The Ballard boys’ cross country team went through a difficult 2019 season marred by health issues.

“We were plagued by illness and injuries with some of our best and most experienced runners,” Ballard head coach Scott Barth said. “Six out of our top seven runners experienced some struggles in those areas and that really affected what we could do on the course.

That made it tough for them to steadily decrease their times and find consistency during the season.”

Weather provided another obstacle with regards to consistency as the Bombers were unable to run in a number of meets.

Even with the stiff challenges, Ballard still turned in some solid performances as a team.

The Bomber boys took sixth in Class A at the Gilbert Invitational, eighth in Class A at the Mike Carr Invitational, 46th out of 62 teams in the Maroon Division at the prestigious Ray Griak Invitational in Minnesota, fourth at the Tiger Invite in Adel and third at the Leon Fox Invite in Perry. Ballard came in fifth at the Raccoon River Conference meet and 10th at the Class 3A state-qualifying meet in Humboldt.

“I really enjoyed working with many of the runners who are willing to do what it takes to get better,” Barth said. “We do have a core that wants to get us back to the state meet and they are willing to do what it takes to get us there.”

Barth said a stronger offseason will be key to Ballard turning the corner in the next couple seasons.

“I think, by season’s end, most of the runners realized that they have work to do and know that it all starts with getting in summer miles and really working on mental toughness - powering through difficult times,” Barth said. “This will be emphasized between now and next season. We need a core group to take charge and make that commitment.”

The top two runners for the Ballard boys this season were junior Jack Chism and sophomore Chris Lee.

Chism came on strong in the second half of the season.

Chism made all-RRC running a season-best 5-kilometer time of 18 minutes, 11.2 seconds at the conference meet to place 11th. He took 37th at the qualifying meet.

Lee had the best average time among the Ballard boys at 18:45. His best time was 18:23.1 at the RRC meet, where he made all-conference with a 13th-place finish, and he ended up 59th at the qualifying meet.

“The biggest highlight on the boys’ side would be the continued emergence of Jack Chism and Chris Lee,” Barth said. “Each year they show us a little more and they should really hit their strides next season. They were just outside the state rankings this season and never quite got the notice. I think that can change next year.”

Jace Beall (19:11), Austin Shoen (19:39) and Gage Long (19:50) were the other Bombers to run an average time of under 20 minutes on the season. Beall peaked at 18:35, Shoen at 19:07 and Long at 19:10.

Jonah Olson (20:07), Dante Jones (20:11), Ian Godbold (20:34), Trent Payne (21:21) and Joe Fletcher (21:22) turned in the next best average times. Olson topped out at 19:18, Jones 18:40, Godbold 19:40, Payne 20:17 and Fletcher 20:15.

Chase Brekke peaked at 21:13 and Josh Purcell 21:58 as Ballard’s other varsity contributors.

Ballard must go without Beall, Olson, Jones and Fletcher next season.

“They will be missed as they were definitely varsity level runners,” Barth said. “They put in six years for Ballard on the course and it is greatly appreciated.”

But with Chism and Lee leading the way the Bombers have a good upside heading into 2020.

“I look for a rebound from our boys’ team next season,” Barth said. “We have been on a gradual rebuilding process over the course of the last several years and this year didn’t quite keep us on the right track.”

“The key will be to get those summer miles in and really grow mentally tougher,” Barth said. “The only difference between our boys and girls team right now is a team-wide commitment to getting better. The girls have it all figured out and run like it. The boys have flashes of that on their side, but we need a more consistent and sustained effort.”