BOISE – Nearly a year ago to the day, MaLeigha Menegatti posted something to her Instagram page that’s still hard for her to read.
“There’s still a goal I have yet to check off, but it’ll just be postponed for now…,” the Boise State senior track and field runner wrote.
The heartbreaking words came fresh off the heels of just missing out on qualifying for nationals in the 800-meter run for the second year in a row.
She’ll get one last shot beginning Thursday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Sacramento, California. Menegatti, who is coming off a title at the Mountain West Outdoor Championship in the 800 with the 13th-fastest time in the nation at 2 minutes, 2.41 seconds, will compete in her first heat at 7:50 p.m. MDT.
“She’s gonna cross it off,” said Boise State sprints and horizontal jumps coach Gavin O’Neal who trains Menegatti. “She had to go back and sit down and do some soul searching and say, ‘Alright, what do I need to do to cap this off right?’ And she’s done all of those things. She’s confident. She’s running well. I think she is on an upswing. I don’t think there’s anything that can keep her from qualifying for the national meet other than herself at this point.”
Menegatti seemed destined to do it last year.
She was coming off her first regional appearance. Menegatti was only one spot out from qualifying.
But Menegatti was diagnosed with the coronavirus during the beginning of the indoor season. It caused her to miss out on two full meets. She was still able to record the third-fastest outdoor 800 time in school history (2:04.85) and runner-up finishes at both the MW Indoor and Outdoor Championships. However, the bout with COVID-19 still messed up her training. Menegatti said she ended up peaking at the wrong time as a result.
So she missed out on qualifying for nationals. Menegatti advanced to the semifinals, but finished 15th. Only the top-12 from each regional move on.
“I was devastated last year because I knew there was more in me. And it just didn’t pan out,” Menegatti said. “It took me a bit to get over it. I was pretty upset.
“I’m not going to lie, I cried a bit.”
Especially since that could have been it with Menegatti having graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Accountancy/Business just a few weeks prior.
But she still had a COVID year left. And thanks in part to former teammate and now friend, Kristie Schoffield, Menegatti used it.
Menegatti had finished second behind Schoffield in the 800 at those MW Indoor and Outdoor Championships that season. Schoffield, though, qualified for nationals by setting a meet record with the third-fastest time in league history. While Menegatti could have returned back home to Walsenburg, Colorado, she elected to stay and train with Schoffield.
Schoffield ended up becoming just the fourth woman in Boise State history – third outdoor – to capture an individual national title.
“I had a really amazing year last year,” Schoffield said. “But looking back on it, I think, ‘Wow, what an amazing person MaLeigha was’. She was the most supportive person of me last year, maybe other than our coach.
“She did kind of have a tough year. So for someone to be so supportive of someone else while they’re not having the best year, just speaks so highly of someone’s character.”
Menegatti has always been that way no matter what’s been thrown her way, which is a lot.
She really didn’t even start running the 800 until her junior year at Pueblo West High School in Colorado. Menegatti was a hurdler just like her mother Brandi, who won an SEC title in the 400 at the University of Alabama. But Menegatti took third in state in the 800 before a broken ankle suffered in volleyball prevented her from even placing the following year. She had six screws and a metal plate inserted into her right foot. The scar is still noticeable today. Menegatti tripped on the same foot while competing at state.
“I had nothing left in the tank,” Menegatti said.
But she still managed to get up and hobble across the finish line to a rousing ovation. The coronavirus pandemic then basically robbed Menegatti of her sophomore season.
“I think that everyone has hard years before they have a super good year,” Schoffield said. “I don’t think that you’ll ever reach your full potential if you don’t kind of have a year that makes you question whether or not you want to keep doing this because it’s a lot of work day in and day out. It’s so much work sometimes for a result that’s just like OK.”
It hasn’t been all bad, though.
She earned second-team All-American honors on the Boise State distance medley relay team with Bronco legends Allie Ostrander, Alexis Fuller and Schoffield in her first season suiting up for the Blue and Orange.
“I think it was a great experience for her being a freshman and to be surrounded by some really talented athletes and to contribute that way,” O’Neal said. “That experience helped open her eyes, see what it was like to be at a national championship and from an individual standpoint, what it would take to get there.”
She’s already gotten there once this season.
Menegatti racked up four wins and three of the top-5 fastest times in the 800 in program history during the indoor season. This included breaking a 13-year-old MW Indoor Championship record. The 2:03.83 mark was also the fastest in league and school history and made her the first Bronco in four years to qualify for nationals in the event.
There are no regionals for the NCAA Indoor Championships. It’s all based on time and only the top-16 in each event go.
She ran a 2:09.94 for a 15th-place outing to earn second-team All-American honors – with strep throat.
“Qualifying for nationals was a goal of mine, but I thought for outdoor. So I marked that goal off too,” Menegatti said. “But I didn’t run well at all. It was kind of a bummer. But I was like, ‘Hey, I’m here. I’m still gonna race and give it what I got. I feel like even racing, I came away with confidence because I felt like crap, but I still competed with these people through 600 meters. It was super special to be there and experience that.”
Menegatti has been just as dominant in outdoor this season.
She tallied the third-fastest time (2:04.62) in the 800 for a third-place finish in her first race of the season at the Stanford Invitational in March. Menegatti just set the conference meet record in the 800 (2:02.41) – previously held by Schoffield – with her win at the MW Outdoor Championships two weeks ago. The time ranked fifth in the West Region as well, earning her a third consecutive trip to the west preliminary.
“I think she’s the perfect example of somebody whose success isn’t a straight line,” O’Neal said. “But she just came back this year with so much confidence and she’s just working so hard. And it’s just rolling for her.
“These are the stories people talk about right? Sport stories where you fall short and they start playing “Eye of the Tiger” or whatever. You get back to the drawing board. You get back to basics and you figure it out.”
Now all that’s left is that one final checkmark of getting to this year’s NCAA Division I Outdoor Championships on June 7-10 in Austin, Texas.
And maybe add another All-American honor or better yet, a national championship.
“Don’t give up on yourself,” Menegatti said. “Because I could have easily hung up the spikes. But I was like, ‘Why not try again?’ Kristie actually shot me a text after this last meet and was like, ‘It’s all confidence from here.’ If you want something, you deserve to be there and you deserve to have a shot at accomplishing your goals. I’m proud of myself. But I’m not done with this season. It’s still in the works.”