After missing out on a highly-anticipated junior season, Micah Bruggeman is extremely motivated to end his prep track and field career on a high note.
A standout senior distance runner, Bruggeman and the Joplin Eagles kicked off the 2021 season on Thursday by competing at the Carthage Invitational. It was the team’s first track meet since the end of the 2019 season.
“It’s crazy to think about how long it’s been,” Bruggeman said. “My last race on this track was two years ago.”
After making an immediate impact at the varsity level as a freshman and sophomore, Bruggeman is now the elder statesman of area runners.
Bruggeman reached the state podium in his signature event, the 800-meter run, in both of his first two years of high school.
As a sophomore, Bruggeman finished third in Class 5. He was fifth as a freshman. Bruggeman also reached the podium in the 1600 as a sophomore, finishing sixth.
After such a stellar sophomore season, which also included conference, district and sectional championships in the 800, Bruggeman was poised to have a big junior year.
Then came the pandemic.
“We didn’t know if we’d have a season, but we were holding out hope,” Bruggeman said of last March. “We were training like a regular year and we had a really good team going into the season. We were hoping to do some big things as a team. It was disappointing.”
With that, Bruggeman enters his final prep campaign determined to make up for lost time.
Adding to the high expectations is the fact that Bruggeman recently received some significant preseason publicity.
According to MoMileSplit, Bruggeman has the state’s top returning time in the 800 (1:55) from the 2019 state meet, regardless of class. The next closest is 1:58.
Bruggeman also has the state’s fastest 1600 time (4:18) among returning runners. The next fastest is 4:23.
As a result of that impressive distinction, Bruggeman is likely running with a target on his back this spring.
“I love it,” Bruggeman said of opponents gunning for him. “That’s what is going to motivate me even more. It’s my senior year. It’s my turn. I’ve been to state. I led the mile for half the race. I have the experience. And I want to use that experience not only for myself but also to help my teammates.”
That last point speaks volumes. Bruggeman said he’s focused not only on his individual objectives, but also on helping the team reach its lofty goals.
“Coming into this year, my main individual goal is to win the 800 and the mile,” Bruggeman said. “We’d love to win the 4×800 relay too. But I see that we have a really good team this year. We’ve got a great distance team. We’ve got good jumpers, sprinters and throwers…we’re good in everything. I want to win a team state championship. That goal is above anything else for me.”
Bruggeman is coming off a nagging injury, but he hopes to be at his best when it matters most—the postseason.
“I’m going to do my thing by hitting the workouts hard,” he said. “I’ve got the experience, I believe in myself and I know what I can do. My mindset is that I want to do my job, take care of myself and lead. We have some inexperienced guys who haven’t competed at a varsity track meet, so I want to be a leader and help show those guys how it’s done.”
Bruggeman, who has not yet made his college decision, appeared right at home on Thursday afternoon inside David Haffner Stadium.
When he wasn’t competing, Bruggeman could be seen cheering on his teammates or chatting with JHS distance coach Dustin Dixon or head coach Brandon Taute.
After missing out on a season last year, there’s no doubt Bruggeman is more than ready to make up for lost time.
“This is the best time of the year,” he said. “I’m at my happiest this time of the year. It’s beautiful outside and I just love running around around the track.”