CEDAR RAPIDS — It's been a long time coming for the Muscatine girls cross country team.
After disappointments in previous seasons, the Muskies scored a big victory by claiming a 4A state-qualifying team title at Seminole Valley Park in Cedar Rapids on Thursday afternoon.
Muscatine will advance to the state meet in Fort Dodge on Saturday, Oct. 31, for the third consecutive season. Brina Kraft led the Muskies with a fifth-place finish in 19 minutes, 16 seconds.
On the boys' side, Alex Bautista and Tyler Olson qualified as individuals for the Muskies. Bautista was ninth in 16:14 and Olson was 13th in 16:19. Muscatine was fifth in the team standings with 119 points.
The Muskie girls entered with the expectation of victory, but a fast course kept competition close as Iowa City West finished just six points behind the Muskies' team total of 49, even with Muscatine's top five runners all finishing in the top 13 overall.
"We've been wanting this for so many years, working hard has finally paid off," Muscatine junior Danielle Roos said. "It's an amazing experience that we finally get to have."
Regan France was eighth in 19:24, Moriah Morter 11th in 19:33, Roos 12th in 19:36, and Larkin Chapman 13th in 19:37. Nicole Garrido was 27th in 20:45 and Emmie Smith was 30th in 20:49 to cap Muscatine's exceptional team effort.
The Muskies have been chasing a state qualifier banner for years, Kraft mentioned, and even when it was revealed this year that every qualifying team would get a banner, there was still value to Kraft and the Muskies in earning it with a win.
"It really feels like we got that banner, we ran our hardest here and Regan had a great race," she said. "We've gotten a lot closer as friends but also definitely as teammates, and going into Fort Dodge running as a pack, those points will really count."
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The Muskies were able to keep their pack fairly tight throughout the race, sticking close to Kraft, who was battling to catch up with Cedar Rapids Washington's Reagan Gorman, who won the race in 18:58.
"We feel like it intimidates other teams," Roos said of the Muskie formation. "We push each other if one of us falls behind and we run through it."
After making a splash in his sophomore season, Bautista is returning to the boys' state meet with a teammate, as Olson said he was driven by seeing his teammate ahead of him.
"I wanted to go with him as much as possible," Olson said. "I wanted to keep pushing and going faster until I got top 15. ... Seeing him, I knew I had to keep up and keep going."
Bautista added, "It really feels great, he's been working hard, I've been working hard. ... I thought we (as a team) did amazing, everybody had PRs."
Kyle Hoffman was 20th in 16:37, Garrett Dolan finished in 17:16 for 33rd, Cristian Raya rounded out the top five with a 44th-place finish in 17:39, followed by Ian Hilbrandt finishing in 18:04 and Andy Townsend in 19:06.
"All the kids hard work came to a head tonight and things couldn't have gone any better for the Muskies," Muscatine boys coach Chris Foxen said. "Hoffman falls through the cracks in all of our celebrations but he's an elite runner so he'll (qualify) hopefully soon."
Foxen added of his state-qualifying duo: "You could tell they were putting a lot of expectations on themselves, and once the race started you could tell there was only one outcome that would be acceptable."