DANVILLE — More than 4,000 registered runners competed Saturday in the 20th annual Jesse Owens Classic at Oakville Indian Mounds Park in Danville. Each of the five divisions for boys and girls runners had more than 200 runners competing.
That didn’t stop three local athletes from leaving the meet with top-five finishes. Brewer seniors Dakota Sheppard and Sage Both along with Athens Bible senior Nicolas Ulrich all finished fifth place or better in their respective divisions.
Sheppard finished fifth in the boys bronze with a time of 16:39.46. Betts also placed fifth in the girls bronze division with a time of 20:07.05. Ulrich placed third in the boys green division, crossing the finish line at 17:11.72.
“I came into this season kind of thinking that I had to make it county,” Ulrich said. “I think the work is paying off. I think I am making it count.”
All three were hoping to finish strong in their final Jesse Owens Classic of their running careers. The race is usually one that most runners in Alabama circle because of the crowd and high level of competition.
Betts, especially, was hoping to improve each time she ran the race in her career. She finished 178th her freshman year, 81st her sophomore year and 12th last year.
“I’ve kept improving gradually each year,” Betts said. “It’s really cool to get to be here at one of the biggest meets and finish near the front. It’s really exciting.”
Betts, who will run at North Alabama next year, said she got used to the crowds at the Jesse Owens Classic when she ran it for a second time. Her teammate, Sheppard, ran the race for only the second time but said he felt more comfortable this time around.
“I try to not go out as fast as possible,” Sheppard said. “I start in the middle and work my way out. I look for the fast guys and try to catch up to them.”
The top overall time of the day came courtesy of Vestavia Hills’ Ethan Strand, who won the boys gold division with a time of 15:26.34. Sheppard had the top time for boys runners from the area. Lawrence County’s Steele Joiner was not far behind him, however, placing 36th in the boys gold division with a time of 16:43.45.
Cookeville’s Landri Wilcox had the top overall time for the girls. She was first in the gold division with a time of 17:30.68. Another Lawrence County runner, Emily Daniel, posted the fastest girls time for area runners. She finished 39th in the gold division, crossing the finish line at 20:00.36.
Other notable finishes from area runners included West Morgan’s Yahary Macelino, who placed seventh in the bronze division. She crossed the finish line at 20:13.70. Hartselle’s Hawken Foote placed 41st in the boys silver division at 17:32.85. Decatur High’s Julio Cerda was seven spots behind Foote in 48th with a time of 17:44.26. Hatton’s Carson Graves was ninth in the boys green division at 17:31.34.
The Jesse Owens Classic marks a good midway point for most runners. They have less than a month to prepare for sectionals on Oct. 31. Two weeks after, it’s the state meet on Nov. 9. That also takes place at Oakville Indian Mounds Park.
“I hope to finish as far up as state as possible,” Betts said. “I want to be all-state. So far, it seems like a good goal.”