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Austin High senior Jennifer Dunn ran to a state meet record to claim the Class 6A girls cross country championship at Oakville Indian Mounds and Education Center course Saturday. Her winning time: 17 minutes, 44.04 seconds.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Austin High senior Jennifer Dunn ran to a state meet record to claim the Class 6A girls cross country championship at Oakville Indian Mounds and Education Center course Saturday. Her winning time: 17 minutes, 44.04 seconds.

Dunn cross country champ
Austin senior takes elusive championship in record fashion

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

OAKVILLE — Jennifer Dunn had a simple strategy for this year’s state high school cross country meet.

Relax, get some sleep the night before, and go out and run a personal best.

The Austin High senior added the Class 6A individual championship to her laundry list of track accolades, blistering the field and posting a course-record time of 17 minutes, 44.04 seconds at the Oakville Indian Mounds and Education Center 5-kilometer course Saturday. She finished 23 seconds faster than the second-place runner, junior Elsbeth Denton of Vestavia Hills (18:07.55). Mountain Brook freshman Marie Demedicis finished third in 18:14.80.

“I’ve been running OK,” said Dunn, who said her wins at big meets have fallen off this year.

“It’s all been in my head. I thought if I could come out today and run a PR (personal record), I’d be happy. If I lost with my PR, then I got beat by a better runner.”

Dunn shattered the state girls cross country record. Since the Alabama High School Athletic Association began running 5-kilometer races for the girls in 1998, only one other girl in all classifications had recorded a sub-18-minute time. Two years ago, Laurel Pritchard of Vestavia Hills won the Class 6A title with a 17:57 time — 13 seconds slower than Dunn’s.

Saturday’s win topped a brilliant high school cross country career for Dunn, who finished 18th as an seventh-grader, sixth as an eighth- and ninth-grader and second as a sophomore and junior.

“This was my last chance to win this thing,” Dunn said. “That was definitely a motivating factor, too. Of my titles, this is probably the most exciting to win because I’ve had to wait to get it. I’ve been thinking about this one for a long time.

“Last year, I was really stressed out, and I might have lost some of my competitive edge.”

Last year’s prerace favorite, Dunn finished second with a time of 18:14.

Austin High track and cross country coach Casey Reed was elated to see his star runner smiling again.

“Physically, she’s been ready all year,” Reed said. “

It’s been important for her to clear her mind. All month, we haven’t talked about winning this race, just about her running a personal record. I knew if she ran a PR, she would be OK.

“The bulls-eye wasn’t on Jennifer this year. That may have helped. Her being a senior helped. We were trying to keep the level of expectations high without the pressure.”

Reed added, “It’s been a lot of fun coaching her. Anytime you’ve got an athlete of this caliber who is goal-oriented like Jennifer, it doesn’t take much work as a coach to motivate that person. I knew she would be difficult to beat today. It
didn’t matter who was on the course.”

Coaches and runners alike say the competition in all classes gets tougher each year.

“This field gets faster and faster every year,” said Dunn, who ran to a sixth-place finish with an 18:51 time as a ninth-grader in 2004.

Last year’s Class 6A girls champion, Katie Huston of Sparkman, finished fourth this year with a time of 18:36. Huston’s coach, Charlie Gover, congratulated Dunn.

“Jennifer showed everybody here what it means to be a senior,” he said. “She left no doubt who was the best on the course today.”

Dunn, who ran the Oakville course for practice last weekend, said this year’s warmer temperatures helped.

“The cold weather affected me some last year,” she said.

“This year, I was more worried about myself than I was the other runners.”

What are her plans for next year?

“I’ve got a few schools looking at me. My choice right now is Auburn,” she said.

Jennifer Dunn’s state results

Cross country

Seventh grade: 18th

Eighth grade: sixth

Freshman: sixth

Sophomore: second

Junior: second

Senior: first

Indoor track, 3,200 meters

Eighth grade: third

Freshman: third

Sophomore: first

Junior: first

Indoor track, 1,600 meters

Eighth grade: third

Freshman: third

Sophomore: second

Junior: third

Outdoor track, 3,200 meters

Seventh grade: 11th

Eighth grade: fourth

Freshman: first

Sophomore: second

Junior: second

Outdoor track, 1,600 meters

Freshman: third

Sophomore: second

Junior: second

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