At the halfway point of the Commodore Classic on Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee, things looked bleak for Missouri men’s cross country.
The Tigers were in seventh place, but a second-half burst from two of their final scorers, redshirt freshman Victor Mugeche and sophomore Oaklee Hauschild, boosted the team to a fifth place finish last Saturday. Mugeche and Hauschild overtook the final finishers for Ohio State and Belmont to put Missouri on top of a three-team pack.
That kind of performance will need to be the norm for the rest of the season. With the international trio of redshirt senior Thomas George, senior Kieran Wood and sophomore Martin Prodanov at the top of the lineup, Missouri will need runners to step up into the team’s final two scoring spots.
After the first two meets, it looks like those spots will belong to Mugeche and Hauschild.
“We need them to grow up fast,” coach Marc Burns said. “We don’t have a lot of depth right now, so we need Victor and Oaklee to work together.”
Working together shouldn’t be a problem for a duo. They’ve been close friends since elementary school.
Hauschild and Mugeche’s friendship started with the pair cracking some jokes during their third-grade class’s reading time. Those jokes, and some other grade-school behavior, spawned a bond that has lasted ever since.
The duo eventually ran together in middle school and at Blue Springs High School before both came to Missouri.
“When I came here, I knew I had someone who is probably closer to me then some of my siblings,” Hauschild said.
During his seventh-grade year, Mugeche wanted to play football, but the school didn’t have a team at the time. Instead, he turned to cross country, where his older brother, Stephen, starred on the Blue Springs High School team.
Hauschild had a cousin on the high school team, so he followed his friend, and the pair took up the sport together.
“With (my cousin) and already being friends with Victor, it was kind of set in stone that I was going to run as well,” Hauschild said.
At Blue Springs, the boys ran varsity for all four years. Throughout those years, they had one goal in mind: winning a state championship.
During Victor Mugeche and Hauschild’s freshman seasons, Stephen Mugeche won an individual state title at the 2014 MSHSAA Class 4 State Championship meet in his senior season. But with a young, inexperienced supporting cast that featured Victor and Hauschild, the team finished seventh.
Mugeche and Hauschild improved over the next two years, earning all-state honors with top ten finishes at the 2016 state championships during their junior years. Mugeche finished second and Hauschild finished ninth, the team fell short of a title and finished fourth.
The next season, it looked like everything would come together. Mugeche beat every Missouri runner he faced during his senior season, with Hauschild right behind him. They were the top two runners in Missouri Class 4 for the whole 2017 season, but when the state championship meet on Nov. 4 approached, disaster struck.
“I just got a ton of random back pain out of nowhere,” Hauschild said. “I felt like I threw out my back because of all the pain and then I felt like I had the flu.”
After the season Hauschild found out he had meningitis, but before the race he decided the unknown sickness wouldn’t stop him from trying to finish what he and Mugeche started as freshmen.
“I went out like I was healthy,” Hauschild said.
Mugeche completed his season with an individual state title, finishing with a time of 15:29 in the 5K. The hindered Hauschild faded at the end of the race on one of the toughest courses in the state and fell back to a seventh-place finish.
“I was planning on scoring second or third, but when I got (seventh) I was like, ‘Those extra points just cost us,” Hauschild said.
Hauschild felt dread and Mugeche was spent after winning his individual crown. Then their coach gave them the news.
“Coach just started shaking us,” Hauschild said.
“I was sitting on a golf cart because I had just vomited,” Mugeche said. “And coach came over saying ‘We did it, we won.’”
Blue Springs squeaked by West Plains for an 11-point victory. Mugeche and Hauschild accomplished their shared goal.
With a 40-point difference between Hauschild and who would have been the next scoring runner for Blue Springs, Hauschild’s finish was the difference between a fourth-place team finish and a state title.
“There are so many things leading up to the meet that can go wrong,” Mugeche said. “But the fact that this went wrong and he pushed through that, I’m forever grateful for that.”
After the meet, Hauschild went to the doctor and found out the source of his pain was meningitis. While he was recovering in the hospital, he made his college decision.
Mugeche had committed to Missouri before the cross country season in August. A couple days after it came to an end, Hauschild made the decision to join him.
“I wasn’t able to really tell anyone else I just made a decision laying in bed one day,” Hauschild said. “And so I didn’t really tell him at all. I just made the decision and he found out later.”
Mugeche was at school when he found out his longtime training buddy was joining him for at least four more years.
“It was probably one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard in my life,” Mugeche said.
After graduation, both runners arrived in Columbia in the fall of 2018. Hauschild donned his Missouri singlet while Mugeche had to leave his in his closet after a stress fracture in his left hip forced him to redshirt.
Hauschild started his freshman season finishing third on the team at the Brooks Twilight Classic in Memphis, but he was hampered by minor injuries throughout the season.
“It was more of an over-training issue,” Hauschild said. “Running too much without getting recovered. Now I’m able to run consistently at the high mileage.”
Hauschild and Mugeche both come into this season fully healthy and ready to fill out the bottom of their team’s lineup. They join sophomores Prodanov and Marquette Wilhite to round out a core that will lead the Missouri lineup for the next three years. Over that time, they’ll try to take the men’s team to the NCAA national championships for the first time since 2000.
“With the way they’re going right now, anything is possible,” Burns said.