While Stephen Mugeche won’t be running alongside his Blue Springs teammates at the state championship cross country meet, if the hugs, handshakes and enthusiasm that met him at Raymore-Peculiar on Saturday morning is an indication, he won’t be alone in Jefferson City.
By ZACHARY SPAIN
Special to The Star
Mugeche, a junior who took the District 7 title last week, won the 5-kilometer Class 4, Sectional 4 championship in 15 minutes, 46.3 seconds by extending a one-second lead at one mile to a comfortable finish, building distance over rivals William Thompson of Rockhurst (15:59.6) and Truman’s Colton Rockhold (16:01.3).
But unlike last season, when the Wildcats were state runners-up and Simon Belete won the individual title, Mugeche will be his school’s lone representative after the Wildcats did not advance from the district meet.
He’ll be one of the favorites after finishing fourth a year ago, and the attention he received Saturday will likely follow him across the state, if not on the course.
“To have two state champions back-to-back would be big for Blue Springs,” said Mugeche as he accepted congratulations and greeted everyone around, including a line of finishing competitors. “And my teammates will be there.”
Liberty will return to the state meet after failing to qualify last year. The Blue Jays used four top-15 finishers within 22 seconds of each other to take the boys title 59-73 over Ray-Pec. Lee’s Summit North (100 points) and Rockhurst (110) also qualified for the 16-team state championship field.
“We’re just glad to be going back,” Liberty coach Tim Nixon said.
Lee’s Summit West (79), which won five consecutive girls state titles before placing fourth last year, bounced back from a second-place finish at the district meet and won a close competition over Lee’s Summit North (82) and Kearney (83). Despite cool temperatures and a flat course that led to fast early paces, the Titans were disciplined and moved from the back to close strong in the final kilometer.
“They were patient, did not go out extremely hard and kept moving up throughout the race,” LSW coach Jesse Griffin said. “They ran very intelligent races.”
Ray-Pec (107) also qualified ahead of District 7 champion St. Teresa’s (116), despite Ann Campbell’s 11-second win (18:48.3). The Stars, who finished third in the state last year, will be surprisingly absent. Hayden Lee (ninth place) was their only other runner to qualify individually.
Missouri Class 3, District 7
The Grain Valley boys team won its first conference title earlier this season. At Ray-Pec, it added another first: a district championship.
The Eagles (29 points) put all five scoring runners between third and eighth to close on Pembroke Hill (32) in the final kilometer, leaving spectators lining the finish area trying to do the quick match before the win became official.
“We knew it was going to be close,” first-year Grain Valley coach Nick Small said. “They went after it. That’s all you can ask for.”
Pembroke Hill’s Evan Peterson (17:21.7) and Jon Chu (17:42.6) took the top places to help the Raiders clinch the second state-qualifying spot.
Behind Julie Steilen’s win and a sweep of spots three through six, Notre Dame de Sion won the girls’ title ahead of second qualifier Grain Valley.
Only a second-place finish by early leader Hannah Rutherford of Grandview prevented Sion from a perfect score.