|FL South: Meet Girma
GA's Mecdheso beats Hubers, ready to challenge Lowe
by Steve Underwood
(preseason rank in parentheses)
1. Colby Lowe, TX (2)
2. Girma Mecdheso GA (NR)
3. Ben Hubers, GA (1)
4. Duncan Phillips, TX (3)
5. Mike Spooner, VA (6)
6. Kevin Schwab, OK (5)
7. Ryan Hill, NC (9)
8. Drew Bean TX (NR)
9. Griff Graves, VA (7)
10. Travis Fort TX (8)
11. C.J. Brown TX (NR)
12. Taylor Gilland NC (NR)
13. Jay Heller, GA (4)
14. Michael Anderson FL (HM)
15. Bill Matthews AL (13)
High Honorable Mention: Clay Adams TN, Zach Dawson TX, Sean Keveran TN, Tim Landry AL, Brian Long KY, Dakota Lowery NC, Anthony Morales FL, Axel Mostrag VA, Alex Neff TX, Bobby Saltsman FL, Thomas Porter VA, Andy Wacker NC, Jason Witt VA
Honorable Mention: Chris Berry TN, Josh Brewer AR, Matt Cleaver GA, Gordy Dooley KY, Guillermo Echarte FL, Rob Ellis MS, Austin Enriquez GA, Hank Festervan LA, Zach Flowers TX, Ivan Garcia TX, Levi Grandt WV, Aaron Hamilton AR, Chris Harkins TX, Luke Lovelace SC, Stuart McDaniel SC, Patrick McGregor AL, Daniel Manco FL, Nathan Miles TX, Mitch Owenbey OK, Stefan Shealy SC, Matt Sonnefeldt TN, Ryne Smith KY, Josh Walker SC, Alex Willis FL, Michael Winston GA,
Girma the Great
The story of the year in the South region has been of a runner born in Ethiopia and moved to Kenya, who is running for a big suburban Atlanta school, who speaks four languages, who came to the U.S. for a better education, and had no formal training before moving here last spring. He just got under 9:30 for 3200 last spring, but is now unbeaten after finishing out the regular season with a big state meet win over Ben Hubers, the Great American champ and one of the top five runners in the country.
America, meet Girma Mecdheso, suddenly the man to beat at McAlpine this Saturday in the eyes of many – despite the success of Texan Colby Lowe, Hubers, and several other standouts.
In his first season at Berkmar HS in Lilburn GA last spring, he progressed to 9:28.17 at the 5A state meet, a solid time, but 3rd and more than 22 seconds behind Hubers. There was little reason to think “Foot Locker Finalist” at the time. But the Girma buzz started in August when he ran a 9:47 leg as part of a 2-mile stage races event, beating GA’s 2nd best runner at the time, Jay Heller, by 13 seconds.
Mecdheso’s 2nd race was a 17:00 on a “very hard course,” with getting “lost in the woods.” When he finally got a fast 5k course to run, he hit 15:00 to win his county meet, the first of 3 times he’d run 15:00 or 15:01. There were a few other big races, like Furman Invite and Coach Wood Invite, but there would be no meeting with Hubers, or any other regionally ranked runner, until state.
Meanwhile, Ben Hubers himself was picking up where he left off his junior year – when he was a FL Finalist (18th), then last spring ran 8:57.33 and 4:09.76y (3rd NON mile). The McEachern senior’s big test was Great American where he won decisively (by 11 sec., in 15:38) over a field that included NE standouts Steve Murdock and Brian Rhodes-Devey. People watching that race were struck by how easily Hubers powered away.
At the Jesse Owens meet in AL, on a faster course but with little competition, he ripped a 14:58. Most of the rest of his victories were on the routine side.
So, the 2nd Saturday of November was showdown time, Girma and Ben, one of the most anticipated individual state-meet clashes in the country. The two principles tore through the first mile, then Hubers tried to break his new rival. It didn’t happen. After two miles, Mecdheso put on the after-burners and the result was jaw-dropping. He destroyed the course record with a 15:01 and put 43 seconds between himself and a resigned Hubers (who ran 15:28 last year by comparison).
Word is that Hubers had been sick earlier in the week, but to imagine he could have otherwise run like Girma on the tough GA layout is not fair to Girma. Still, expect the two to be much closer this weekend … but also expect Girma to challenge for the national title a week later.
The lowdown on Lowe ... and the rest of the best
Before you Texans start throwing up your arms in outrage, no, Colby Lowe and the rest of the Lone Star State’s heroes haven’t forgotten. It just worked better to tell the whole Georgia story first.
Look at the list. Lowe is #1 in the rankings and for good reason. The Southlake Carroll jr blazed through the season unbeaten, running several fast races, beating rival Duncan Phillips multiple times, and taking the Nike South and 5A TX state meets. Is he as talented is Mecdheso? Maybe not, but with a best of 15:05 and given the records of the top contenders against other top runners, he doesn’t deserve to be supplanted yet.
Phillips didn’t achieve his goal of beating Lowe – his last attempt in the 5A meet saw him clutching his hamstring as he failed to kick with his rival. Nonetheless, the A&M Consolidated sr had a strong season that got better at the end – he had a disappointing mid-season loss to Missouri and Kansas runners at Chile Pepper. Despite back problems that continue to plague him, he is a strong choice to return to San Diego.
How about Virginia’s top two, Mike Spooner and Griff Graves? Spooner, the West Springfield sr, has been more consistent than ever in a fine senior season. His only loss was to Ohio’s best, Emil Heineking, in the Spartan Boardman meet in Ohio. He completed the season with the state 3A title. Graves, an Abingdon jr., is ranked a few spots lower. He won the 2A meet in VA, just a few seconds behind Spooner’s winning time in 3A. He lost only to the Springfield runner in-state and got some great out-of-state experiences with runner-up finishes to Kevin Havel IL at the Peoria Notre Dame meet in IL (14:31-14:41 over 3M), and to Ryan Hill NC at the Wendy’s meet on the McAlpine course (14:55-15:03).
Oklahoma’s best is Mustang jr Kevin Schwab. He has been the dominant runner in the state since his soph year and went unbeaten there again. For some out-of-state competition, he went to Nike South, where he was a strong 4th in 15:25 behind Lowe, Phillips and The Woodlands’ Alex Neff. With a 15:00-flat 5k track PR from NON, he can run well on courses like McAlpine.
The best runners in North Carolina have been Hickory jr Ryan Hill and Chapel Hill soph Taylor Gilland. Hill, 15th last year and the 5th returnee from FL South, has had a mostly good season, highlighted by a blistering 14:55 win over Graves at the 3A race at Wendy’s (faster than the invitational division). He won 3A state in 16:00, but that wound up being just the 3rd best time of the day as the surprising Gilland ripped a 15:38 in the 4A race. Gilland, however, had the 6th best time at Wendy’s in taking 4th in the Invitational (15:25).
A tight group of three Texans is spread through the rankings from 8th-11th. One of the more exciting battles of the day at Texas state was the 4A back-and-forth between Little Cypress-Mauriceville sr Drew Bean and Vista Ridge sr Travis Fort. Bean finally won in 15:15, a time a fraction ahead of Phillips’ from 5A and a minute faster than he ran there last year. Fort still ran 15:21 for 2nd in 4A, in turn slightly faster than Southlake Carroll soph CJ Brown in 5A.
Fort has good FL experience, running here twice, including 15th as a soph himself and a 25th last year that makes him the #7 returnee. Few have the experience here that he does. But then there’s Brown, who follows teammate Lowe as the latest super sophomore in Texas. Brown did beat Fort at the Texas A&M meet and Nike South. One could almost say that Fort, Bean, and Brown represent the past, present, and future of Texas running … but they will all want to represent the present Saturday.
Walton GA sr Jay Heller, ranked 4th in the preseason, has dropped a bit in the spotlight with the emergence of Mecdheso, and the rankings, although he’s hardly had a bad season. He had a very nice 15:15 win at Wendy’s in the Invitational division, beating three of NC’s four best. But the 3A race had Ryan Hill and Griff Graves running 20 and 12 seconds faster. He had an off day at Georgia state, taking fourth and running about the same time as the year before. Still, don’t count him out.
Florida’s best at season’s end has been P.K. Yonge sr Michael Anderson. He had the best time at state, winning 1A in 15:42. The next week he clocked a PR 15:23 at the FACA All-Star meet for an easy win. He is really one of several Floridians who could challenge on the back end of the top 10. Another in that category, rounding out the top 15, is Mountain Brook AL soph Bill Matthews, who repeated as 6A champ with the best time of the day.