Being a distance runner, Kaelyn Balch has always taken an interest in watching the 3200-meter races at the state track and field championships.
The Bishop Carroll senior paid close attention to the lead runner as they rounded the final curve and imagined the feeling of having a wave of cheers wash over you as the Cessna Stadium crowd brings you home.
“I always wanted that to be me,” said Balch, who finished second in Class 5A the last three years. “I’ve always come up just short. I wanted to know what that feeling was like.”
In her final 3200, Balch ran the defining race of her high school career: a 10-minute, 56.70-second masterpiece that bested defending state champ Morgan Wedekind of Valley Center by 15 seconds.
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And finally, Balch heard the roar of the crowd bring her home to her first individual track state championship. Balch also won the 5A cross country title in the fall.
“It was just a daze,” Balch said. “I was still expecting them to come up on me, so I was locked into the finish. But I can tell you it was definitely worth the wait.”
After watching his prized runner finish second for three years in a row, Carroll coach Ran Nielsen became emotional when Balch climbed atop the podium.
“A lot of goosebumps,” Nielsen recalled. “And I cry easy, too, so it was hard for me to hold back some tears. That was her race from the beginning.”
A fast start is not unusual for Balch, who is typically in the lead pack early in the race. But this was different.
Balch established a fast pace early and never gave up the lead. While Wedekind and Lansing’s Nashia Baker opted for a more conservative strategy, Balch’s bold move between the fifth and six laps paid off.
Her sixth lap was six seconds faster than Wedekind and Balch never ran out of speed. She kept extending what once was a two-second lead into a 15-second one when the bell rung for the final lap.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Wedekind said. “Normally she is really good about going out fast and running a really fast race. After I while, I did get tired. But she had a fantastic race and I’m happy for her.”
With a single race, Balch accomplished both of her goals: break 11 minutes and win a state title. Balch’s previous best time in the event was 11:07.33.
It was the race she had outlined in her head and Balch had made it a reality.
“Of course being a procrastinator, I had to wait until the last possible second to do it,” Balch said. “But I finally did it. The race was absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”