MOUNT AYR — The return of junior Lauren Ratliff last week was huge for the Baxter girls’ cross country team.
Her talent on the course speaks for itself, but Ratliff’s return helped provide confidence in the rest of her team as well.
Ratliff and teammate Brenna Thomson each clinched individual state berths, but the Bolts will be heading to Fort Dodge as a team after placing second at a Class 1A state qualifier at Mount Ayr.
Baxter, which recently fell out of the rankings because Ratliff was not in action with an injury, scored 100 points and was 19 points better than AHSTW. No. 7 Panorama defeated the Bolts by 58.
“We really felt like we could do this at the beginning of the season,” Baxter coach Dennis Vaughn said. “This has been the goal the entire season. We are thrilled to be heading to the state meet next weekend.”
Joining the Baxter girls at state will be junior Ian Thomson and sophomore Logan Berg, who both locked up individual berths in the boys’ race.
Thomson was ninth and Berg finished 11th, but the rest of the team’s season is over after the Bolts placed ninth with 244 points.
“They were both hoping the team would do a little better, and the first conversation they had after qualifying was how they could get the team to join them next year,” Vaughn said. “That’s just how they think. It’s not all about them.”
Brenna Thomson, who is ranked 19th, was fifth in the girls’ race with a time of 21 minutes, 2 seconds. Ratliff placed 13th with a time of 22:03.
“We are glad to have Lauren back right now,” Vaughn said. “She won’t only help us with her legs, but she’s so valuable to us because she gives the rest of the team confidence. She’ll help us on the mental side of the sport, too.
Senior Ashlee Johnson was the third runner for the Bolts as she crossed the finish line in 23:09. Sophomore Holly Jessen and freshman Kailee Conradi finished 37th and 40th, respectively.
Junior Piper Larson (100th) and sophomore Bryn Schultheis (104th) were the two non-counting runners for Baxter.
The top three teams and top 15 individuals in each class advance to the state meet.
The boys’ race featured six ranked runners. Ian Thomson was 7 seconds back of No. 20 Joshua Baudler, who finished sixth. Ian Thomson’s time was clocked at 17:41. Berg was 11th in 17:48.
Junior Josh Bruntz placed 47th in 19:40, sophomore Will Hitchler placed 101st and junior McCade Gowdy was 114th as the final counting runner.
Junior Austin Good placed 118th and freshman Sean Finch ended up 133rd.
Top-ranked Nodaway Valley won the team title with 29. Ninth-ranked Woodward Academy was second with 69 points and Earlham claimed the final state berth spot with 122 points.
The Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships take place next weekend in Fort Dodge. The 1A girls’ race begins at 2 p.m. and the boys run at 2:30 p.m.