FORT DODGE — Just before running in her third State cross country meet Saturday, Creston junior Braelyn Baker learned that she was ranked 17th in the Class 3A field, a placing that would just miss the medals ceremony for the top 15 in each race.
“My goal was top 25,” said Baker, who had finished 29th and 28th in her two previous state appearances. “I didn’t know I was ranked 17th until just before I ran.”
Head coach Pat Schlapia told Baker and teammate Paige Davis, running in her second state meet, to focus on the task at hand and not rankings on paper.
“When you get up here, the only rankings that matter are at the finish line,” Schlapia said.
Both Baker and Davis ran the course at Lakeside Municipal Golf Course nearly a minute faster than any previous appearance there, and some history was made in the process.
Baker set a school record for the cross country 5K distance when she crossed the line in 14th place in 19:16.9.
The only other girl from Creston to finish in the top 15 at state was Beth Finn, medaling in 10th place in 1986 and 12th in 1987.
Baker is the first Creston medalist at state since Scott Vicker, who was 10th in the 3A boys race in 2006. Cooper McDermott placed 13th in 2014, but the state associations didn’t increase individual medalists from 10 to 15 until the 2015 season.
Baker moved into medalist contention during the last half of the race, a characteristic of her racing style, according to Creston coach Pat Schlapia. In the first mile she was running about 20th to 22nd, but only about 15 to 20 yards behind a pack that included runners in the 14th through 18th positions.
“Braelyn ran her race,” Schlapia said. “At about a mile and a quarter, she was about 18th. She always runs tough as nails in that last mile. She’s a strong finisher, that’s how she races. She picks it up then, and she did that here today.”
Baker said she heard fans shouting her position at times during the race and knew what she had to do.
“People were yelling to me that 15th (place) was in the girls in front of me,” Baker said. “At that time was 17th or 18th. I passed them over by the bridge (west side of the course, near the two-mile mark of the 3.1-mile course). It was tough against the wind going out there, but coming back there was some wind at your back, and the finish is downhill, which is nice.”
In the process she beat both of the girls who finished ahead of her at the state qualifying meet in Atlantic — Carlisle sophomore Aisnley Erzen in 24th place at 19:40.8 and North Polk freshman Liza Schaffer one spot behind in 25th in 19:42.5.
Standing on the deck of Lakeside Golf Course, looking down on the crowd during the awards ceremony, Baker said it was a surreal feeling. The day after her freshman state cross country race, she injured a knee in a weekend basketball tournament and missed most of the rest of her freshman year in athletics recovering from ACL surgery.
Less than two years later, the long rehabilitation and recovery process had culminated in a school-record accomplishment as coaches and teammates shouted support from the crowd below. To hear that she was one of just two girls in Creston history to place that high took awhile to sink in.
“It was very cool,” Baker said. It’s just crazy to me to even think of that.”
“Braelyn gained confidence this year,” Schlapia said. “She’s going to have a good junior year in all of her activities. She took it to a whole new level today.”
Baker joins this list of past Creston state medalists: Paul Hoff seventh in 1985, seventh in 1986, fourth in 1987 and fourth in 1988; Mike Linch, 10th in 1988; Scott Vicker 10th in 2006; and Finn, 10th in 1986.
By medaling in the top 15, Baker also achieves all-state status in cross country, Schlapia noted.
While Baker improved on her 20:07.1 clocking at state last year, and 19:48.7 from the 2017 meet, Davis also showed improvement in running 20:29.2 in 59th place among 129 state runners. Last year she was 84th in 21:15.7. Her time Saturday was not quite as fast as her PR at the Atlantic qualifying meet — 20:17.78.
“I was more prepared this year,” Davis said. “I knew it wasn’t going to thin out like it usually does. I just ran. I run the two mile and mile in track so sprinting is not my thing, so some people passed me at the end.”
Schlapia said Davis ran a smarter race in her second try at state.
“We talked about going for that top half and she did that today,” Schlapia said. “Last year she was kind of a deer in the headlights up here. She moved well throughout the race today. She had a good summer base and a good season. She was working in Braelyn’s shadow a little bit, but she had a lot of top 10 finishes this season.”
Adrianna Katcher of Center Point-Urbanda became a three-time champion in a winning time of 18:29.4. Harlan was fourth in the team race, just missing a trophy, with 168 points.
Class 3A girls team results — 1. Ballard 57; 2. Dallas Center-Grimes 80; 3. Dubuque Wahlert 125; 4. Harlan 168; 5. Bishop Heelan Catholic 193; 6. Center Point-Urbana 198; 7. Solon 227; 8. Pella 236; 9. Decorah 240 (tiebreaker 6th runner); 10. Grinnell 240; 11. Spencer 245; 12. Norwalk 255; 13. Charles City 269; 14. Glenwood 308; 15. ADM 321.
Class 3A individual medalists — 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, Wavely-Shell Rock, 19:07.3; 10. Ellie Meyer, Iowa Falls-Alden, 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.
Creston results — 14. Braelyn Baker, 19:16.9; 59. Paige Davis, 20:29.2.