster at the Great Basin Conference championship meet. The tall, lanky runner struggled at the 4A state tournament (18:22.8), but that was the last time he even approached 18 minutes in a cross country race.
In September, Ande’s time of 17:47 won the Canyon Ridge Run, and it was his slowest time in five races that season. He ran a personal-best 16:41.5 at the Rob Campbell Invitational, finished eighth at the district meet (time of 17:06.2) and placed 29th at the state meet, helping the Canyon Ridge boys tame place second.
That success came a few months after his first track season. Ande placed second twice and fifth once in the 3200 meters, and he posted three top five finishes in the 1600.
Guerra said his assistant coach first talked to Ande, and it didn’t take long for Ande to express his desire to run for the Chukars. Guerra was one of the main factors in Ande’s decision, too.
“The school is really good, and the coach is really good,” Ande said. “The coach is so nice, and I think he’s going to help me get better.”
He still has his senior track season to complete, but he’s excited for the next level. Considering where he stood three years ago, Monday’s ceremony was hard for him to fathom, and, thus, felt extra special.