Marshalltown junior Rachel Blagg had to endure the worst possible position last season at the 4A cross country state qualifier at Marshalltown Community College.
One year after coming across in 11th - the first position that doesn't qualify for state - the Bobcats' top runner got out to a fast start but couldn't keep the pace with some of the more elite runners in the state Thursday.
Blagg ended up 19th in a tough field, and Marshalltown scored 154 points in all for a sixth-place team finish.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Marshalltown junior Rachel Blagg led the Bobcat girls cross country team to a sixth-place finish at a Class 4A state-qualifying meet in Marshalltown. Blagg ended up in 19th in a time of 16 minutes.
"I would rather see her be aggressive. You have to take a chance at this point," MHS coach Doug Bacon said of Blagg's quick start. "We just have to get her to open fast and keeping up with that second mile. Once your comfortable with that, the finish will be there. I was glad she went out and gave it a shot. You can't possibly go to state if you don't try to go to state."
Eighth-ranked Urbandale put all seven of its runners in the top 16 and won the team title over fifth-ranked Linn-Mar. The J-Hawks, behind a runner-up performance from No. 8 Elyse Prescott and three other top 10 finishers - scored 38 points, while the Lions had the overall winner in fifth-ranked Amber Decker and also had five others in the top 20.
Blagg, by design, went out aggressively and hoped to stay with the state-ranked runners throughout. For the first mile, she was in line to challenge for a state berth but couldn't keep her pace and fell back to 19th.
Team Standings - 1. Urbandale 38, 2. Linn-Mar 51, 3. Iowa City High 96, 4. Southeast Polk 106, 5. Cedar Falls 133, 6. Marshalltown 154, 7. Newton 171, 8. Mason City 221, 9. Des Moines East 286.
Individual Qualifiers - 1. Amber Decker, L-M, 14:48; 2. Elyse Prescott, URB, 14:49; 3. Grace Coen, NWT, 14:54; 4. Sierra Mitchell, SEP, 15:12; 5. Ashley Norem, URB, 15:14; 6. Morgan Garcia, L-M, 15:16; 7. Kaitlyn Walker, SEP, 15:16; 8. Molly Shepherd, ICH, 15:26; 9. Julia Noah, URB, 15:28; 10. Trina Moreno, URB, 15:28.
MARSHALLTOWN (154) - 19. Rachel Blagg 16:00, 23. Michaela Huey 16:20, 30. Wynn Tan 16:36, 38. Ellyn Boland 17:00, 44. Victoria Jones 17:25, 46. Abby Snyder 17:39, 53. Ashley Macbeth 17:56.
Her senior teammate Michaela Huey was 23rd overall, while fellow Bobcat senior Wynn Tan was 30th. Blagg hit the line in 16 minutes, Huey stopped the timer at 16:20 and Tan ended up at 16:36.
"I thought we could be anywhere from 4th to 6th," Bacon said. "I am not disappointed. There are some good teams here. We at least gave it an effort. The girls could have looked through the competition and just said 'let's get through this,' but I didn't get that impression."
The rest of the Bobcat lineup was sophomore Ellyn Boland (17:00) in 38th, senior Victoria Jones (17:25) in 44th, senior Abby Snyder (17:39) in 46th and freshman Ashley Macbeth (17:56) was 53rd.
"We were always right on the edge of being a pretty darn good team. We are always one short here or there," Bacon said. "It was probably the most fun season I had in terms of how the girls went about their business. They were focused at practice. If I was late from a meeting at school, they were already in their warmup. I didn't have to be there for them to do what they needed to do."
Decker's winning time was 14:48. That was one second ahead of Prescott. Newton sophomore and 12th-ranked Grace Coen took third in 14:54. The first three finishers were all sophomores. Southeast Polk freshman Sierra Mitchell also was fourth in 15:12. Sophomore Kaitlyn Walker of Southeast Polk joined Mitchell and Coen as the only three individual qualifiers that weren't on a qualifying team.
The top finishers featured one senior, one junior, seven sophomores and a freshman. The senior was Ashley Norem of Urbandale, who took fifth in 15:14.
The third and final state qualifying team was Iowa City High, which scored 96 points and had two runners in the first 11 positions. The Little Hawks were led by 10th ranked Molly Shepherd, who was eighth overall in 15:26. Fifteenth-ranked Mary Arch, a freshman, was 11th.
The Iowa State Cross Country Championships will take place Nov. 2 at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The Class 4A girls will step onto the course first at 11 a.m.
Bacon said Blagg came in at 5:57 for her first mile, admitting that may have been a little too fast. ... Boland's 17:00 was her personal-best time on the MCC course. ... Jones battled a calf injury all season and was never really 100 percent at any point in the year. ... Bacon expressed how much he will miss this crop of seniors. "I will really miss the seniors," Bacon said. "They have been a good group to be around. We had a 3.60 grade point average at the 6-week mark. That is a pretty good group to be around. It's just too bad it didn't pan out for us, but we'll try again next year."