MUSCATINE — The Muscatine cross country team's first home meet since 2012 wasn't set up for the Muskies to have a cake walk.
With nine state-ranked boys teams and six ranked girls teams, the Muskies expected to be pushed to answer the challenge, an expectation met, albeit with mixed results, at the Muscatine Invitational on Tuesday evening at Muscatine Municipal Golf Course.
The Muscatine boys were sixth out of 14 teams at the event while the girls claimed third place out of 12 teams.
Alex Bautista was Muscatine's top boys finisher on Tuesday with a 12th-place finish in 16 minutes, 40 seconds. Brina Kraft was the leading Muscatine girl, placing sixth in a time of 19:21.
The Muscatine girls, after coming up short by two points to Pleasant Valley on Sept. 10, were hoping for a big win Tuesday.
"I thought we should have been right there," Muscatine coach Tim Armstrong said. "PV and Bettendorf just ran the better races tonight."
Bettendorf won the team title with 50 points, buoyed by three runners in the top ten, followed by PV with 58, led by race winner McKenzie Yanek in 18:35. Pleasant Valley won the boys title in a sixth-runner tiebreaker with Cedar Rapids Prairie when both teams scored 40 points.
Rounding out the Muskie girls' top five runners on Tuesday were Moriah Morter in 13th at 19:57, Regan France in 14th in 19:59, Danielle Roos taking 16th place in 20:05 and Nicole Garrido in 21:19 for 32nd place.
"We don't always know our No. 2 through 5 runners," France said. "It makes us come into every race thinking, 'I might have to do this today.' We're not necessarily fighting for that spot but we know we can push for that spot if we need to."
While the flexibility for the middle runners may come in handy later in the season, Armstrong hopes to see more of a cohesive performance up and down the roster that will put Muscatine in better position to compete with teams like the Spartans and Bulldogs.
"It's a humbling experience," France said. "I think we all needed a reality check that we needed to be focused. It shows us where we need to be ... but we've always been an end-of-the-season team, too, so I'm not too worried about how we'll be at districts and state."
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The Muskie boys ran among a slew of some of the best teams in the state and coach Chris Foxen is pleased with the improvement he's seeing, particularly at the bottom half of his top five runners.
Bautista and Tyler Olson, a 24th-place finisher in 17:03, stayed consistent with their times but Kyle Hoffman, Garrett Dolan and Cristian Raya all took advantage of the home course to run new season-best times.
Hoffman was 27th in 17:08, Dolan 51st in 17:56 and Cristian Raya 74th in 18:38. Prairie runner Tysen VanDraska won the race in 15:56.
"Kyle Hoffman ran an exceptional race," Chris Foxen said. "... And I have to give Cristian Raya some credit, he's stepped into the No. 5 role for us which was a question mark for us earlier this season.
"We're running into some huge juggernauts (at this meet), so to finish where we finished is a huge compliment to us."
Bautista was 15th near the halfway point of the race, but he said he made some moves at the two-mile mark to catch as many guys as possible.
"Overall, it was a really good day for our guys," Bautista said. "We're getting a lot of confidence, Kyle and Tyler are working really hard and Garrett's coming off an injury and working a lot better."
The Muskie boys also have something to continue to aim for as the regular season starts winding down.
Muscatine outscored Bettendorf 188-200 on Tuesday, the first time they've been able to do that as a team all season, and something that may come in handy for the state-qualifying meets.
"We want to keep improving to be a team on the bubble," Foxen said, "so if a team doesn't have a good day, we can be right there and maybe get a whole team at state. Keeping up our consistency is our goal."