FORT DODGE - It was impossible for Ballard senior Ellie Twedt to hold it all in following the Class 3A girls’ race at the state cross-country meet Saturday.
Surrounded by her teammates following the meet, Twedt was in tears trying to explain how Ballard ran a perfect race at the perfect time to bring home the first state championship in program history.
“This has been a dream,” an emotional Twedt said. “Coming into the year I could have never imagined this. I couldn’t ask for any better team to end my high-school career (with).”
Ballard entered the meet ranked second in 3A behind two-time defending champion Dubuque Wahlert. Dallas Center-Grimes was right up there in the third spot, having run three close races with the Bombers and beating them once.
So it figured the battle for the 3A team championship was going to be a barnburner. Only it wasn’t.
“This is my 25th team I’m bringing in here and I just had a feeling this was the year,” Ballard head coach Scott Barth said. “I also knew that DC-G is a really good team and Wahlert is a really good team. Any other year one of those teams probably wins it. But we all felt pretty good coming in.”
Ballard had three runners place in the top 15 and all seven of its runners finished in the top 50. The Bombers scored 57 points to beat DC-G by a comfortable 23-point margin for the title and they whipped Wahlert by 68 points.
“We came in prepared and everyone was really confident and calm,” Twedt said. “Nothing could’ve gone any better than what we did today.”
Two freshmen led the way for Ballard.
Shewaye Johnson and Paityn Noe entered the meet ranked 14th and 10th respectively in the 3A girls’ individual rankings by the Iowa Association of Track Coaches. They ran much better than that on Saturday.
“Those are two special freshmen,” Barth said. “They come in and they’re just good athletes. The whole thing is to train them to compete at a high level. They’re smart runners.”
Johnson ran the race of her career to end up second behind Center Point-Urbana’s Adrianna Katcher. Katcher won her third state title in four years after completing the 5-kilometer course in 18:29.4 and Johnson beat everyone else - finishing in a school-record time of 18:40.3.
“I was just prepared to give it my all,” Johnson said. “Just do my best and whatever happens, happens. I surprised myself. I was proud.”
Noe was right behind Johnson. She took third in 18:44.4, which also broke the old school mark on a non-shortened course of 19 minutes flat set by Twedt when she got fifth last season.
“I just wanted this so bad for my team,” Noe said. “I just had to go - we had to win this.”
Johnson finished with the 11th-fastest time among runners from all four classes at the state meet. Noe placed 13th.
Twedt earned an individual spot on the medal stand for the second year in a row by placing 13th in at 19:15.6. As good a runner as she was, it was her leadership that really helped bring the team together to peak at the right time on Saturday.
“She’s the cog,” Barth said. “She’s the one that has built us up over the last four years.”
Caitlyn Maher took 29th as Ballard’s fourth runner with a time of 19:49.6. Kate Husinga, who ran JV up until the qualifying meet, also scored points for the Bombers at state after placing 32nd in 19:53.6.
Brooke Loewe and Josie Fleischmann came in 42nd and 46th with respective times of 20:08.3 and 20:12.4 to round out the well-rounded performance from Ballard.
Maher, Huisinga, Loewe and Fleischmann all ran a personal-record time at state.
The average time of the seven Ballard runners was 19:16.7, almost 16 seconds faster per runner than DC-G and a new school record. Wahlert was the only team with a closer spread than Ballard’s 1:13.3.
“I am extremely proud of these girls,” Barth said. “They all work exceedingly hard and maintain unparalleled focus. They are as mentally tough as any team that I have ever coached and they deserve every accolade they get. They are now officially the best cross country team in Ballard athletic history.”
Final 3A girls’ team scores: 1. Ballard 57 points, 2. DC-G 80, 3. Dubuque Wahlert 125, 4. Harlan 168, 5. Bishop Heelan Catholic 193, 6. CP-U 198, 7. Solon 227, 8. Pella 236, 9. Decorah 240, 10. Grinnell 240, 11. Spencer 245, 12. Norwalk 255, 13. Charles City 269, 14. Glenwood 308, 15. A-D-M
Individual Ballard results (5-kilometer): 2. Shewaye Johnson, 18:40.3; 3. Paityn Noe, 18:44.4; 13. Elie Twedt, 19:15.6; 29. Caitlin Maher, 19:49.6; 32. Kate Huisinga, 19:53.6; 42. Brooke Loewe, 20:08.3; 46. Josie Fleischmann, 20:12.4.
Class 4A girls top 15 individual places: 1. Adrianna Katcher (Center Point-Urbana), 18:29.4; 2. Shewaye Johnson (Ballard), 18:40.3; 3. Paityn Noe (Ballard), 18:44.4; 4. Megan Sterbenz (Dallas Center-Grimes), 18:45.7; 5. Norah Pearson (Knoxville), 18:46.1; 6. Amber Aesoph (Bishop Heelan Catholic), 18:49.9; 7. Abby Ryon (Mount Pleasant), 18:55.3; 8. Kiki Connell (Charles City), 18:57.4; 9. Emma Hoins (Waverly-Shell Rock), 19:07.3; 10. Ellie Meyer (Iowa Falls-Alden/AGWSR), 19:10.7; 11. Mary Blanchard (Grinnell), 19:14.8; 12. Alix Oliver (Dubuque Wahlert), 19:15.3; 13. Ellie Twedt (Ballard), 19:15.6; 14. Braelyn Baker (Creston), 19:16.9; 15. Kay Fett (Center Point-Urbana), 19:19.2.