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Examiner
  • Top-Ranked Wildcats eye state title

  • Blue Springs boys cross country coach Frank Gallick saw this coming four years ago.

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  • Blue Springs boys cross country coach Frank Gallick saw this coming four years ago.
    His guys were green back then, still building confidence and still maturing. But even then their potential was undeniable. Now, they’re making good on that promise and having possibly the greatest season in the history of the program.
    Gallick calls this the “season of firsts” for the Wildcats. Last weekend they won the Suburban Big Six Conference championship for the first time since 1994. Earlier this year they finished first at the Rim Rock Invitational in Lawrence, Kan., for the first time in program history. There was also the title they took home at the St. Thomas Aquinas Invitational – their first since 2005 – and their sixth-place finish in their initial appearance in one of the nation’s best high school competitions at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis.
    It’s all come to fruition even better than Gallick could have imagined four years ago. That’s when current seniors Simon Belete, James Barnett, Ty Kemner and Dominic Piccinini first graced the Blue Springs roster.
    “I felt that way back then,” Gallick said. “It was just a matter of if they could continue to develop. And they have.”
    Belete’s matured into the star of the group, winning every race this season except for a third-place finish at Rim Rock and fifth-place mark in Minneapolis. He’s also clocked sub-16-minute times in every race except for the Roy Griak when he finished in 16:01.
    Barnett would be a standout at every other school, but is the No. 3 man at Blue Springs. He notched a personal-best 15:55 for a 13th-place finish and was third at the Big Six Championships, behind only teammates Belete and sophomore Stephen Mugeche.
    Mugeche’s emergence over the last year is what’s pushed the squad, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the state, to the next level. His confidence started to burst at the end of the track and field season in the spring when he became only the second freshman to make all-state by finishing seventh in the 3,200 meters.
    “During track season I realized I could hang with the top guys in the state,” Mugeche said. “Once I got seventh I realized it didn’t matter what age I was. I could be a freshman, sophomore, whatever – I can run with the top juniors and seniors.”
    Mugeche has built on that success during the cross country season, registering a fifth-place time of 15:34 at the Forest Park Invitational in St. Louis as well as second-place tallies at the Big Six Championships and Aquinas Invitational.
    “Steven’s running times that are top times in the state and James’ are too,”  said Belete, who finished fifth in the state last season. “It’s just like, ‘He’s our No. 3 man? What?’”
    Page 2 of 2 - The Belete-Mugeche-Barnett trio is dominant, but the foursome of Kemner, Piccinini and juniors Devon Sesler and Vincent Kackley add substance. Sesler is posting similar times as Belete, Mugeche and Barnett posted a year ago but hasn’t been discouraged by his No. 4 status, Gallick said. Kemner and Piccinini routinely crack the 17:30 mark and alternate between fifth and sixth on the squad. And Kackley has made a solid transition to varsity after running JV last year.
    At the end of track season, the group collectively agreed what its goal needed to be come fall.
    “I’ve always wanted to win state individually,” Belete said. “And after my freshman year when we didn’t make it to state as a team, that kind of became a goal, to get the team down to state. And when we finally did it last year, it was just kind of like, ‘Let’s win state next year guys. We put the time and the work in. Let’s go for it.’”
    The squad met up regularly for runs all summer long and attended two camps together – one in Denver and one in Polo, Mo., at assistant coach Brian Curp’s family farm. At Polo, the team set up tents and camped out for four days where they worked out twice a day, running about eight or nine miles per session.
    “The bonding that goes on during those camps and during our summer running really helps solidify this team,” Belete said. “Those are the guys I want to be around in a race. Those are the guys I want to be around when I work out after school. Whenever I’m racing out there, it’s not just for me, it’s for my team and my teammates are my friends.”
    The Cats, who finished eighth in the state last year, are hoping for a more prolific finish this season with the postseason set to start Saturday, Oct. 20, with the district meett at Lake Jacomo. Capping the season with the program’s first state title since 1982 would be an appropriate end to year that has so far been storybook.
    “Honestly, I can’t think of any better way I could spend my high school career than with these guys,” Barnett said. “… It’s a jaw-dropping experience that we’re having, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
     
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