Marc Burns paced and gave the Missouri cross country team orders before its workout, but something gave him an extra feeling of excitement.
Instead of a golf course or the MKT Trail, the team had its first official practice at the Gans Creek Cross Country Course at the Gans Creek Recreation Area on Friday afternoon.
"It's a dream scenario for a cross country program to have something like this. There are only a handful of them in the world," Burns said. "This is even better than Christmas morning."
Burns drove past the course to work every day and saw it grow since construction started in 2018. The course was funded by the City of Columbia and the University of Missouri, which donated $420,000 for a timing tower and other indoor facilities for officials and media.
The indoor facilities are a work in progress, but Missouri finally got to test out the recently-completed course.
"It felt good," senior Melissa Menghini said. "It's nice that we can actually get practice on what we are going to be racing on."
Both teams raced the 3K and 2K loops that are in place to accommodate races of different lengths, such as the men's 8K and women's 6K that will debut the new course at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge at 5 p.m. on Sept. 27.
It is the first home course Missouri has had in program history, with all of its previous home meets being on local trails or golf courses.
It will be the first and last major home meet for redshirt senior Thomas George. The Tigers hadn't had a home meet since 2013 before the three-team Missouri XC Opener on Aug. 30 that featured Saint Louis and Missouri State.
"It's a shame that I'm going to graduate this year because it would be nice to have this for a lot longer," George said. "It's game-changing. Right now, we work out on a makeshift loop at the golf course, which is alright, but this is so much nicer."
In the distant future, Missouri is set to host the 2021 SEC Championships and is in the process of bidding with the Columbia Visitors Convention Bureau to host an NCAA Regional and the NCAA Division I National Championships in the 2022-25 cycle. Bids for this cycle are due in February.
Missouri would have to host a regional before hosting the national championships, but Burns said Missouri could host a regional early in the cycle and then host the national championships later in the cycle.
"Our course has everything the NCAA is looking for," Burns said. "The city of Columbia has everything the NCAA is looking for."
The bigger meets would be one of the numerous recruiting advantages the new course could create. The course is also the site of the MSHSAA State Championship meet on Nov. 9 this year.
"You're going to have probably the best cross country course in the country," George said. "So, for cross country, it's going to be a pretty easy sell."
The new course has provided a lot of positive momentum for a young team.
"For the team to be able to see that this is dedicated just for them says a lot about the program and how important it is to Mizzou athletics," Burns said.