FORT DODGE, Iowa — Brina Kraft jumped out to an early lead in Saturday morning’s Class 4A girls state cross country race.
While Kraft set the pace, an accident in the race’s first turn gave the Muscatine High School girls cross country team a big hill to climb to meet the team’s goals of a top-six finish.
A multi-runner accident at the race’s first turn sent Muscatine’s Regan France to the ground, but the Muskies rallied behind Kraft’s fourth-place finish to finish in 11th place as a team in Muscatine’s second consecutive trip to Lakeside Municipal Golf Course.
Muscatine was 15th last season and looking for a breakout performance at the cold, windy course on Saturday after second-place finishes in the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Class 4A state-qualifying meets.
“We came out here and just did as well as we could,” Muscatine’s Danielle Roos said. “Even if it didn’t work out, I think the girls are happy with their places and times.”
Kraft finished the race in 14 minutes, 31 seconds. She was 12 seconds behind Iowa City West’s Bailey Nock, who finished third, and 20 seconds behind individual champion Megan Schott of Des Moines Roosevelt.
Larkin Chapman was 26th in 15:15, Roos placed 42nd in 15:35, freshman Moriah Morter was 71st in 16:04 and France in 81st in 16:23. Seniors Lauren Keitel and Cassidy Conway were 89th in 16:38 and 92nd in 16:45, respectively.
The accident involving France also slowed down Morter slightly as the freshman had to run around the girls trying to get back to their feet. Muscatine coach Tim Armstrong didn’t feel that anyone was at fault for the accident at the start of such a fast, competitive race, but Armstrong admitted it still hurt Muscatine’s chances at a high finish.
“Even if you’re down for five seconds, you have so many girls that can come out in front of you that it’s hard to gain that position,” Armstrong added.
After leading in the beginning of the race, Kraft was eventually passed in the back stretch by Schott, Johnston’s Jordyn Kleve and Nock. She eventually took position at the front of the chase pack.
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“I knew I would have to go a lot harder,” Kraft said. “I really used the downhills to my advantage and was able to sprint on those downhills.”
Chapman said she was gunning for a top-20 finish after finishing 75th last season.
“The first mile is really fast here and the girls who kick after the mile mark began to pass me more, but then I got a lot of people at the end that were running out of steam," Chapman said.
“I think I did what I needed to do today — it was a really hard race for everybody and I feel good about what I did.”
The morning started with the news that the entire Pleasant Valley girls team had withdrawn from the state race with a team illness.
Armstrong said that left the Muskies disappointed at not getting an opportunity to try and beat the Spartans head-to-head as they almost did at the MAC and state-qualifying meets, but Armstrong noted that the girls were able to refocus on other teams to try and chase down.
“Our top three runners ran well,” Armstrong said. “We didn’t quit. I know they felt bad [about not getting 6th or 7th] but I told them that if this is the worst thing that happens in your life, that’s not too bad. All of the [top five] girls are back next year so at least they have another opportunity to come back here next time.”
Keitel and Conway, on the other hand, competed in their last cross country race Saturday, and their teammates shared an admiration of how the seniors boosted the rest of the team.
“They’re a great influence on us,” Kraft said. “They’re like the parents here, they keep us in check.”
Armstrong added, while fighting off tears, “Cassidy told me at the end that she was going to really miss me. … [A]nd I think that sums up the way those girls feel.”