Prep Cross Country: Danville's Smith wins in cross country debut
Meagan Smith, second from left, of Danville leads Taylor Gray of Mercer County and Nikki Coffey of Boyle County at the front of the pack during the girls varsity race Saturday at the E.G. Plummer Invitational. It was the first cross country race for Smith, and she won by 39 seconds. (Mike Marsee / September 8, 2012)
Kaitlin Snapp couldn’t say that, and neither could just about any other runner who has ever tried the sport. But Smith remains unbeaten, even if her career consists of a single race.
The Danville junior won her very first race Saturday in convincing fashion, rolling to a 39-second victory in the girls varsity race at Danville’s E.G. Plummer Invitational and causing competitors who came to realize it was her cross country debut to shake their heads in amazement.
“They were just like, ‘Wow, that’s a gift from God,’” Smith said. “I just said, ‘Thank you.’”
Of course, Smith didn’t just get out of bed Saturday morning and decide to take up a new sport. She has already enjoyed success in track and field and can frequently be seen on the streets and roads around Danville, where she runs about 6 miles a day.
On the other hand, she took up running less than two years ago, joined Danville’s cross country team just a few weeks ago and had run the Admiral Stadium course only “three or four times” before Saturday’s race.
“So many kids run cross country and track, so she’s not a complete unknown,” Danville coach Chris Verhoven said. “She’s had success on the track for a couple years, so she didn’t completely come out of nowhere, but if you were just a cross country follower, she did come out of nowhere.”
Smith completed the 3.1-mile course in 20 minutes, 13 seconds, and she said the results of this race will motivate her even more for the races to come.
“It’s exciting. I’m really excited for the season and how it’ll turn out,” she said. “It gives me motivation, definitely. It makes me really excited. I’m still going to be nervous coming out for my next race, but it makes me want to come out and do my best.”
Smith was one of two local winners at the Plummer. Brian Carlson of Lincoln County had a similarly easy win in the boys varsity race, beating his closest pursuer to the finish line by 32 seconds, though he said it was no walk in the park.
“Really rough,” he said. “That’s the hardest course I’ve done this season, but I’ve only one run one (other) course, and it’s one of the hardest ones we ever run.”
Smith hasn’t discovered that yet, since she has run only one cross country course. But she has discovered that the hills on Danville’s course make these runs much different from her races on the track — and much more difficult.
“I really try to push myself up the hill so I don’t slow down any, and that’s a lot different from track,” she said.
Verhoven said he thinks Smith will be a better runner in both cross country and track because of the workouts she is doing for the first time.
“What I’ve tried to do is put the track mentality of workouts into cross country. It’s a tough sport, and you can run miles all day long, but you have to go up and down hills. You deal with all kinds of things in cross country, so I hope to try to prepare them for that,” he said. “Meagan hadn’t had those workouts before, and she talked about how sore she was, but the coach in me says, ‘That’s why you’re doing better, it’s those workouts.’ That’s what they’re designed for, to build that core strength, to build that stamina when you are coming up that crazy finish that we have here. You dig a little deeper and you remember that hill workout, and that’s what gets you up that hill a little faster.”
Smith has had two successful seasons in track but has run in the considerable shadow of Kaitlin Snapp, Danville’s most accomplished runner, who won this race in each of the previous three years and is now a freshman at Elon University.
“Kaitlin’s amazing. I could never be as good as her, I don’t think,” Smith said.
No one is rushing to make those comparisons, and Verhoven said he’s just glad to see that Smith is getting her time to shine.
“When you run in the shadows of Kaitlin Snapp and you read in the paper that she’s winning state championships and Kaitlin did this or that, I think one year Meagan finished fifth (in a state meet race) and Kaitlin won and it’s, ‘Who’s Meagan Smith?’” Verhoven said. “She on her own right has been quite a track runner, and it’s nice that she’s going to get the spotlight that I think she deserves, even though we’re talking about a kid at her first meet. It’ll be nice if we can keep this thing going and hopefully she can get some recognition from some colleges.”