SIOUX FALLS — After winning the first state girls cross country title one year ago, Kimball/White Lake duplicated the result to take home a second-straight Class B championship Saturday afternoon at Yankton Trail Park.
Led by individual runner-up Autumn Baker, an eighth grader who finished in 19 minutes, 41.58 seconds, the Wildkats edged Potter County for the team title, scoring 26 points to the Battlers’ 29.
Junior Christine Gaulke (20:23.15, 11th place) and seventh-grader Lily Baker (20:58.31, 21st) were the other two Wildkats who earned individual medals for a top-25 place finish and factored into the team score. Junior Taya Chelmo (21:35.40) and seventh-grader Alli McCord (22:17.49) rounded out the individual results for the back-to-back state champions, who bested a field of 115 competitors and 19 teams that had at least three runners.
“I can’t even express how proud we are,” said coach Stephanie McCord. “We came out here and I think the girls felt a teeny bit of pressure or more nerves because we won last year and knew that we were in a good place to try and repeat.”
The individual title came down to a sprint over the last several hundred meters, as Baker finished two seconds behind fellow eighth-grader Ella Boekelheide of Northwestern (19:39.44).
Baker kept toward the front of the pack for most of the race, but had to chase down the lead pair of Boekelheide and Arlington eighth-grader Kaelyn Ulschmid, who came in third with a time of 19:53.29.
“I knew what I needed to do and just went out to do my best,” Baker said. “I started off pretty good, settled in and as it got toward the end, I knew where I had to be, so I kicked it in gear.”
Added McCord: “For being so young, Autumn has an excellent mindset for envisioning what she wants to do. The team might be relaxed, giggling and having fun the night before or the day of the race, but she gets set on something and has such great focus that she’s going to go get what she wants.”
As for the emotions of winning back-to-back team championships for KWL’s first pair of titles in history, McCord said it's something she can't quite explain.
“The first time around was something you always dream of happening,” she said. “There’s always so many good teams out here, so when it actually happens, it’s unbelievable. To have it happen twice in a row is beyond words.”
Placing in the top six behind KWL and Potter County in the team standings were Aberdeen Christian (44), Ipswich (45), Arlington (63) and Northwestern (75).
Joining Boekelheide, Baker and Ulschmid in the top five individually were Freeman Academy/Marion junior Jada Koerner (19:58.57) and Highmore-Harrold eighth-grader Autumn Fallis (19:59.20).
“Jada was going for that win and it just didn’t quite happen, but I thought she ran a really good race,” said FAM coach Suzanne Koerner. “She battled at the end and held on when it could have gone south. I was proud of her for that.”
Gregory also had two runners earn individual medals in Emma Thomas (20:17.97, 10th place) and Asia VanDerWerff (21:00.60). The Gorillas landed at eighth in the final team standings. Platte-Geddes took 12th.