By LANCE CATCHINGS
From 2012 to 2017, McKynzie King was a top runner for Liberty Hill High School, competing in both cross country and track during her Panther career, but focused more heavily on cross country. Now, she runs cross country as a Bobcat at Texas State, following in her mother’s footsteps, who was a talented runner at Texas Christian University.
“My mom ran in high school and college, so I always figured that I would,” King said. “She was kind of my driving force behind it. I also had coaches along the way that helped push me forward and encouraged me to keep doing it.”
King, a Liberty Hill native, ran her first cross country race in seventh grade for Liberty Hill Junior High. From that point on, she found success in just about every race she competed in. Now, she laces up her running shoes for one of the largest universities in the state of Texas. She looks back on her time in the purple and gold fondly, and said the Liberty Hill cross country program played a crucial role in the development of her athletic career.
“I went undefeated in eighth grade, and my freshmen year I did really well,” King said. “I was a four-year letterman, and we had some really good seasons. We won District and Regionals a couple times. I also won first at district and regionals individually a few times, and we made it to State all of my four years. My senior year was my best year, by far. It was the year I hit a (personal record) and I got third in State. It was an amazing experience, and all the girls on the team were really sweet.”
King’s transition from a Lady Panther to a Texas State Bobcat has been fairly smooth, but it hasn’t come without a learning curve.
“Running at Texas State is a lot different than running at Liberty Hill,” she said. “I am running roughly 30 miles per week now. In high school, I was running closer to 15 miles a week. My coach, Alex Muntefering, definitely has prepared us for the high mileage. We take the slow and steady approach to avoid injury. He is one of the best coaches I have ever had.”
Although the increase in mileage can be challenging at times, King has taken it in stride. In fact, she’s been enjoying the increase, thanks in large part to the support and experience of her teammates.
“Coming up to a higher mileage has been so fun for me,” King said. “The girls on the team came from different places and mileages, so they have been extremely helpful and understanding.”
Although she decided late in the recruiting process where she wanted to take her talent, King feels she made the perfect decision.
“I narrowed down my choices between Texas Tech and Texas State, and took official visits to both,” she said. “I really liked the Texas State team. I thought the campus was beautiful, and it was a little bit closer to home. I wanted to come into college with a solid group of people I could rely on and see every day. I signed in April, which was pretty late, and I didn’t decide until the month before, in March, but I am really happy I picked Texas State. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”
King has already seen significant success since arriving at Texas State just a few months ago. She was recently named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, and her team won a Sun Belt Conference Championship this season.
Just as she did with her success at Liberty Hill, King credits much of her college success to her mother.
“Competition-wise, my mom prepared me for what college running would be like,” King said. “She told me to be prepared not to win every race, and that every race would be a lot harder. You have to push yourself, and you will be running longer distances, but you’ll be okay, because your body is prepared for it. At Conference, I got fifth, so I got an All-Conference trophy for that. I was named Freshman of the Year, because I was the first freshman to cross the finish line, as well.”
On Nov. 10, King and her teammates competed in the NCAA Division I South Central Region Cross Country Championships in College Station. Prior to the race, King said her goal was simply to improve from the previous meet.
“I am hoping to beat my time from the previous meet,” King said. “I am not sure how we will do, because it will be a much different environment, and we’ll be running a 6k instead of a 5k. I definitely hope the girls run in a pack together and run for each other like we did at Conference.”
King finished 49th out of 176 women competing in the Regional Championships with a time of 21:23.3 as her team took 13th out of 24.
King’s advice to future collegiate runners is to come in with an open mind ready to work for what you want.
“The best advice I can give to an incoming college student-athlete is to learn time management and how to be responsible for yourself,” she said. “For a runner, I would say be open to your teammates, because people come from all different types of places. Don’t ever give up, even though people might be better than you or you might be training at a different level. Everything that you want can be achieved.”