Friday, June 08, 2007

Heath Defends 3200 Title with a Kick and a Record; Mead 2nd, Finnerty 3rd

Despite an honest wind blowing up the back-stretch, despite a slow opening mile – for guys that can run 9-flat, that is – and despite the pressure that attends the State Meet, the most anticipated event of the 2007 MSHSL State Championship did not disappoint.

Under a cloudless sky and in cool temperatures, Winona’s Elliott Heath defended his Class AA 3200 meter title in Class AA record time by dodging the wind, biding his time, and out-kicking pacesetter and 2006 Class AA Cross Country champ Hassan Mead of Minneapolis South and 2005 Class AA 3200m champ Rob Finnerty over the last 100 meters.

Heath stopped the clock at 9:02.65. Mead timed 9:03.29; Finnerty ran 9:04.42.

All three marks rank in the top-10 all-time for Minnesota preps. Heath's 8:57.65 last week in the Section 1AA meet ranks him #3 all-time behind Mike Torchia of Rochester Lourdes (8:47.46) and Nick Schneider of Benilde-St. Margaret's (8:53.03.)

Only Torchia’s Class A-winning time of 8:59.19 last year ranks above Heath’s mark at a State Meet for 3200m. (Dennis Fee of White Bear Lake, however, did run 9:02.7 for two miles at the State Meet in 1972.)

“I felt pretty relaxed,” Heath said afterwards. “Coach was telling me just stay relaxed and wait for the race to unfold. Everyone’s hurting by [200 meters to go]; I felt like I had like an extra gear in my legs. A lot of times in these big races you have to be able to kick."

After a brief opening turn at the front by Mike Hutton of Apple Valley, the lanky Mead took the lead and ended up dictating the pace of the race until the homestretch. He led the large, well-decorated group of distance runners – perhaps the deepest ever assembled at a State Meet – through 400 meters in 69.4 and 800 in 2:20.2. The Gopher-to-be continued at a 70-second clip through a 1600 split of 4:41.2, before turning up the heat on the field.

Mead didn’t plan to set the pace, but got stuck out front once he took the lead.

“The plan was to just try to get the lead that last four laps,” he said. “It didn’t work because it turned out I was in the lead with a lap to go."

After the half-way mark, Mead accelerated to 67s – hitting the two kilometer mark in 5:48.4 and 2400 meters in 6:55.7. After that sixth lap, the lead pack had been winnowed to six contenders – Mead, Heath, Finnerty, Eden Prairie’s Ryan Little, Edina’s T.C. Lumbar, and Willmar’s Kaafi Adeys. Defending Class AA 1600 meter champ Ben Blankenship of Stillwater was surprisingly unable to keep contact.

“I just wanted to push the race and see what everybody had at the end,” Mead said of his second-half drive. “It was pretty slow, and that last mile was to push and go hard. I saw the saddles on these guys so I thought I should go faster."

After Mead turned a third 67, only three runners were in contention for the win – the race-long leader Mead, Finnerty right behind him, and Heath, with both of his challengers in front of him, in third.

Down the final backstretch, Finnerty and Heath continued to follow Mead’s accelerating pace. Half-way through the Snelling Avenue turn of the Hamline track the order remained same, but eying the homestretch, Heath moved wide to prepare for his final charge.

Heath’s move immediately left Finnerty adrift in third. The Stanford-bound Heath only gradually pulled away from Mead through the straightaway, finishing his last lap in 59.4.

He ran his final 1600 in roughly 4:21.

Heath joins his older brother Garrett as a two-time MSHSL 3200m champ. Garrett won Class AA titles in the event in 2003 and 2004. He was the 1600m champ those years as well.

Heath’s win over Mead, Finnerty, and Lumbar, who finished 4th in 9:09.93, redeems an earlier defeat to that same threesome on the same track at the Hamline Elite-Meet. There, on a cool, calm April night, Finnerty led early and ultimately out-kicked the competition to win in 9:04.55. Mead was second in 9:06.07; Lumbar was third in 9:06.69. Heath could only manage 9:07.94 for fourth.

“When we raced here at the Elite-Meet it was pretty much the same guys.” Heath said. “In that race we went out in like 4:27 or something like that. The wind today kind of made people a little more hesitant to go out and try to really push the pace."

Finnerty, in the aftermath, would have preferred a faster pace and a longer kick.

“Before the race I wanted to go out in like a 4:30 for the first mile,” the champion in the event as a freshman in 2005 said. “When it came down to it, I really didn’t feel good during the race, I was happy with the slow time [for the first 1600.] I was looking for a more drawn out kick. When it came down to it I just decided I’d roll with the punches and see what happened and how it turned out at the end of the race."

Lumbar, the least-speedy of the contenders was disappointed by the slow pace.

“I would have liked a little quicker,” he admitted. “Right after the first 100 meters you could tell the wind was going to be pretty bad, and it felt a lot like last year again where a kind of wind tunnel thing going on. What I liked about Hamline [Elite-Meet] was we went out at a good pace and it stayed or at least it felt pretty even and I guess I would have preferred that."

“Hassan did a good job of keeping it honest that last mile or so, so it turned out alright I guess,“ he added. “Expecting it to go out a little harder I was thinking I didn’t want to get into anything too crazy but at that point just knowing that the wind was as tough as it was, I felt bad having Hassan lead it the whole first part, but I knew I didn’t want to be leading it too much early on."

Just as Heath found redemption in his win today, those he vanquished over 3200 meters need only wait until the Class AA 1600 meter race tomorrow for a rematch.

Chris Marshall assisted with the reporting of this story.

All-time Minnesota ranking information comes courtesy of Bill Miles and Tim Miles.

Photos, courtesy of Gene Niemi, [top] Mead of South leads (left-to-right) Lumbar, Little, Finnerty, & Heath, [bottom] Heath (l) edges Mead.


Kirk said...

Thanks for the updates--you made me feel like I was there. Here's looking towards tomorrow.

Chad said...

Yeah, great report. Thanks guys,

hndelnd said...

This brings back memories. Loved watching Hassan run!!!