SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Zekariya Abdela wants a personal best Thursday afternoon.
Running on the home course at Covington Links, the site of the River Cities Conference cross country meet, he figures he has a chance. The South Sioux City senior describes it as a fast course and hopes to shatter his current personal record of 16:09, which came as a junior when he was the runner-up at the Marsha Koebernick Invitational, also held at Covington.
“It’s an advantage running there,” said the Sioux City Journal’s Metro Athlete of the Week, who’s coming off a third-place 16:40.84 which was recorded at last Thursday’s Koebernick Invitational.
“I’ve been running there since my freshman year. I know when to push it. It’s really fast. You can PR there. I’m going to try to PR this week.”
When the 17-year-old son of Edris and Kedija Fatino ran his all-time best, he completed the first mile in 5:15. He gradually built up with a 5:10 second mile and ran a blistering 5:06 the rest of the way. Trailing the leaders by a thousand meters at one point, he caught up, but fell just two seconds short to the winner, North’s Merga Gemeda.
A three-time state cross country qualifier who was part of the 2016 Class B state title squad, Abdela has lofty goals for Thursday -- a 5:10 first mile, a 5:06 second mile and a 5-minute third mile. An effort like this would top the Cardinals’ school record of 15:57 set by Abdulkadir Mohamed, the 2016 Class B individual state champion.
If he doesn’t PR Thursday, Abdela wants it the following Thursday when South Sioux City hosts the Class B district, the meet which determines the state meet qualifiers.
“During the week, I have to get a good night rest, eat good, drink a lot of water, stretch well, just be ready for it,” said Abdela, who will be pushed Thursday by Omaha Skutt sophomore Ryan Zavadil, who he defeated en route to taking third at last year’s Class B state meet.
“Breaking 16 would be a great accomplishment. I’ve never broken 16. (Zavadil) is going to go out pretty well and maintain that pace. I need to stay with him the first mile and the second mile. The third mile, if I want a PR, I have to go. The thing I need to do is get enough rest and just feel good that day. I need to feel energized.”
Abdela’s season-best time came at last week’s Koebernick meet. South Sioux City Coach Sean Fitzsimmons clocked him in 5:12 in both the first and second miles before he uncharacteristically faded, finishing 26 seconds behind Sheldon’s Eric Heibult’s first-place 16:14.13.
“A lot of guys would be happy with a 5:12 on the track,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s good to see him showing the training is progressing. I think in two weeks, he’ll finish that last mile and put out something special.
“He likes to get out front at the start. We try to caution him that he goes out too hard. He has the unique ability to maintain that pace for his first and second miles. It’s all about mental toughness at the end. Not only is he fast in the first half, he finishes it strong. He’s a mentally tough kid. He has the physicality to hold up. He grinds it out.”
Abdela doesn’t mean to look ahead. Still, he has his sights set on a Class B district title and there, he figures he'll be pushed by Sam Lauders, a junior from Blair who is ranked second.
There’s something else Fitzsimmons notes which is unique about Abdela. He doesn’t compete in track.
Abdela has a good reason. He’s a forward for the defending Class B state soccer champion South Sioux City squad and plays the same position for the club team South Sioux City Diablos.
“For running, soccer is good,” said Abdela. “It helps a lot. I’m better conditioned. They can use me at a lot of positions. I can be a wing or a forward. They run a lot. It keeps me in shape too.”
Ultimately, Abdela’s goal is to compete in both cross country and soccer in college.
“He’s getting a heavy dose of mail for cross country and soccer,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s not unique. I myself, play soccer. It is unique, though, to see him have success in all areas.”
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