E.A. Sports Today

Red-letter runners

Ohatchee sweeps sectional cross country titles; Pleasant Valley, White Plains boys win their respective sectionals

Faith Christian teammates Elizabeth Bedford (2246) and Erin McVeigh stay close at the start of their 1A-2A sectional race Friday. Both qualified for the state meet as individuals. (Photo by Tony Bedford)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports TodayMitchell

OXFORD – It was a red-letter day at the state cross country sectional races Friday at Choccolocco Park and that letter was “O” – as in Ohatchee.

The Indians won both girls and boys team titles in the Class 1A-2A Section 4 race to lead the list of Calhoun County qualifiers at the park.

For the boys, it was their first-ever sectional championship. For the girls and race winner Jayda Fair, it was their first sectional in five years.

“There is a lot of significance in this,” Ohatchee coach Casey Howell said. “We started with this group of seniors as seventh graders – best group of kids I’ve ever coached – and they make it all the way through and it’s their senior year when it all comes together.

“That was our goal from the beginning of the year and we talked about it every day. Our top runners probably sacrificed more individually for the team this year. They didn’t push themselves as much in practice because it finally hit them it wasn’t about them it was about us. They bought into the idea of leaving the right legacy.”

Out of all the sectionals that were run Friday, Calhoun County produced seven team qualifiers and 21 individual qualifiers.

The key to Ohatchee’s team sweep was finishing in a tight pack.

Westbrook Christian teammates Mitchell Cook and Jonah Morris finished 1-2 in the boys race, but then Ohatchee loaded up with four of the next five led by Gabe Hammonds and county champion Blake Noah. Freshman Tyler Mullinax’ 12th-place finish gave the Indians the points they needed to keep Westbrook at bay.

The girls, meanwhile, had four of the top six finishers and their top six were among the first 11 scorers. They came within two positions of shutting out the field, but their 25 points was well ahead of runner-up Cedar Bluff.

“We haven’t won a sectional since the girls’ first year, which is ironic because they were seventh graders when we first started this thing and now they’re seniors,” Howell said. “It’s kind of special to end it on bookends.”

Interestingly, after winning that first sectional in Scottsboro, the girls missed qualifying for state the next year by two points but they have gone every year since.

“They ran what they needed to run to set them up for next week,” Howell said. “We talked about we didn’t want this week to be our peak. We want next week to be our peak.”

Fair scored the biggest win of her career by far. She won the 1A-2A race by nearly a minute and said it was the best she ran on the course by far.

“This time I had a chance to be the sectional champion,” she said, “so I guess it just motivated me enough to go out there and make sure no one else would beat me.”

Alexandria’s girls qualified second in the Class 5A Section 2 race. Three-time County champion Abby Nunnelly was second individually.

For Westbrook’s Mitchell it was his second win this season and third of his career, but Friday was the first time he ran the course. Ohatchee’s Noah went out fast and set a torrid pace, but Mitchell felt comfortable. Eventually the county champion came back to the field and the two Westbrook runners pulled out in front. He eventually won it in a season-best 17:04.71, with Morris right behind at 17:10.33.

“I was feeling really calm through that whole race,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t have any pain. I was feeling smooth; I felt like nothing could stop me at that point and when it came down to that last little bit I gave it all that was left in me and it turned out for the good.”

IN AND OUT: In an oddity of the scoring, Oxford’s girls missed qualifying as a team in the Class 6A Section 5 race by three points, but the Lady Jackets qualified enough individual runners – five – who could post a team score at next week’s state championship meet in Moulton. The top three teams and next six individuals advanced.

Eighth-grader Ashlee Keur was Oxford’s fastest finisher at 22:39.71 (16th overall). Mia Munoz, Tori Williams, Kaelyn Albright and Chelsea Haynes also qualified as individuals. The Lady Jackets scored 112 points, three behind fourth qualifier Pell City.

“It’s really just a bittersweet moment,” Oxford coach Landon Delozier said. “We’re excited to be able to take the top five and be able to compete at the state level. It’ll be an interesting sight to see. All the girls will know it’s a bittersweet moment, which I think will fire them up a little bit more.”

Even though it won’t matter in the official team standings, don’t think they won’t be tracking their five to see where they’ll score would fall among those teams that did qualify.

Fort Payne shut out the field by sweeping the first six.

QUICK RECOVERY: Elizabeth Bedford didn’t have a lot of time to switch gears, but she put the pain of Faith Christian’s five-set loss in the Class 1A volleyball state semifinals on Wednesday behind her and qualified for state cross country championship Friday.

Bedford ran 26:06.54 and finished 17th. She was joined among the individual qualifiers by teammate Erin McVeigh and Donoho’s Hannah Salame. They all came in together 10 seconds apart. Faith Christian missed out on a team qualifying spot by three points.

“It’s just exciting to get to go to state for two different sports,” Bedford said. “It’s kind of a refresher because something good happened after the loss.”

McVeigh gained a bit of redemption as well. She missed qualifying for the state meet last year by five seconds and wasn’t going to be denied. She made it this year by a margin of less than a second.

“I made it my goal to make state this year,” she said. “Last year when I didn’t make state it was my first year running, so I thought I’ve got the next year. That was why I ran again. I’m just trying to be the best I can.”

Team qualifiers:
Ohatchee 32, Westbrook Christian 35, Asbury 63, Skyline 127.
Individual qualifiers: Camron McDaniel, Cedar Bluff; Levi Garrett, Faith Christian; Josue Luna, North Sand Mountain; Kam Thomas, Donoho; Kaleb Shepard, Cedar Bluff; Jack Horton, Cedar Bluff
Team qualifiers:
Ohatchee 25, Cedar Bluff 78, Section 101, Ider 107.
Individual qualifiers: Maggie Morgan, Westbrook Christian; Joslyn Boatwright, Skyline; Rylie Powell, Asbury; Hannah Salame, Donoho; Elizabeth Bedford, Faith Christian; Erin McVeigh, Faith Christian.

Team qualifiers:
Southside-Gadsden 45, Springville 69, Beauregard 110, Boaz 120.
Individual qualifiers: Patrick Pigg, Valley; Jaden Vance, Moody; Ronald Piedra, Clay Central; Luis Rodriguez, Alexandria; Dakota Frank, Munford; Dylan Landreth, Valley.
Team qualifiers:
Southside-Gadsden 32, Alexandria 68, Beauregard 98, Springville 112.
Individual qualifiers: Isabelle McDonald, Valley; Barit Snead, Sardis; Sarah Burger, Sardis; Kaitlyn Morris, Sardis; Whitleigh Bright, Valley; Timberly Tomlin, Clay Central.

Team qualifiers:
Cullman 26, Albertville 57, Fort Payne 96, Pinson Valley 109.
Individual qualifiers: Dylan Hulsey, Oxford; Reed Robinson, Oxford; Josh Arellano, Pell City; Jack Lowe, Pell City; Justin Wilson, Pell City; Josue Alvarez, Oxford.
Team qualifiers:
Fort Payne 15, Cullman 47, Albertville 97, Pell City 109.
Individual qualifiers: Ashlee Keur, Oxford; Mia Munoz, Oxford; Tori Williams, Oxford; Kaelyn Albright, Oxford; Deaviana Lee Vaughn, Huffman; Chelsea Haynes, Oxford.


AUBURN – The Pleasant Valley boys stayed on pace for a state title by winning their sectional race, while the girls finished third to stay on track on join them.

The boys placed three of the next four runners behind race winner Cooper Reynolds of Westminster-Oak Mountain and their first seven runners in the top 15 – in a 90-second spread. Skyler Mcleod was second overall in 17:51.25. Coleman Haynes was fourth, Jacob Gladen fifth, Brayden Wright eighth and Kaige Roberts 11th.

The girls team finished in a tight pack as well, just not the right pack. Trinity Roberts led them with a seventh-place finish (21:56.14), then their other scorers came in 12-13-14-17, but were blocked out by the packs from team winner Westminster-Oak Mountain and runner-up Saint James.

“We had very tired legs,” PV coach Brad Hood said. “We used a long week to train hard for next week, not to be fresh today. We had four or five very hard days in a row to make a final push for state. After today, the hay is in the barn.”

Saks’ Jahir Ortiz-Rodriguez and Katelin Dill qualified individually in their respective races.

(Keisel Park, Auburn)
Team qualifiers:
Pleasant Valley 30, Westminster-Oak Mountain 50, Prattville Christian 106, Saint James 109.
Area individual qualifiers: Keith Wright, Randolph County; Jahir Ortiz-Rodriguez, Saks.
Team qualifiers:
Westminster-Oak Mountain 29, Saint James 55, Pleasant Valley 63, Glencoe 108.
Area individual qualifiers: Katelin Dill, Saks; Abby Huddleston, Randolph County.


FAIRVIEW – The White Plains boys had four of the top 10 finishers (nine counters) – all under 18 minutes – and picked up their pace after losing a key runner mid-race and won the sectional by more than 30 points.

Luke Larson led them across the line with a third-place 17:22.62. Kayd Hightower, Carson Limbaugh and James Middlebrooks came in 8-9-10 and Caden Johnson completed their scorers in 19th place.

“Jake (Moore) pulled his hamstring half-mile into the race,” Wildcats coach John Moore said. “All the boys knew it and really stepped up. Everyone was battling to take the fifth spot.

“With the change to a Friday meet we really had to modify our weekly practices. Anything odd like that can affect performance, but we practiced hard on Wednesday when we never practice on Wednesday and it was an awesome practice. The boys were shredding two-mile times like nothing I’ve ever seen. I knew they were ready.”

The severity of Moore’s injury is such he’ll be unavailable for the state meet.

The White Plains girls brought their five scorers home from 6 to 13th 49 seconds apart, but Ashville posted three of the first five and won by team title by three points.

“You can’t be disappointed when the entire team sets PRs,” Moore said. “They ran an amazing race. Asheville just ran a little better.”

Anniston’s Christian Myles and Jackson Hicks qualified as individuals; Hicks secured the final individual spot by four-tenths of a second. Jacksonville’s Kennedy Sparks and Maddie Holt qualified in the girls race.

(Fairview Town Park)
Team qualifiers:
White Plains 44, Fairview 76, DAR 88, Lincoln 124.
Area individual qualifiers: Christian Myles, Anniston; Evan Garner, Jacksonville; Jackson Hicks, Anniston.
Team qualifiers:
Ashville 41, White Plains 44, Fairview 68, DAR 88.
Area individual qualifiers: Kennedy Sparks, Jacksonville; Maddie Holt, Jacksonville; Alexis Miller, Lincoln; Danielle Rollins, Lincoln.

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