Bethea and Berg

Mount Vernon senior Sam Bethea (left) and junior Cory Berg finished third and second overall, respectively, in their prelim hurdles races on Friday at the OHSAA Track and Field Championships. Bethea and Berg will compete for state titles in a combined four events on Saturday.

COLUMBUS – Just after 10:30 on Friday night, when most at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium seemed to be running on fumes as the first day of the OHSAA Track and Field Championships came to a close, Mount Vernon senior Sam Bethea was bursting with energy.

He bounced back and forth on the far end of the track, taking questions and cheering on those still competing.

Friday included searing late-May heat, brutal competition and a 3.5-hour weather delay that pushed events late into the night. How could Bethea, who’d run the 110-meter hurdles less than an hour prior, have this much energy?

Maybe it’s because he and teammate Cory Berg have a shot at four state titles Saturday – all of which are realistically attainable.

Both Bethea and Berg passed prelims with flying colors on Friday; Bethea placed third overall in the 110-meter hurdles, while Berg placed second in the 300-meter hurdles. Bethea will compete in the state title race Saturday at 4:35 p.m., while Berg will run at 5:50 p.m.

Before the two will run for gold, however, they’ll jump for it. Bethea will compete in the long jump Saturday after finishing second at regionals last week; Berg, whose high jump mark ranks third statewide, will aim for gold as well. All field events begin at 12 p.m. Saturday.

For Berg, Saturday is another shot at knocking off Pickerington Central’s Evan Matthews in the 300-meter hurdles. Matthews is not only the defending state champion, but also one of the top sprinters in the nation. Berg finished less than a second behind Matthews at the regional meet last Saturday, and the two came to Columbus this weekend with the top two times.

“I mean, he’s fast. There’s no doubt about it,” Berg said. “He’s No. 1 in the nation right now and I’m just trying to catch that. I think I’ve got a decent shot at it, just have to put all the pieces together.”

Berg also comes into Saturday with the state’s third-best high jump mark, behind Rocky River’s Daishaun Hill and Olmsted Fall’s Austin Juergens.

A year after an injury kept him out of the state meet, Berg said the opportunity to compete for two state trophies Saturday is one he won’t take for granted.

“A state title, that’s what you’re running for all year,” the junior said. “And just to battle for it is incredible.”

For Bethea, Saturday is one last shot at state glory. The senior finished eight in the high jump last year, but this year he’ll have higher expectations in both the hurdles and long jump.

Bethea came into this weekend with the state’s third-fastest 110-meter hurdle time, and that rang true in prelims on Friday. Bethea said he ran a somewhat cautionary race, just to make sure he qualified for Saturday’s final.

“Coming out of the block was actually really good, but I felt kind of a stumble in between the fifth and sixth hurdle. So I kind of let up a little bit so I wouldn’t fall, and I felt like it would be better for me to let up, and slow a little bit and make it to the finals than fall and make it nowhere at all,” Bethea said.

“But other than that, I thought it was pretty good. My start was good; going over the last hurdle and crossing the finish line was pretty good.”

Bethea finished 0.07 seconds behind Lakewood’s Tyler Hannah for first place on Friday, and he’ll look to close that gap during Saturday’s final.

And while Bethea’s regional long jump mark of 22-09.50 ranks 13th among state qualifiers, he believes he can clear the 13-foot mark and compete in the final round.

“Just maintaining with my chest up, head up and stuff like that, and I feel like I can go 23 and place. I can probably go place with a 23 here,” the senior said. “I’m feeling confident in tomorrow’s racing and jumps.”

While hundreds of athletes compete at the state meet every year, few can say they have a realistic shot at two state titles on the same day. The opportunity came with hard work and discipline, Berg said, and now he and Bethea are ready to make a statement for their hometown.

As Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium quieted late Friday night, Bethea couldn’t stop bouncing. He pointed to the black and orange t-shirt worn by his coach, Kathy Thayer, and many other local fans who attended Friday’s race.

“Just like the shirt says on the back of it, ‘We’re not done yet.’ So tomorrow, we’ve got more work to do,” he said with a grin. “We’re gonna shock everybody here. We’re gonna take it all. We’re ready for it.”

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Staff Reporter

Grant is a 2018 graduate of Ohio Northern University, where he studied journalism and played basketball. He likes coffee, books and minor league baseball. He loves telling stories and has a passion for local news.