Monroeville junior Kristen Smith has made it a habit of wearing the black and gold at Jesse Owen Memorial Stadium as a representative of the Eagles at the state track and field championships in Columbus. After making the long trip her freshman and sophomore season, Smith achieved the trifecta and will make the trip yet again as a junior making the three in a row.
As much as the third time is a charm, it will also not bring any surprises. Smith knows what to expect after advancing the last two seasons.
“It taught me what to expect and what I really need to work on during a state title race,” Smith said. “I now know how to handle the curves of the track because down at Ohio State, they are a lot bigger. It was a huge difference especially when I was in Lane 9 my freshman year.”
During her freshman season, Smith finished in eighth place in the 400-meter dash. She followed up that performance with a seventh place finish. If history serves well, she should take sixth, but Smith is focused on bigger goals.
“I would love to keep improving and move up to at least sixth,” Smith said. “There are five girls that are all in the 58 second range so I would love to just go out and run a 57-second race. Last year, I ran a 58 and a 57 would put me in the Top 4.”
Monroeville coach Chris McDonald saw a huge change in Smith between her sophomore and junior season.
“She was really dedicated this year in the offseason,” McDonald said. “She came right in off of cross country and just worked out really hard to get ready for this season. We were really expecting a lot from her this year and she has delivered on all of our expectations. We put her in a lot of different events and she continued to do well. I am thrilled with her success and the way she stepped up as a leader.”
Smith is coming it with a load of confidence. After qualifying for the 400-meter dash finals with a preliminary time of 1:00.12, Smith went on to trip two seconds off of that time in the finals to run a 58.64 and take a regional runner-up medal home.
“That performance really boosted my confidence because all season long I wasn’t really pushed in many meets,” Smith said. “When I was pushed, things really worked out for me. I didn’t really expect to get second in that race, but I was definitely happy with it.”
She strolls into the state meet with the eighth fastest seed time and if she can repeat that 57-second performance from last season’s regional meet, she would be right in the mix for a state title.
“At the beginning of the year, I asked her what her goals were and she set them very high,” McDonald said. “She ran a 57 last year at the regional meet then ran a 58 at the state meet. I would really like to see her get back to that 57 mark and compete for the Top 4 spots. That is a very good goal for her.”
Smith is the lone Monroeville Eagle to make the trip to state in 2017.
“It means a lot to represent this school,” Smith said. “My career goal is to get my name on the state placers banner four times. It will go up again after this season so I will have to do it again next year. I come from a family that runs and my cousins made me realize how special this was. It is just awesome.”
Some say they could see it coming that Smith would be such a great 400-meter runner. During field days in elementary school, Smith would always sign up for the 400-meter dash and never lost.
“I love it because it is the longest sprint,” Smith said. “Everyone wants to run the 100 and the 200, but no one wants to run the 400. It has always been my race and I love to go out and prove what I can do.”
McDonald inherited Smith when he took over as head coach three years ago.
“My first year as coach was her freshman year,” McDonald said. “It has been a great experience to be able to coach her. I never went to state as an athlete so we made the trip to state for the first time together. As a coaching staff, it has been a great and fun experience to be able to coach her.”
Smith runs on at 11 a.m. on Friday in the 400-meter dash preliminaries. She is in Lane 6 in the first heat.
While Smith enters her third state meet as a junior, she has already made quite a name for herself. She is part of four school records. She owns the 400-meter dash and 200-meter dash record and is a part of the 4x200 and 4x400 relay record. With goals of being a 4-time state placer, she had just one response to having her name in the record books.
The 100 is next,” Smith said.