No one was more excited than Victor Mugeche as the state’s premier distance runner watched his Blue Springs High School teammates claim their sixth consecutive Rusty Hodge Invitational championship Thursday night at Larry Stewart Memorial Stadium.
Even without Mugeche, the Missouri Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year, coach Joe Cusack’s Wildcats rolled to a 140-80 victory over second place Jefferson City.
On the girls side, a strong overall effort by coach Jennifer Reeder’s Wildcats helped Blue Springs claim its second consecutive girls title, topping the host Jaguars 119.33 to 87.
While the Wildcats were celebrating their dual victories, Blue Springs South senior Tori Findley, the Missouri Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year on the girls side, turned the 3,200 into her own personal showcase, winning it for the second year in a row and missing her school record mark by 4 seconds.
“You’re not supposed to be within 4 seconds of your school record at this time of the year, on a wet and cold night like tonight,” South coach Ryan Unruh said. “She’s so special, to do what she did tonight this early in the season is unbelievable.”
Findley finished in first with a time of 10:37.83. Teammate Danielle Hotalling was second at 11:06.38.
“It’s great to win this event for the second year in a row and to finish 1-2 with Danielle,” said Findley, who will run cross country and track at the University of Missouri. “I had no idea I was close to my school record.
“That was a shock – but a good shock! I really want to have a successful senior season and tonight was very special. It’s like Unruh said before the meet, This is Rusty Hodge, our home track, under the lights, let’s go do something special.’ I tried my best and am happy with the win.”
Mugeche, who will also run at Missouri, was on the sidelines with a minor hip ailment cheering on his teammates as they continued their dominance of the Rusty Hodge Invitational.
“Proud of these guys,” said Mugeche, following a victory by the 1,600 relay team to close out the event.
Josh McCullough, who won the 400 (50.68); Matt Marzolf, who was second in the 400; Xavier Hall, who won the 300 hurdles (40.18); and newcomer Donte Buckner claimed the gold medal with a time of 3:28.79.
“I can’t say enough good things about that group that ran the 4x4,” Cusack said. “We put two speed guys up front, then had ‘X’ running third and were hoping they’d give Donte a good lead, since he’s never run the anchor of a relay before, and it worked out just like we’d hoped.
“What a great way to end one of the premier meets in the state. I don’t know what’s going on in St. Louis, but this certainly the premier meet around here in Week 2, and it’s one we take great pride in winning.”
Other Blue Springs winners were Oaklee Hauschild in the 1,600 (4:28.89) and Tre Wheaton in the long jump (22 feet, 8.75 inches).
On the girls side, Reeder was thrilled with her team’s overall consistency.
“We don’t have the superstars,” Reeder said, “but we’re consistent across the board and our girls work so hard. I am so proud of all of them.”
Blue Springs’ Sarah Coy won the 100 hurdles (16.12) and Natalie Sheehy won the pole vault (9-06).
For more stories, features and area times, please check out further coverage of the Rusty Hodge Invitational in Saturday’s Examiner or at www.examiner.net.