FORT DODGE — Last year, Colfax-Mingo sophomore Abbey McConeghey was at the state cross country meet as a spectator, cheering on graduated teammate Dakota Hostetter.
McConeghey was still trying to figure out what ailed her in 2016.
With that all behind her, McConeghey is now the face of the Tigerhawk cross country teams. And she proved she belonged on the biggest stage in the state on Saturday.
McConeghey, who entered the rankings at 19th earlier in the week, moved up two positions with a 17th place finish at the Iowa High School State Cross Country Championships on a chilly day at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.
“I wasn’t even running here last year so this year was so much more fun,” McConeghey said. “It was a fun experience.”
McConeghey finished the race in 20 minutes, 8.5 seconds. That is the fastest girls’ 5K time recorded in Colfax-Mingo school history.
She also defeated conference rival Cheyenne Shaw of North Mahaska for a fourth straight time. Shaw was 18th in 20:15.8.
“We were just very proud of her efforts this season and really happy to see her go out with her best race of the season at the state meet,” Colfax-Mingo co-head coach Zach Tomas said. “I really believe she had a great experience and will be eager to try to return next year.”
The top three teams earned trophies and the first 15 finishers brought home state medals. Two girls McConeghey defeated at the state qualifier — GMG’s Kyla Wilkening (10th) and Southeast Warren’s Elise Emmick (9th) — both finished in the top 10 on Saturday.
Springville sophomore Emily Staal won the individual title in 18:36.5. Bedford junior Emma Lucas also finished in less than 19 minutes as the runner-up.
Seven of the top 10 finishers are non-seniors. Only five seniors finished in the top 20. There were 143 total runners.
The Baxter girls competed as a team at the state meet and placed 15th out of 15 teams with 302 points. The 14th-ranked Bolts trailed 14th place and ninth-ranked Mason City Newman Catholic by 28 points.
Top-ranked Hudson won the 1A girls team title with 104 points. Fourth-ranked Panorama was second with 115 points and third-ranked Kee finished third with 133 points.
After McConeghey, the next best area finisher was Baxter junior Brenna Thomson, who finished 22nd with a time of 20:26.
Brenna Thomson’s twin brother Ian highlighted the 1A boys’ 5K race from the area. He finished 43rd in 17:31.2 and sophomore Logan Berg was about 9 seconds back in 55th.
Lynnville-Sully senior Mary Kate Shaver finished 67th with a time of 21:39.6. Shaver said she didn’t too many issues with her hips on the state meet’s hilly course.
“It was really fun. I was just happy that I got to compete today,” Shaver said. “I felt a twinge on the first hill, but I was OK once I got loosened up.”
L-S coach Darin Arkema said Shaver’s run was one of her best of the season.
“She ran a really strong race,” Arkema said. “It was a great way to end her one and only season at Lynnville-Sully. Hopefully she passed on some motivation to her teammates returning next season.”
Shaver wasn’t the only area runner who dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season.
Baxter junior Lauren Ratliff missed four weeks because of an injury and her freshman teammate Kailee Conradi battled shin splits during the latter part of her first high school season. Even McConeghey missed a few meets with a concussion.
The Bolts came into the season with high expectations but the injuries plagued their efforts to claim another top-five state finish.
Ratliff took it the hardest, feeling like the team suffered because she missed too much time. She finished 93rd on the day with a time of 22:09.7.
“It was a disappointing season. We had goals. Had I not gotten hurt, this season would have been different,” Ratliff said. “I rode the bike when I wasn’t able to run, but I learned that riding the bike is just not the same thing.”
The other three counting runners for the Bolts were senior Ashlee Johnson, sophomore Holly Jessen and Conradi. Johnson was 102nd overall with a time of 22:24.1, Jessen finished 114th in 22:47.2 and Conradi ended up 135th in 24:09.
“I felt a lot better this year than I did last year. I learned that I had to get out faster,” Jessen said. “I was able to do that this year, and then I set a good pace the rest of the way.”
Junior Piper Larson finished 139th and sophomore Bryn Schultheis crossed the finish line in 142nd as non-scoring runners.
Johnson, like Ratliff, came away with a disappointed feeling after her final prep race. She suffered a health scare during her sophomore year and never felt like she recovered from that.
“Since sophomore year, it’s been a mess. I am trying to figure out how to run like I used to,” Johnson said. “It hasn’t been that great since I went down and had to be taken in an ambulance. It’s been a challenge for sure.
“I think it’s a mental thing at this point. Whenever I push myself, I think that it’s possible for me to go down again. I get nervous when my legs start to feel numb.”
Brenna Thomson, Ratliff, Jessen, Johnson, Ian Thomson and Berg all ran at the state meet last year. That helped them in knowing what to expect from the atmosphere surrounding the course.
“It’s very chaotic. I stepped on a lot of people’s toes, and I feel really bad about that,” Jessen said. “It’s hard to move around with so many runners on the course, and there are a bunch of fans just all over the place.”
Shaver was one of the runners who had never experienced the state meet before. She spent her first three prep seasons in Illinois where she was an alternate for her high school team that ran at the state level.
“I have never ran in a meet this big before. It was crazy,” Shaver said. “There was practically someone at every turn, and even if they weren’t cheering for you, you could still feel the energy.
“The crowd seemed louder here. That was amazing.”
McConeghey agreed with her South Iowa Cedar League foe about the atmosphere.
“It’s different, but I liked it because even if they aren’t cheering for you, I still feel like they are supporting me,” McConeghey said. “It was weird because no matter where you went on the course, there was always someone there.”
Baxter started a tradition in cross country that runners for the Bolts hope to continue.
The final girls team as CMB qualified and placed fifth last year. Four of those runners were back this year. and three return next season. Ian Thomson has been to state three straight years and Berg has made it in his firs two seasons, as well.
“I ran better last year than I did this year. It was a tough transition to a new team and a new coach this year,” Ian Thomson said. “At this point, it’s more of an expectation. Some people just hope to get here, but with us, it’s an expectation. Now we have to work on doing better once we get here. I would like to get our boys’ team here next year.
For me, I have to be better in the offseason. I have to keep running in the winter and in the summer. I have to get a better endurance base so I can finish a little better next year.”
Berg also had a goal of qualifying for the state meet in all four of his high school seasons. He’s half way there.
The race was a lot better this year. I got out way too fast last year,” Berg said. “It makes me feel good that I am accomplishing something. It feels good to do this in our first year as the Bolts, too.”
North Union’s Riley Bauer won the 1A boys’ 5K title in 16:14.2. Eighteen runners finished in less than 17 minutes. Seven seniors finished in the top 20.