JEFFERSON CITY – Blue Springs boys cross country coach Frank Gallick looked on line as he saw his runners one by one cross the finish line.
First was Victor Mugeche, then Oaklee Hauschild, then Morgan Cauveren, then Gabe McClain, and finally Armani Redes was the fifth to come across to complete Blue Springs’ team score.
That’s when Gallick noticed that his team had accomplished a first this season at the Class 4 Missouri State High School Cross Country Championships.
“I looked at the scoreboard and noticed we hadn’t had five guys finish in under 17 minutes all season until today,” Gallick said.
Shortly after all seven of his runners finished, he went to check on his team. On his way, he stopped to look at the electronic scoreboard, which was keeping track of each runner’s times, place and team score.
The team scores were displayed – two at time. When he first looked it showed the 11th and 12th-place teams, then 13th and 14th and 15th and 16th.
“I was like, ‘They are going back to the top,’” Gallick recalled thinking.
There is was – the scoreboard then flashed the first and second place teams – it read “1st Blue Springs 77” and “2nd West Plains 90.”
Gallick was elated. He said he knew that there was no way West Plains could make up 13 points. He rushed over to the finish line area. Lying there was Mugeche. He was on his back, still trying to catch his breath. He was in a dogfight with Webb City’s Ryan Riddle – the other favorite to win the Class 4 individual title. After finishing second his junior year, Mugeche won the individual championship with a time of 15 minutes, 29.13 seconds.
Mugeche was barely aware of what just happened as he tried to recover from his exhaustion. That’s when Gallick broke the news to him.
“Get up man, we won! We won!” Gallick shouted to Mugeche. ”We won this thing!”
Gallick added: “When I saw (the team scores), I started screaming. I probably tore someone’s eardrums out. I never knew how I’d react when this happened, but I was so excited. I want back and checked to make sure it was official.”
It had been 35 years since the Wildcats won a state championship, but at long last the program did it again. Blue Springs finished first with 82 points, 11 points ahead of second-place West Plains Saturday at Oak Hills Golf Center.
“I remember in 2012, we lost by three (points),” Gallick said. “We didn’t want this to be a tight one. But our guys performed so well. From Victor, to Oaklee, to Morgan, to Gabe and Armani, what a huge performance by him.
“Thirty-five years. I didn’t know if we’d ever see another one. Five years ago, I thought that was my only hope (to win a state title). But these guys who came into the program in 2014, I just knew there was something special about them. They grew and developed into (a state championship team). This has been a dream of mine in 23 years of coaching and I finally got it!”
It was also a dream for Mugeche to not only win a state title, but to join his brother Stephen, who finished first at state in 2014, as a individual champion.
When he was closing in on that reality, Victor was gritting his teeth and clinching his firsts as he raced toward the finish line. Once he finally crossed, his body shut down as he collapsed into the arms of a MSHSAA official. But when he was able to recover, Gallick was there to break the big news.
“I already couldn’t breathe after I finished,” Mugeche said. “That was the hardest run of my life. Just hearing our team won, I just couldn’t take it. It was too many emotions at once. It was an unreal experience.”
Once he got up Mugeche embraced coaches and teammates with hugs. He also leaned over the guardrail to get a hug from someone on another team – Blue Springs South’s Tori Findley.
Just a couple of hours prior, Findley also won her first Class 4 girls individual championship (see related story). The two are good friends and they got to share a moment together of winning state titles on the same day.
“Tori is such an amazing person,” Victor said. “Words can’t describe our relationship. It’s amazing. Seeing her win it and set the tone out there, just put me in the mood to go out there and go and get it.”
Future teammate and University of Missouri runner Austin Hindman, who had beat out Victor last season for the individual title, was there cheering him on. So were the last two runners to claim individual titles for Blue Springs – his brother and Simon Belete, who won in 2013. Victor took pictures with those two after the game as they put their arms around one another.
“That’s the royal family right there,” Gallick said of the Mugeches.
It was Victor who led his team to victory, but the team championship wouldn’t have been possible without the other Wildcats.
Hauschild finished seventh at 16:01.18. He was able to gut out an admirable performance besides having nagging lower back pain.
“I didn’t have the race that I really wanted to have,” Hauschild admitted. “We still got the job done and that’s all that really matters.”
Then there was Cauveren. He flew under the radar and was ranked 42nd overall coming into the state meet. He surprised everyone on the team when he earned all-state honors by finishing 20th at 16:19.82. Turns out he was the X-factor.
“(Making all-state) was on my mind a little bit,” Cauveren said. “It just kind of happened. I did this for the guys around me. The first mile felt quick. The finish hill here was terrible. It felt like I was running in slow motion up that hill. I thought I was going to get passed by everybody.”
Added to the mix was McClain, who narrowly missed out on all-state (28th, 16:28.25) and Redes (52nd, 16:52.35), who ran their best races in the most critical time of the year to help bring home the first-place trophy.
After it was all over Victor and the rest of the team posed for myriad pictures as they jumped up and down, Victor held the trophy high up in the air as parents, coaches and administrators whipped out their smartphones to snap photos.
What a way to go out.
“I still don’t think it’s hit me yet,” Victor said. “Words can’t describe this feeling. It’s amazing really.”
While a multitude of people were happy for Victor, none may have been happier for him than Stephen, whom will welcome Victor to the Mizzou cross country team next year.
“The fact that he’s going run with us next year is amazing,” said Stephen, whose state time was beaten by Victor by two seconds. “We came close to winning a state title when I was here in 2012. But to come back to see these guys win as a team is incredible.
“(Victor) certainly has the bragging rights now (in the family). He went out pretty ballsy, running the first mile in 4:40. The fastest I ever ran it was 4:47 or 4:48. That shows that he gave everything. That’s why he was so exhausted. He’ll remember this for the rest of his life for sure.”
OTHER RESULTS: Other area runners to compete in the Class 4 meet were Blue Springs’ Jonah Loewe (65th, 16:58.77) and Brock Wooderson (17:15.88) ; Blue Springs South’s Zachary Grover (35th, 16:36.43) and Dillon Grover (60th, 16:55.98); and Lee’s Summit North’s Drew Reis (58th, 16:54.80 and Parker Anderson (118th, 17:31.21). In Class 3, Van Horn’s Kevin Carew was 144th (19:12.50).