Vol. LXI, No. 23
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
James Smirk wasn't sure whether his Princeton High girls' track team was destined to develop into a powerhouse this spring.
"It's interesting, early in the season we struggled," said head coach Smirk. "We seemed to be worried about just surviving the meets. The season was about getting to the appropriate competitive level."
The Little Tigers ultimately reached a high competitive level as they went 8-1 in dual meets and placed second in the team standings at the Central Jersey Group III sectional meet.
Last weekend, PHS finished 13th in the team standings at the state Group III meet at South Plainfield High.
In Smirk's view, those results were the product of a consistent commitment to excellence. "We don't believe in lightning in a bottle," explained Smirk.
"Performance is based on how hard you work. The success was the product of a lot of sacrifice on their part. I'm lucky. The girls work hard; they don't complain. They want to be good and they show it everyday."
Junior jumping star Megan Wiseman showed a desire to be very good. "Megan struggled early in the season with being consistent in going down the runway," said Smirk of Wiseman who won both the long jump and the triple jump at the sectional meet.
"She had to stop jumping off the short board and start using the one further away. In terms of talent and natural ability, Megan hasn't changed a lot from last year. We knew what she was capable of. She has gained a mental toughness and has made an emotional commitment to doing well."
Wiseman showed that commitment through her work in the indoor track season. "Her toughness came from the hard work she put in over the winter," added Smirk of Wiseman who finished third in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump at the state group meet to qualify for this Wednesday's Meet of Champions (MOC).
"She stayed away from the jumping and worked on sprinting. She ran the 400, the 200, and the 55. She knew she wasn't going to be our best sprinter but she put in the work to improve her running form on the runway."
PHS' other star jumper, senior Kelly Curtis, needed to relax a little to reach peak form. "I can't say enough about her," asserted Smirk of Curtis, who took fifth in the long jump at the group meet to earn a spot at the MOC. "She has always been a solid competitor; she loves to compete. She was putting her body out there but she was getting tight. She had the technique and she had done the work. We told her just to let it out."
Sophomore Hannah Davis had to work hard and show some character to emerge as a star at the 400 hurdles. "She's a tough kid; she's a versatile athlete," said Smirk of Davis who was sixth in the 400 hurdles in the sectional meet.
"We didn't use her at the 400 hurdles until late last season. She didn't come out of the gate very well. She struggled with the event, the steps and the technique. Her greatest asset is her willingness to persevere. After the first two meets, she could've packed it in. I told her she's not a 71-second hurdler, that she's a 65 hurdler. She went in the next meet and got down to 67."
Davis' value to the Little Tigers wasn't limited by her exploits in the 400 hurdles. "We doubled her in the 400 which is a really cruel double," added Smirk. "She also did the 400 on our 4x400 relay team so she ended up doing three 400s in most meets. That's really tough."
PHS' toughest competitor is probably senior star Libby Bliss, who won the Central Jersey Group III title in the 800 meters and finished fourth at the state group meet to earn another trip to the MOC.
"She's been a rock for us," said Smirk of the Princeton University-bound Bliss, who won three straight county titles in the 800. "I'd like to say that I shaped her mental toughness but I think she's always had that. She made a sacrifice in her training; she was so out there that she has to train alone or run with the boys."
A key step in Bliss' development was joining the PHS cross country program two falls ago. "Her coming on cross country was big," maintained Smirk. "She always saw herself as a 200 and 400 runner and she thought the 800 would be her farthest event."
Smirk is proud with how far his team has come collectively. "I like the way we have matured over the last two years," said Smirk.
"We have stopped relying on the stars to do all the work. The second tier athletes have really stepped up. When I look at where we started and where we ended up, we have come a long way this spring."
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