At the Missouri State High School Cross Country Championships Saturday, Blue Springs Victor Mugeche was approaching the finish line.

He was gritting his teeth and clenching his fists, running as hard as he could.

When he crossed the finish line, he fell into the arms of a MSHSAA official. He was exhausted. When he caught his breath and was able to stand up, he realized that he and his team were state champions after Coach Frank Gallick delivered the news.

Waiting for him near the guardrail was someone who accomplished the same feat two hours earlier in the Class 4 girls race – Blue Springs South’s Tori Findley. They embraced with a tight hug as they both smiled.

It was a moment that they had discussed before the 2017 season even started. They got to live that reality as the best friends, who are currently dating, won individual titles on the same day.

Findley and Mugeche followed similar paths on their way to their first state championships. Findley finished third as a sophomore and second as a junior. Mugeche was seventh as a sophomore and second as a junior.

Both knew what it was like to feel the heartbreak of barely missing out on a state championship. Now, they know what it’s like to come out on top and they got to share that moment together.

“We both thought that (we could become state champions in the same year),” Findley said. “I remember he was struggling (to get up after the race). That’s when he figured out their team had won and I said, ‘Congrats!’ It was amazing.”

Added Mugeche: “Honestly I was so dead, I don’t remember that exact moment. I remember looking up and seeing her and her saying congrats. I was struggling and was not feeling good. Luckily she was feeling good and when I got up, I gave her a hug.”

The two started becoming friends during their sophomore year. Cross country and track were mutual interests for them and they often ran together in the offseason and on the weekends during school.

“I knew of her in seventh or eighth grade,” Mugeche said. “I didn’t know her and just saw her. I knew her as the girl who was really fast.”

Despite being a part of rival schools, they both cheered each other on when the other was running.

It’s no different now.

“We don’t have that rivalry because we aren’t directly competing against each other,” Mugeche said. “I thought, ‘This girl is really cool. How can I not be friends with her?’”

Added Findley: “We saw each other so much and we were like, ‘Oh we’re both pretty good (runners). We’re cool people. We might as well be friends.

“(Blue Springs and Blue Springs South) don’t really have (a rivalry) in cross country. Seeing their success motivates us.”

Findley winning her state championship earlier served as a major inspiration to Mugeche. He admitted that his normal race strategy is to start conservatively, then run hard during the last two miles of the 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) race. This time, Mugeche came out running hard from the start and it paid off in the form of a gold medal.

After the match Mugeche and Findley posed for several pictures as coaches and parents of both teams whipped out their smart phones and started a paparazzi fest.

“Tori is such an amazing person,” Victor said Saturday. “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.”

And get it he did. So did Findley. Their drive, their competitiveness and their talent are reasons why both of them will be a part of the University of Missouri track and field and cross country teams next fall. Mugeche first committed to Mizzou, joining his brother Stephen. Eight days later, Findley joined him in that verbal commitment.

“You just have to follow your heart and that’s how it played out,” Mugeche said. “It was amazing (to find out Findley committing). It was hard to describe the feeling.

Added Findley: “(Victor committing to Mizzou) wasn’t a deciding factor, but knowing that he was going there it was like, ‘OK.’ It was comfortable kind of thing.”

But the duo still have the rest of their high school careers to look forward to, including the spring track and field season. There’s also another big event most high school students look forward to – prom. So will Findley and Mugeche being going together?

“I guess it’s a possibility for sure,” Findley said chuckling.