The Ballard girls kept their outstanding tradition going with a top-10 finish at state and the Bomber boys dealt with growing pains in 2017.

The Ballard girls returned to state for the fourth year in a row this fall. The Bomber girls won five meets, including Raccoon River Conference and 3A state qualifying meet championships, and they placed 10th in 3A at state after taking 14th each of the past two years.

“The girls continue on their steady march to the top,” Ballard head cross country coach Scott Barth said. “It was a great season, but these girls want more and are willing to do what it takes to get there.”

During the regular season, Ballard won the Spartan and Norwalk Invitational meets and also took first at their home meet — the newly named Mike Carr Invitational.

“Winning our home meet was great for us,” Barth said. “We hadn’t done that in a few years, so defending the home course was pretty sweet.”

The Bombers also placed second at the Pella, Winterset and Saydel meets and third at Nevada.

A big highlight for Ballard was competing at the prestigious Heartland Classic in Ames on Sept. 16. The meet featured all the top Class 4A and other top 3A teams from Iowa, as well as top schools from other Midwest states.

Ballard ended up placing 17th out of 34 schools at the Heartland Classic. They turned in the best showing of any 3A Iowa school competing in the meet.

“A primary focus we had for the girls was putting them up against tougher competition to drive their mental confidence higher,” Barth said. “We altered their schedule and headed to the Heartland Invitational to help with this. I saw more confidence and focus in these girls this season and that helped us to reach higher.”

The confidence gained from the Heartland Classic was on full display at the end of the season. The Bomber girls won their third-consecutive RRC title and claimed the 3A qualifying meet championship at Atlantic.

“Taking our third-consecutive conference title, in commanding form, was pretty cool,” Barth said. “Maybe this biggest victory for us though was claiming the regional crown at Atlantic and earning our fourth-straight trip to state.”

At state, Ballard scored 227 points to top last year’s score of 296 and move up four spots in the final team standings.

Sophomore Ellie Twedt and freshman Caitlin Maher were the two most consistent individual runners for Ballard during the season. Senior Summer McVicker also had a strong year, sophomore Lauren Matthews came back from a 2016 injury to perform well and sophomore Rachel Wohlgemuth fought through an early 2017 injury to make big contributions.

Hailey Cole was another talented sophomore that was a steady varsity runner all season. Josie Fleischmann joined Maher as a freshman contributor on the varsity and senior Anna Zielke filled in when needed and provided quality leadership.

The tremendous depth helped Ballard easily overcome early health issues to compete for championships at every meet.

“We had a few girls enter the season with injuries, so patience was a big challenge,” Barth said. “We trained them into shape with modified workouts at the beginning of the season. This all worked out for us, however, as we ended the season in a pretty good spot healthwise. People tend not to notice when we are not running our traditional varsity line-up because we have lots of good depth that extends into our JV.”

Twedt placed second at the RRC meet, third at the qualifying meet and 35th at state. Her average 5-kilometer time was 20 minutes, one second and her fastest showing was 19 minutes, 32 seconds at Nevada.

Maher finished fourth at the RRC meet, 10th at the qualifying meet and 49th at state in her initial season of varsity competition. Her average time was 21:08 and she peaked with a 20:11 showing both at the Saydel Invite and later at state.

McVicker was a tremendous senior leader and she finished eighth at conference, 21st at the qualifying meet and 85th at state. McVicker’s average time was 21:06 and her best showing was 20:18 at Pella.

Matthews ran an average time of 21:20 and placed fifth at the RRC meet, seventh at the qualifying meet and 89th at state. Her fastest effort was 20:34 at the qualifying meet.

Wohlgemuth came back from an early injury to end up ninth at conference, 25th at the qualifying meet and 85th at state. She turned in an average time of 21:27 and saved her best for last by running a 20:49 at state.

Cole was Ballard’s most improved runner. She reduced her average time from 22:59 last year to 21:36 in 2017.

Cole’s peak time this season was 20:57 at state. She wound up 91st at state, sixth at conference and 30th at the qualifying meet.

Fleischmann’s average time was 21:52, with her best effort of 21:01 coming at state, where she placed 98th. Fleischmann also took 11th at the RRC meet and 24th at the qualifying meet.

Zielke ran JV for most of the season, but she stepped up to run varsity at some meets. Zielke showed tremendous consistency as her best effort was 22:03 and her average time was 22:28.

It will be a big challenge for Ballard to replace McVicker and Zielke, along with the rest of the senior class.

“I am going to miss these girls so much,” Barth said. “They have made an impact on this program which will last for a long, long time.”

But with so much coming back, the Bombers will be aiming for another RRC title and top-10 finish at state in 2018.

“With such a solid core returning, we will expect to take another step forward next season,” Barth said. “The seniors have established a tradition which they have mentored in the underclassmen that will continue our steady march to the top of Class 3A. I feel excited and optimistic about what could be if we continue doing what we are doing, with small adjustments to help in that process of improvement.”

The Ballard boys had to deal with the loss of state qualifier Noah Kohut-Jackson, who open-enrolled to Ames. That, combined with inexperience, made it difficult for them to finish higher than the middle of the pack at most meets.

The Bomber boys won the Spartan Invitational going up against smaller schools at the start of the season. They came in sixth out of 18 teams at Winterset, fourth out of 10 teams at Adel, third at Saydel, fourth at the RRC meet and sixth at the qualifying meet.

“The boys are continuing to chip away and work their way up in the standings,” Barth said. “The overall feeling of positivity is growing and with that, improved efforts. Although we didn’t get to the levels of success that I thought were possible this season, we are on the right track to make that step next season.”

The Ballard boys didn’t send anyone to state. But Barth said he was pleased with the progress of several runners.

“These kids have developed a shared vision and are working hard to become better,” Barth said. “It has been a process to get to this point, but they are improving through positivity and quality work ethics.”

Sophomore Jace Beall came on strong in the middle of the season for the Bomber boys.

Beall placed 11th at the RRC meet and 29th at the qualifying meet. Beall’s average 5-kilometer time was 18:51 and his top showing was 18:04 at Saydel.

Nathan Wuestenberg, Chase Winterboer and Carter Thompson were the next most consistent runners for the Ballard boys. Wuestenberg’s average time was 19 minutes flat, Winterboer 19:01 and Thompson 19:02.

Wuestenberg placed 22nd at the conference and 38th at the qualifying meet. His top time was 18:26 at the conference meet.

Winterboer came in 27th at the RRC meet and 43 at the qualifying meet. He peaked with an 18:27 showing at Nevada.

Thompson’s fastest time was 18:14 at Nevada and he ran an 18:17 at the qualifying meet. Thompson placed 23rd at the qualifying meet and 29th at conference.

Juniors Erik Ledet and Ryan Ledet were also steady performers for the Bomber boys. Erik’s average time was 19:16 and Ryan’s 19:24.

Zane Charter ran an average time of 19:28, with a peak of 18:18 at Saydel. Gage Long ran an average time of 19:54, Seth Wohlgemuth 20:01, James Gute 20:06 and Owen Zunkel 20:22.

The good news for the Ballard boys is they lose only eight seniors out of large group of runners and return the bulk of their varsity regulars. Gute was the only senior among the top 10 runners.

“Even though they didn’t end up in the varsity lineup at season’s end, they represented Ballard well in meets,” Barth said of his departing senior class.

That leaves the team with plenty of room for growth in 2018.

“I think we finally have a core group of guys that understands what it takes to compete at a higher level and make a push for conference championships and state qualifying teams,” Barth said. “I will touch base with them soon to set some mileage goals between now and next season. Get that going and stay clear of injuries/illness, and we will be much improved next season.”