Fourth state title in six years comes with ease
WAMEGO -- Calleigh Durr's smile said it all.
Shortly after the Class 4A girls' cross country race finished here Saturday, there was no question which team was bringing home the state title this year.
Durr, a junior at Baldwin High School, had a smile on her face that told the story. She laughed and smiled all the way back to the Bulldogs' tent, knowing the hardware was coming back to Baldwin.
"We knew we won," Durr said. "I saw Corinna (Papps) right ahead of me and Connor (Twombly) right behind me, so I knew we had it. We were definitely excited. I didn't even have any words to describe it. It was great."
Senior Heather Garcia didn't quite share the same optimism as Durr after the race. Instead, she took the subtle approach and waited for the results to be final.
"We didn't know for sure," Garcia said. "We didn't want to get over confident and be let down. We all knew we ran really well, so we knew we had a shot."
Once the results were in, Durr was correct. The BHS girls had taken back the Class 4A state championship that they lost a year ago to De Soto. This year, the results weren't even close.
Baldwin scored 48 team points to De Soto's 94. Wamego finished third with 115. This was Baldwin's fourth title in six years, with the other two years being second-place finishes.
"This year we got it back," Garcia said. "We worked really hard this year. We were really disciplined and we did a lot of things different. We were more focused."
Even BHS coach Mike Spielman was surprised at how well the Bulldogs ran and even more at the team scores.
"They just ran unbelievable," Spielman said. "It was just one of those 'wow' days. They just showed up and every single runner ran well. We put up a great score. We didn't think it was going to turn out like that. When every runner runs their best race of the year, then things like that can happen."
Four BHS girls placed in the top 20, earning themselves a state medal. It was the second time in BHS history that four girls have medaled at the state meet. The other time was in 2005, which was the last time the Bulldogs won the team title.
Garcia led the Bulldogs as she has done all four years at BHS. She finalized her career with her second straight individual title. She finished the 4-kilometer course in 14:41.55.
"My time was OK," Garcia said. "I'll give up a good time for first place."
Garcia said she stayed with the front runners through the first mile, but then separated herself up the next few hills. El Dorado's Laura Nightengale stayed with her until the largest hill, "Big Bertha," and then Garcia was all alone for the final mile of the race.
"It went really well," Garcia said. "I followed my strategy which was push at the mile mark, which was uphill. I did, but Nightengale came a little bit, which was a little difficult. I pushed it up Bertha and it worked out."
Spielman said her strategy worked out in her favor, although she would have liked to run a faster time.
"She wanted to relax the first mile on this course and then put the hammer to them," Spielman said. "She wanted to get out to a point where she could cruise. She wanted to run fast, but the course has been changed to where you're not going to run fast on it."
After finishing her race, Garcia said she hurried through the chute so she could go cheer her teammates on during the final stages of the race.
The next three Bulldogs nearly came in together. Junior Corinna Papps finished eighth, while Durr and sophomore Connor Twombly placed 11th and 15th, respectively.
"To medal and be all state is a great honor," Spielman said. "They definitely earned it, too."
All three Bulldogs were happy with their races, although Twombly said she could have run faster.
"I felt really good today," Durr said. "For the first mile I was ahead of Corinna and Connor. Corinna passed me and I just tried to go with her. It really helped to have them there."
"I guess I ran good, because I medaled, but I don't think I ran my hardest," Twombly said. "I wasn't very tired at the end."
Baldwin's fifth runner was freshman Heather Karlin, who finished 32nd and in the middle of a De Soto pack.
"Heather Karlin ran so well," Spielman said. "The race set up well for her. She was with about five De Soto girls the whole time. It was somebody to motivate her and keep her going. As the race went along, she picked some of them off. She is a tough kid."
Freshman Sarah Whaley (50th) and sophomore Julie Hill (52nd) rounded out the BHS runners.
"They ran really well, too," Spielman said. "It was nice to see them run well. They were pretty excited."
The Bulldogs were also excited about beating De Soto for the second straight meet. All year the Bulldogs and Wildcats battled at six of their nine meets. BHS got the upper hand last week at regionals and carried that momentum into Saturday's race.
"Last week was huge for them," Spielman said. "This whole week they were giddy and excited. You could see the confidence oozing in them all week. They were so happy it carried right over into the race. The light came on last week."
Any of the BHS girls would admit that beating De Soto for the state title made the championship extra sweeter.
"It was really good to beat them, especially by more than 40 points," Durr said. "It was really nice to redeem ourselves after they beat us at the first meet. We worked hard to come back and beat them. It feels really great."