PELLA - It was only fitting that the Nevada boys’ cross country team earned its first trip to state since 2009 on the Central College cross country course Thursday in Pella.


The Nevada boys had been battling ups and downs for most of the season, starting at the Pella Invitational on the same course in early September. It is that meet where Nevada ran without top runners Malachi Hornbuckle and Edison Weig and had another other — Noah Nusbaum — go down with an injury.


But is also that meet where junior runner Dalton Baker began his ascent as a top runner for the Cubs. Baker remained a steady force all season and on Thursday, he got his just rewards at the Class 3A state qualifying meet.


Baker joined Hornbuckle — the No. 8 individual runner in 3A — as an individual state qualifier. In the process, he helped Nevada score 97 points to nudge out Oskaloosa by seven points for third place and the final team state-qualifying spot.


“I told them at the starting line — you have an opportunity and they don’t come around very often, so let’s take advantage of it,” Nevada head cross country coach Mike Christiansen said. “It’s been a long time coming. We were so excited.”


Baker ran a 5-kilometer time of 17 minutes, 36.3 seconds to make state by the slimmest of margins. He placed 15th as the final individual qualifier, just a hair in front of the 17:36.4 run by Dallas Center-Grimes’ Bradley Ramsey.


Last season, Baker came in 66th at the qualifying meet on the same course.


“Isn’t he amazing,” Nevada head cross country coach Mike Christiansen said. “He ran over 400 miles this summer — the guy’s put in the miles and earned it. He’s been a big key to our success this year.”


Advancing the team to state was a big motivation for Baker before the season began.


“Over the summer, I made sure I worked hard,” Baker said. “Through the season I pushed myself and ran with Malachi and Edison.”


After the Pella Invitational, Baker saw he could be a top runner for the Cubs.


“Some of our guys were injured (and) I wanted to step up in my role,” Baker said. “When I did that, it kind of gave me more confidence to take it to more races. Practicing with Malachi really helped.”


Hornbuckle was in top form at the qualifying meet. He completed the course in 16:35.5 to win the boys’ race by over 23 seconds.


“I just ran my race,” Hornbuckle said. “Today, that was all it took.”


Hornbuckle is just the second individual district champion for the Nevada boys during Christiansen’s tenure, with Tom Peterson being the other in 2009. Now Hornbuckle is eyeing a high place at state Oct. 29 in Fort Dodge.


“A win is really nice, but I have yet to really test myself against the best the state has to offer,” Hornbuckle said. “I’m looking forward to it and we’ll see where I stack up.”


Running in just his second race back from a hamstring injury, Nusbaum came close to giving Nevada a third individual qualifier. He came in 18th with a time of 17:54 on the nose.


Carter Franzen took 22nd in 18:03.8 and Connor Kline placed 41st in 18:49.6 as the other runners to earn points for the Cubs. Jacob Sanders and Connor Hines also ran for Nevada, placing 51st and 61st with respective times of 19:25.6 and 19:54.0.


Third-ranked DCG won the 3A boys’ team title with 34 points and No. 9 Clear Creek-Amana came in second with a score of 66.


Nevada took 10th in the 3A girls’ race with 222 points. No. 6 Pella, No. 9 DCG and No. 4 North Polk were the three 3A girls’ teams to qualify with respective point totals of 46, 61 and 68.


“The last month they have been making big strides,” Christiansen said of the Cub girls. “We’re so young and have so much coming back — we show such promise going into next year. This was a great meet for them. I thought they ran well and they’re figuring it out. That’s the best part — they’re figuring out how to do it.”


Megan Gilchrist led the Nevada girls with a 36th-place time of 22:54.0. Grace Cahill came in 37th at 22:58.8, Eliana Hornbuckle 42nd in 23:45.0, Ryanne Barker 53rd in 24:17.1, Mady Farmer 54th in 24:17.2 and Kaylee Kruse 57th in 24:37.8 for the Cub girls.


North Polk’s Amelia Lesher — the No. 13 runner in 3A — was the 3A girls’ individual champion at the Pella qualifying meet with a time of 19:56.1. Pella’s Caroline McMartin — rated No. 27 — took second in 20:01.0 and No. 15 Ashley Bloomquist of Fairfield was third in 20:06.6.


The state cross country meet takes place this Saturday at the Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge. The 3A competition begins at noon with the girls’ race, and the boys will run at 12:30 p.m.


Final Class 3A team scores


Girls: 1. Pella 46 points, 2. DCG 61, 3. North Polk 68, 4. Norwalk 170, 5. Chariton 171, 6. Oskaloosa 171, 7. Fairfield 192, 8. Washington 201, 9. Knoxville 216, 10. Nevada 222, 11. Clear Creek-Amana 271, 12. Clarke 353.


Boys: 1. DCG 34, 2. Clear Creek Amana 66, 3. Nevada 97, 4. Oskaloosa 104, 5. Pella 123, 6. Fairfield 179, 7. North Polk 189, 8. Saydel 218, 9. Norwalk 238, 10. Washington 241, 11. Chariton 282, 12. Knoxville 342, 13. Clarke 417.


Individual results (5-kilometer) - Nevada


Girls: 36. Megan Gilchrist, 22:54.0; 37. Grace Cahill, 22:58.8; 42. Eliana Hornbuckle, 23:45.0; 53. Ryanne Barker, 24:17.1; 54. Mady Farmer, 24:17.2; 57. Kaylee Kruse, 24:37.8.


Boys: 1. Malachi Hornbuckle, 16:35.5; 15. Dalton Baker, 17:36.3; 18. Noah Nusbaum, 17:54.0; 22. Carter Franzen, 18:03.8; 41. Connor Kline, 18:49.6; 51. Jacob Sanders, 19:25.6; 61. Connor Hines, 19:54.0.