Blue Springs senior Stephen Mugeche woke up before sunrise Saturday and began his preparations for the Missouri Class 4 state cross country meet, the last race of his high school career.
A year after taking second place at the state meet — causing him to use descriptions such as disappointed, sad, even heartbroken — Mugeche spent the hours before Saturday’s race focusing strictly on positive thoughts. He envisioned crossing the finish line in first place as onlookers yelled his name.
Two hours later, it played out just as he planned.
Mugeche won the Missouri Class 4 boys state cross country championship Saturday at Oak Hills Golf Center in Jefferson City — a course that had previously provided only heartache. He completed the run in 15 minutes, 32.23 seconds, the fifth-best time in state history.
“I knew this day was going to come. I felt like it was my year,” Mugeche said. “I feel like I’ve been a pretty good runner since my freshman year, but I haven’t won the big race. I finally have.
“It’s even better than I thought it would be.”
A week ago, Kearney sophomore Clayton Adams bested Mugeche to win the Missouri Class 4, Sectional 4 race. On Saturday, Adams settled for second place, 11 seconds behind Mugeche. Platte County senior Nathan Straubel was fifth.
Mugeche called the sectional race a wake-up call.
The state-championship encore quickly became a two-man race. Mugeche gained the lead when he passed Adams just before the two-mile mark, and he pulled away over the final stretch — a tract the runners have dubbed “Heartbreak Hill“ because of its steep, steady incline leading up to the finish line.
“He was too far ahead of me and I just couldn’t catch up,” Adams said. “If you’re not within a step or two of him, there’s just no way. He was great today.”
Blue Springs South girls take third
Blue Springs South had not qualified its full team for the girls state cross country meet since 1995.
On Saturday, the Jaguars made the most of their first appearance in 19 seasons. They finished third in the Missouri Class 4 team standings. Kearney was fifth.
Senior Grace Klausen paced Blue Springs South’s historic day with a fourth-place finish. Freshman Tori Findley took sixth, and senior Ashton Henson placed 11th for the Jaguars.
“We talked about opportunities and how they don’t come around that often, so you have to take advantage of them and making something happen,” Klausen said. “This was a great opportunity, and I think we made the most of it.”
Klausen finished in 18 minutes, 15.45 seconds, which was more than a minute faster than she completed the same course last season.
Pembroke Hill, Lone Jack place runners in Top 10
As recently as two weeks ago, Pembroke Hill junior Evan Peterson wasn’t sure his knee injury would heal in time for him to run again this season.
A strict regimen of physical therapy changed that thought just in time for last week’s district meet. And on Saturday, Peterson was already back to his old self. He took eighth place in the Class 3 boys race.
“I’m going for No. 1 next year,” Peterson said. “I’ll be training harder after today. I didn’t do enough winter or summer training last year. Next year, I’ll be stronger.”
The final local top-10 finish of the day came from Lone Jack senior Drake Hammack, who took eighth place in the Class 1 boys race.
Lone Jack was third in the Class 1 boys standings.
More All-State honors
The top 25 place-winners in every class were awarded all-state status.
▪ In addition to Mugeche, Adams and Straubel, Rockhurst senior William Thompson (11th), Liberty junior Brandon Colner (21st) and Park Hill South senior Tucker Melles (23rd) received that honor in boys Class 4.
Rockhurst finished fifth in the team standings in Class 4.
▪ In the Class 4 girls race, the Blue Springs South trio led a strong showing from Kansas City area runners. St. Teresa’s senior Ann Campbell (eighth), Winnetonka sophomore Emma Evans (13th), Liberty senior Madison Nasteff (15th), Platte County freshman Rebekah Geddes (16th), Kearney senior Olivia Franklin (17th), Liberty North senior Stephanie Boan (18th), Raymore-Peculiar junior Kiley Deain (19th), Kearney junior Anne Wood (21st) and Park Hill South freshman Emma Roth (22nd) also reached all-state status.
▪ O’Hara freshman Caroline Meyers (11th) and Pembroke Hill freshman Julia Rosher (17th) were all-state recipients in Class 3 girls.