Bailey Ness knew something wasn’t right. The East Ridge cross-country star was excelling at the beginning of her sophomore and junior seasons and then fading toward the end.

“I would sleep 11 hours a night, and I would still feel tired all the time. It just wasn’t a good feeling,” Ness said. “We couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t feel like I was living up to my full potential at the end meets.”

Turns out it was an iron deficiency, a fairly common occurrence with distance runners, especially females. Iron deficiencies contribute to excessive fatigue.

Her dad, Lloyd Ness, is co-coach of the Raptors. A family friend had struggled with the same problem. They also noticed many girls across the state had experienced similar problems. Her dad convinced her to get her iron levels tested at the end of the Raptors’ track and field season last spring.

They were unhealthily low. So she made the commitment to change that. Aside from taking iron supplements, Ness had to add some unpopular foods to her diet.

“Gross leaf stuff,” Ness said with a laugh. “Meat — and I don’t normally eat meat a lot. Now I do. I wasn’t much of a meat fan. I’m still not, but you know.”

Her levels were tested again before this fall’s cross-country season and they were much improved. It was a good feeling.

“I just feel like I have a lot more energy,” Ness said. “It’s so much better.”

The results have been better, too. Ness, as a senior, has consistently won races and her margins of victory have continued to improve as well. She won the Suburban East Conference meet and junior teammate Emily Betz finished second to lead the Raptors to the overall team championship.

“She’s just a fighter,” Ness said of Betz. “We always run together. She’s just having a great season, so I’m excited for her, too.”

Chad Cronin, the Raptors’ other co-coach, sees other changes in Ness that speak to more than just a diet change.

“This isn’t the only reason she is running better,” Cronin said. “I see that she has put in more work than ever before. She has always had a keen awareness of her pace and what she needs to do for improvement. This year that sense has increased dramatically.”

Ness has been running for East Ridge since the school’s inception five years ago. She’s seen the program more than double in size, to about 100 runners this fall compared to 40 or 50 participants in her first season. She’s represented the school at the state meet every year.

Next year Ness will run for one of four Division I programs she is considering. But her contributions to East Ridge will be felt for a long time.

“That first year, it was just Bailey and me working past the section meet,” Cronin said. “Since then, she has been joined by some very hard- working teammates as the team has earned the state trip since.

“She kind of set the tone for excellence, which is what our real goal is — to strive for excellence.”