For Marc Migliozzi, a major part of his life seems to have come a dizzying full circle and then some in only a matter of weeks.
Late last month, the former North Allegheny distance standout announced on social media that he would finish his collegiate eligibility while starting his master's in mechanical engineering in the fall at the University of Pittsburgh.
Less than a week ago, Migliozzi joined more than 2,500 University of Akron students in virtual commencement ceremonies that have become the rule rather than the exception in 2020.
And yesterday, Migliozzi and his Zip teammates learned that the Akron cross country program that he had put his mark on in history-making fashion in the fall of 2019 had been dropped by the Mid-American Conference school.
"I think I speak for all of my teammates when I say we're just all kind of in shock," Migliozzi said Thursday afternoon of Akron's announcement hours earlier that the men's cross country program, along with men's golf and women's tennis, had been discontinued in a cost-cutting move resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. "We really didn't see it coming. Right now, it's really just a lot of shock, I guess a little bit of disappointment, too."
A 2016 North Allegheny grad, Migliozzi became the first Akron runner to win a men's MAC individual XC title and the first Zip - male or female - to qualify for and compete in the NCAA championships last November. His collegiate career started in September 2016 with the Akron-hosted Tommy Evans Invitational, a meet ironically that also included the program that did not become his first collegiate home but now will be his next - Pitt.
"When I came to Akron, I by far was not the best guy on the team, but I kind of just had to start like I did freshman year in high school," he said. "I just started doing runs with the top guys, trying to be up there in the top group and eventually I was able to get up there with them during the races."
In addition to the hard work, Migliozzi benefited from a world-class atmosphere that existed in his freshman year at Akron with the presence of Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, who won a pair of NCAA track titles and countless MAC crowns at Akron before turning pro in 2016.
"It was just really motivating and exciting to be around someone who had just won an Olympic medal," Migliozzi said of Murphy, whose medal finish in the 800 meters four years ago was the first by an American since Johnny Gray in 1992. "It also was a lot easier to buy into the training and whatever Coach (Lee) LaBadie was saying because when you're in the midst of someone like Clayton Murphy, it is really easy to buy in and trust in the training. It really got me excited and motivated to do everything I was being told to do by LaBadie."
Several years earlier, Migliozzi had worked his way up to the starting lineup as a junior at North Allegheny as the Tigers claimed the PIAA Class AAA XC title in the fall of 2014. As a senior, he finished 10th at Hershey and third in the 3,200 final at Shippensburg.
"Being on a team with a bunch of really, really talented runners kind of taught me how to be competitive and compete with people even just on my team," he said of his prep career. "That competitive spirit and training well with other really good runners is a really good thing to know how to do when you get to college."
Although he believed his running had started to plateau heading into his fourth year at Akron, Migliozzi shook off an injury before the season and began to gain momentum soon after a late start.
"At the beginning of my last cross country season, I didn't think that going to nationals and winning the conference championship were out of the picture but they just seemed a little more distant than they actually were," he said. "After I started racing well about halfway through the season, I sat down with my coach and we talked about where I wanted to be at the end of the season and kind of readjusted my goals.
"I was feeling very confident as the season was progressing so we tried to make a schedule where I would be peaking at the end of the season. To be representing Akron at (the NCAA championships) was a really great honor, and it was a really awesome experience."
With a desire to run collegiately for a fifth year, Migliozzi had certain objectives - athletic and academic - that all appear to have been met back in Pennsylvania by a familiar school that also wears blue and gold uniforms. He has one season left in both indoor and outdoor track, with a medical hardship also a possibility in cross country.
"I was trying to prioritize the academic side of things because in that next stage in life, you kind of have to prioritize academics," he said of what led him to Pitt. "I'm not planning to be a professional runner, but also I was looking for a school that had a really good running program and would support me for that last year. I had some really great conversations with Coach (Brad) Herbster. We seem to have very similar training philosophies.
"I had some concerns about switching programs for my last year, and he seemed to be willing to work with me to find a training plan that works for me that's not too different from what I've been doing. I was just really comfortable with both sides of it at Pitt."
With news of the program cuts at Akron still sinking in, Migliozzi seemed to offer a glimmer of hope of a future with cross country for Zip men, with program alumni "discussing if there is anything we can do to try and save the program."
"Obviously, it's a really crazy time and decisions had to be made," he said. "Whether we think that other decisions could have been made to save the program or not, I guess it's too early to say. We were just hit with that news this morning so we're all just kind of in shock."