A state championship could be the cards for the Ballard girls, and the Bomber boys will attempt to qualify for state in cross country this fall.

The Ballard girls return their top 12 runners from last year’s team that placed fourth at state in Class 3A. With some outstanding freshmen added to the mix, the Bombers expect to do even better this season.

“This is most likely one of the most talented teams that we have ever had,” Ballard head coach Scott Barth said. “I want to see if we can make that last jump over the hump and put on a serious push for a state championship.”

Senior Ellie Twedt is the top returning runner for the Ballard girls.

Twedt was phenomenal as a junior, winning five meets and placing second at both the Raccoon River Conference meet and 3A state qualifying meet in Spencer. At state, she ran a career-best 5-kilometer time of 19 minutes, 0.2 seconds to place fifth individually.

But Twedt will have some company at the head of the Bomber pack this season. Freshman Shewaye Johnson has pushed her way to the front of the line over the summer, and fellow rookie Paityn Noe isn’t far behind.

Claire Landmesser is another freshman that could factor into the varsity mix.

The top returning runners for Ballard, alongside Twedt, are seniors Rachel Wohlgemuth and Hailey Cole, juniors Caitlin Maher and Josie Fleischmann and sophomores Brooke Loewe and Meg Rietz. Kate Huisinga and Abbey Ross are two more experienced runners who could vie for varsity time.

Maher, Loewe and Wohlgemuth all qualified for state individually in 2018.

Maher ended the 2018 regular season ranked 17th in 3A and she placed 33rd at state. She peaked with a time of 19:51 at the RRC meet, where she took third.

Loewe finished fifth at the RRC meet and ninth at the qualifying meet last year, peaking at 20:09. Wohlgemuth finished 32nd at state last year and her fastest time was 20:15.

Rietz ran a 20:28 in 2018. Fleischmann’s best time was 20:49 and Cole topped out at 20:46.

“We have tremendous talent on our team,” Barth said. “We have 12 girls, at least, fighting for the seven spots in our varsity lineup. I am hoping that competition in practices will push us forward at meets.”

The Ballard girls will face a challenging schedule, highlighted by an out-of-state meet on Sept. 28. The Bombers travel to the Les Bolstad Golf Course in Minnesota to compete in the prestigious Roy Griak Invitational, which includes six collegiate and four high school races.

Ballard also competes in the Heartland Classic on the Central College course on Pella on Sept. 21. Hosted by Des Moines Roosevelt, the meet is nationally recognized and features teams from several states.

“We have upgraded our meets this season and now include loaded fields at Gilbert, Ballard, Heartland Classic and the Griak Meet,” said. “These meets will help us work on focus and mental strength against strong competition, and prepare us well for a state-meet atmosphere.”

Dubuque Wahlert and Dallas Center-Grimes will be the biggest obstacles in the way of Ballard’s run at a state championship. Wahlert is the defending 3A state champion and brings back its top six runners from that team, and DCG returns its top five runners from last year’s 3A runner-up.

The Ballard boys are looking to take the season one meet at a time. Barth is looking for some runners to take charge of the team after losing a valuable senior class from 2018.

“We need a handful of athletes to assume some of the organizational and motivational aspects that help create a cohesive team from within,” Barth said. “We have some good athletes on this team — good leadership will help put the other pieces into place.”

The top runners for the Bomber boys heading into the season are junior Gage Long, senior Jace Beall, sophomore Chris Lee, freshman Austin Shoen and junior Jack Chism.

Long’s best 5-kilometer time from 2018 was 17:56. Beall ran the fastest time on the team last year at 17:12, Chism topped out at 18:03 and Lee ran an 18:20.

Seniors Jonah Olson, Dante Jones, Joe Fletcher and Josh Purcell and freshman Trent Payne will also be in the varsity mix for the boys. Jones ran an 18:46 in 2018.

“We want to peak at season’s end and have great competition for those final varsity spots heading into conference and the (qualifying) meet,” Barth said. “We want to put ourselves in a position to have a realistic shot to get our ticket to state.”

Both Ballard teams open the season today at the Gilbert Invitational. The meet takes place at 4:45 p.m. on the Iowa State cross country course in Ames.