By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It was a tough pill to swallow last year for Oklahoma State cross country runner Girma Mecheso.
Mecheso, one of the top runners in the Cowboy program, sat out the season because he wasn’t quite in shape. And with him on the sideline, the Cowboys saw their reign end as NCAA champions.
“I was expecting myself to run, but I was not in a condition where I could help the team,” Mecheso said. “... It was hard for me to sit and watch last year. I’m not a guy who likes to sit there and watch. I could have run, but the other guys were in better shape, so there was no point for me to try to go out there and run.”
OSU cross country coach Dave Smith said, “I think it really bothered him. It bothered all of our guys that we didn’t win the championship last year because we thought we had the potential to win. I think he’s on a mission — as are the rest of the guys — and is very focused and wants to regain that title.”
Mecheso now has a re-newed sense of urgency as the undisputed leader of the OSU men’s cross country team. He has a mission this year, his last in the program — bring back the title.
“Now I’m in a condition to help the team ... and excited to come back and try to get another national championship,” Mecheso said.
Smith said he sees that determination in his redshirt senior. The desire to make up for last year’s NCAA championships, to return Oklahoma State to championship status instead of being considered the second-best in the country.
“He is all about this team title. He is really on a mission,” Smith said. “He wants the team to win it again and he wants to end his career with the team winning a championship. He has come to me several times throughout the fall and talked to me about how we are going to bring the younger guys along. He’s really into it. I think he is completely into winning it for Oklahoma State.”
It’s another sign Mecheso has come a long way in his maturity since coming to Oklahoma State.
Two years ago, racing the Cowboy Jamboree, Mecheso went against his coach’s game plan of having the runners work together. While the transfer from Auburn won the race, and the Cowboys took the team title, he still missed the mark — working as a team to get ready for the grueling season ahead.
“I did that because I knew those other guys were able to handle it themselves. It was our home meet and I wanted to win it and give us a chance to win the team title — but that wasn’t our plan to run that way,” Mecheso admitted. “This year, I won’t do that. Though I could do it that way if I need to, but I’m not going to because I want to stay closer to my team and encourage them and teach other so we can run well at Big 12 and a nationals.”
The Cowboy leader will get his chance to redeem himself Saturday when OSU hosts the Cowboy Jamboree at the Cowboy cross country course.
“At this point, I’m no longer worried about him and I don’t think he’s worried about him,” Smith said. “But he wants to make sure that we’re taking care of everybody because it obviously takes more than one guy to win a championship.”
Smith said while Mecheso could easily go about training on his own because he is so talented, that he is helping his teammates and the younger guys are falling in line behind the senior.
“I think it’s good for Girma, because at times he can over-train, but it’s also really good for the other guys because they are running with a guy they know could be in the top 10 in the NCAAs,” Smith said. “I think it gives those guys a lot of confidence.”