Mugeche, Findley Strike Gold at Heat-Shortened Rim Rock Classic

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Normally, the workers in the finish area are the busiest volunteers at high school cross country meets.


But Saturday at Rim Rock Farm, the staff in the medical tent was scrambling just as much as or more than anyone else, tending to dozens of runners after a hot, steamy morning of racing at the Rim Rock Farm Classic.


The heat got so bad that the last three races of the day had to be called off. Temperatures hovered in the low to mid-80s for most of the races and topped 90 at about the time the Boys Blue Varsity race took off at 12:20 p.m.


No one covered the course faster than Victor Mugeche of Blue Springs, but even he paid the price. The senior, who committed earlier this week to run for the University of Missouri, fended off a late surge by Denver East's Harrison Scudamore to win the Boys Gold Varsity race in 15:27.7


He then spent the next 30 minutes being tended to in the medical tent.


"I haven't gotten it checked out…(but) I think I have a very low level of asthma," Mugeche said once he began feeling better. "It's only happened to me a few times, but after finishing a race, my heart rate stays high for a long time. It's only happened a few times. But usually after I calm down, I throw up and after I threw up, I feel amazing now."


Scudamore, who trailed by about 12 seconds with a half-mile to go, closed the gap on Mugeche down the final stretch, but settled for second place in 15:32.1. Ryan Eastman of Creighton Prep in Omaha also made up ground late, and finished third in 15:34.8.


The top Kansas finisher in the Boys Gold division was Blue Valley Southwest's Dylan Miller, who placed seventh in a season- and career-best of 15:58.0. Other top 20 finishers from Kansas included Maize's Nathan Jones (ninth, 16:04.9), St. Thomas Aquinas' Ethan Marshall (11th, 16:10.8), Manhattan's Cooper Schroeder (13th, 16:13.6), and Gardener-Edgerton's Trent Cochran (20th, 16:27.2).


Mugeche's win keyed Blue Springs' four-point win over Show Me State rival Rockhurst for the team title. St. Thomas Aquinas was the top Kansas school in the Boys Gold division, placing sixth.


Mugeche said he "feels pretty good" about winning one of the region's premier races. "The race went out pretty fast, and I was pretty happy how the whole race went. I wasn't feeling very good after finishing, but I was very proud that our team came out with the win. Very exciting."


Another Missouri standout, Victoria Findley of Blue Springs South, won the Girls Gold varsity race, but unlike Mugeche, she was barely challenged. She sped out to a comfortable 10 second lead after the first mile and won in 18:12.9.


Makenzie Stucker of Raymore-Peculiar fought off the rest of the chase pack to finish second in 18:48.3, followed closely by Bailey Nock of Iowa City West in 18:49.3. Sophie Call of Blue Valley West (18:59.9), Clara Mayfield of Manhattan (19:07.8) and St. Thomas Aquinas' Olivia Sovereign (19:10.3) were the top Kansas finishers, placing sixth through eighth, respectively.


"I felt really good," Findley said. "I knew it was going to be hot and I knew it was going to be really good competition but I just had to stick to running the race that I'm good at, and that's just taking it out (fast). I was hoping they'd come with me for a little longer…it was a good confidence booster. We had a week off and so we were all kind of wondering, 'are we still good? How are we going to match up?' And so it was cool to come out here and see that my fitness was still high."


St. James Academy won the Girls Gold team title for the second year in a row, putting five runners in the top 50 for a five-point win over Millard West from Omaha. Sara Murrow placed 12th overall to lead the squad, which posted a 1:14 pack time.


"We've been really working hard this season and really support each other, and support was one of the main things we used in the race," Murrow said.


Mill Valley placed fourth in the Girls Gold division, while Blue Valley North was sixth, Blue Valley West was eighth, and St. Thomas Aquinas was 10th.


In the other varsity races at the Rim Rock Classic:


Johnson, Trout do battle in the Girls Blue


Halle Johnson of Bennington won the Girls Varsity Blue Division with a tenacious finish over the last mile. She trailed Independence standout Renee Trout just past the two mile mark, but then methodically began pushing the pace.


By the time Johnson crossed King's Bridge and with just over a half-mile to go, she had taken command of the lead. She kept the pedal down over the famed Rim Rock skyline and won easily in 19:34.4, a season PR. Trout, who has run 18:51 for the best time in class 4A this season, was second in 19:52.


"I have been working on a new strategy where I stay with (other runners) and then trying to work on my speed and kick it that last half mile," Johnson said.


"It was hot, but you've got to be ready for all kinds of conditions in cross country. It's a tough sport."


Hiawatha's Elizabeth Kettler, who placed second in the class 3A state cross country championships on this course a year ago, was third on Saturday. Kettler pulled away from the chase group by two miles and finished in 20:15.9.


Depenbusch's Debut a Good One


In the Boys Varsity Crimson race, Great Bend's Kerby Depenbusch had a pretty good running partner for his season debut.


Depenbusch and teammate Connor Griffith stalked Lakewood, Colorado's Chase Dornbusch for two miles, then put on the gas as they posted a 1-2 finish. Depenbusch won in 16:24 while Griffith followed in 16:29. Dornbusch placed third in 16:34.


Depenbusch was racing for the first time this season after suffering a stress fracture in a fibula this summer, which he says was related to a summer job.


"Luckily they caught it soon enough," said Depenbusch, a senior who is a six-time state medalist in cross country and track and field. "I wore a boot for three weeks and was also doing underwater treadmill workouts and finally started getting slowly back into running."


About Saturday's race, he said: "I was pretty nervous, but my legs actually felt pretty good. In the middle of the race, when you need to be tough, when you feel like you can't do this, you just got to tell that part of yourself to shut up."


Griffith said the pair started the race conservatively, running about 25th place for the first mile before making their charge for the front. At the bottom of the course, near the two mile mark, they had caught Dornbusch and made their final push.


"Kerby just started to go and I decided to follow him," Griffith said.


"We have a magnet," Depenbusch joked.


The magnet apparently helped the rest of their team, too, as Great Bend rolled to the team title in the Boys Crimson division. The Panthers scored 187 points for a 22 point win over Nixa (Mo.). Pre-meet favorite Wichita North was fifth, Andover Central eighth, and Blue Valley Northwest 10th.


Conrad's Wicked Kick Wins the Boys Blue Division


Wichita Collegiate's Lakelin Conrad put on a relentless drive over the last three-quarters mile of the race to grab victory in the Boys Varsity Blue race. Conrad, who also won this race last year, won in 16:19.6 to edge Yates Center's Hadley Splechter, who finished in 16:21.9.


Those two were in an intense battle with Beloit-St. John's David Lutgen through two and one-half miles before Conrad and Splechter began pulling away up the King's Bridge hill. By the time they hit the Rim Rock skyline, the two were shoulder-to-shoulder.


But Conrad had a little more. He began his kick about 500 meters out and charged relentlessly around the final curve and into the finish.


"It felt really good," said Conrad, the class 3A state champion in 2014 and class 4A in 2016. "Last week, I had some sickness and did not feel my best, so to fight that and come back strong the next week is really good and I'm really happy that all my hard work is paying off."


Lutgen finished in 16:27 for third, just one second off his career best. He has the top time in class 1A this season, while Splechter is No. 1 in class 2A. Conrad moved to No. 3 in class 4A with his time on Saturday.


Bentonville West (Ark.) was the team champion in the Boys Blue division, winning by 110 points over runner-up Smithville (Mo.). Wamego was the top Kansas team, placing fourth.


Heat No Problem for Colorado Runner in Girls Crimson


Carley Bennett of Lakewood (Colo.) had no problem leaving the cooler climate of her home state for the heat and humidity of Kansas. She pulled away just past a mile into the Girls Varsity Crimson race and never looked back, finishing in 19:27 for a 19 second win over Hailey Day of Heritage (Ark.).


"I just had the mindset that everybody's racing in it," Bennett said. "I knew I could handle it. It's definitely not my favorite weather, I like dry heat more. But, you know, I love new experiences. It's really fun."


Bennett started conservatively, but she said when the pace slowed, she felt like it was time for her to make a move.


"I wanted to stick around the leader and move at 4000 meters, but I felt that her pace was too slow after about 2000 (meters), so I just took it at 2," she said.


Michelle Sanchez of Junction City placed third in 19:53.2, just edging Truman's Stacy Briggs (19:53.8) at the finish line.


Freshman Riley Beach of Blue Valley Northwest placed fifth in 20:02.8, leading her team to fifth place -- the top Kansas team in the Girls Crimson race. Lansing placed ninth and was the only other Kansas team to finish in the top 10.


Marquette (Mo.) won the Girls Varsity Crimson team title in a close battle with Rogers (Ark.) and Bishop Kelley (Okla.).

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