Blue Springs High School is a favorite to win the boys Class 4 Missouri State High School Track and Field Championship next weekend in Jefferson City. One big reason is the brilliance of junior distance runner Stephen Mugeche, who will compete in four events Saturday in the Class 4 sectional meet at Excelsior Springs – the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters and the 3,200 relay. The four top finishers in each event advance to state.

Q: When did you realize you were a good distance runner?

A: I first realized it when I was in sixth grade. I didn't even know what distance running was until we ran the mile, and our teacher told us that whoever won could pick the game we'd play the next day at recess. I really wanted to play dodgeball, so I just went out and ran my fastest and I won. I don't remember my time, but I remember we got to play dodgeball the next day and I was the happiest kid in my class.

Q: You are a standout in both cross country and distance events in track and field. How do they complement each other?

A: A lot of people say they are basically the same because they both include running long races, but in cross country you have to deal with the course – it can be hilly or flat, it can be muddy, there are a lot of variables. And it's 3.1 miles (5 kilometers). But in track, you run around the track – two, four or eight times, depending in the event. Weather and wind can affect each of the sports, but it can have more of an effect in cross country because you are not running on a hard surface like in track. Also, in track, you know your splits, so you have a good idea of what type of race you are running.

Q: How excited are you about the sectional meet Saturday?

A: I'm really excited. I'm trying to get to state in four events and the top four qualifiers in each event go on to state, so I'm going to do my best to qualify in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and 3,200 relay – which is a great race because I get to share it with three of my teammates. You don't know what can happen at sectional, how the other runners are going to run the races, so my main goal is to finish in the top four. But I want to go in there and have success and do my best to win the 1,600 and 3,200, but qualifying is the most important thing right now.

Q: You're just a junior. Some of the best athletes on the team are underclassmen. I know you're concentrating on this year, but how exciting is the future of the Blue Springs boys track team?

A: It's very exciting. Coach (Joe) Cusack has all these meetings where he tells us how good we are, and what we are capable of doing. He pumps us up and gets us excited. He's a great coach and a great motivator and we're all excited about the prospects for this season and next year. He knows that if we work hard, we will get what we deserve this year, and that is a state championship.

Q: Should the Missouri State High School Activities Association go ahead and engrave Blue Springs on the championship plaque?

A: Oh, no, not yet (laughing). We can't take anything for granted. We can't assume anything. We can't be overconfident. We have to keep working hard, and that starts at sectional and goes through practice next week right up to state. Last year, we thought we were going to win state in cross country with Simone (Belete) and James (Barnett) and we finished second. I learned that you can never depend on anything, no matter what everyone is telling you. This year could be special for the track and field team. We have it all – the weight people, the sprinters, the distance people, the jumpers – we just have to stay focused and not go into a meet thinking we've won before we've even competed. Coach won't let us think that way. He'll have us ready to go and we'll see what happens.”

– Bill Althaus (