TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Harry Mulenga entered Friday’s season-opening cross country meet at State Farm Field/Kennedy Trails anxious to test his late-race fitness over the 6,400-meter Covered Bridge Open race. After logging somewhere near 1,000 miles of unfettered training, the Florida State senior from Zambia, figured he was in an entirely difference place than he was a year earlier. Mulenga was correct in his assessment, pulling away to a seven-second victory in 20:04.44; his first as an NCAA Division I athlete.
Aside from the praise he earned from FSU coach Bob Braman, he was named ACC Performer of the Week Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, the United State Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) upped the ante, honoring the diminutive Mulenga with NCAA Division I Men’s Performer of the Week honors.
“I’m so happy for Harry,” Braman said Wednesday, after Mulenga claimed the first such cross country honor for the FSU men. “He’s come a long way from a year ago. He wants to be as good as anyone in the country and this is a great start towards that goal.”
Mulenga’s path since arriving on the FSU campus in August 2015 after a dominating career at Central Arizona, where he was the NJCAA Athlete of the Year as a sophomore, has been littered with obstacles. Shortly after arriving he learned he needed a heart procedure, which took place one year and a day from his win last week.
Then there was a matter of gaining NCAA clearance to compete, which kept him out of an FSU kit through the first three meets. His Seminole debut at the Wisconsin Invitational (62nd place, third on the FSU team) was demoralizing to the point that he refused to eat on the way back home.
With the season winding down, he summoned back-to-back strong performances, placing 11th on FSU’s home course at the ACC Championships to claim all-conference honors, then following up third-place showing at the NCAA South Region Championships. There in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he led the Seminoles to the team title and a spot in the NCAA Championships.
A fairy-tale finish, however, was not in the cards. At Louisville, Ky., Mulenga came home 153rd; well shy of his goal of becoming an All-American. A solid, but less-than-spectacular indoor track & field season gave way to a season of ineligibility outdoors.
With his focus on training, Friday’s season-opening victory in what amounted to a controlled race effort with a swift finish, Mulenga hopes to have launched a memorable final season with the Seminoles.
“This is what I’ve been training for,” said the affable Mulenga, who has earned the nickname “Prince” from his teammates. “I feel like we’ve done a good job over the summer and every single day we are doing something I can see progress. This semester, by the grace of God, I will have a good season in the NCAA and will make it memorable.”