Doug Smith knows he’s running out of next times. But the senior at Gill St. Bernard’s refuses to put any pressure on himself as he continues his pursuit of an elusive Meet of Champions title.
It would be easy for Smith to feel snakebitten as he prepares for Saturday’s 37th NJSIAA cross-country Meet of Champions at Holmdel
Park. After all, he’s had three runner-up finishes, one third-place and two fourth places in his M of C career.
In cross-country, Smith was third in 2006 in a then sophomore course record 15:46.2, and last year he was undefeated heading into the M of C and was the co-favorite along with Brian Leung of West Windsor-Plainsboro South. But Smith never finished, succumbing to a week long illness that caused him to fall from dizziness halfway through the race and he wasn’t able to finish.
Then last spring, Smith appeared headed for victory in the M of C 3,200 when he opened a 50-meter lead with just one lap to go. But he started to tie up and Tyler Udland of Millburn caught him just before the line to beat Smith by less than a second.
``Last year I was sick in cross-country, indoors I ran 9:01.86 and it wasn’t enough to beat Brian (Leung) and I still don’t know what happened outdoors,’’ said Smith. ``But I know I am running out of time and I hope I can finally win one of these. I don’t feel like I deserve to win, I feel like I need to go earn it.’’
Smith, the preseason favorite to win Saturday’s race, is taking a relaxed approach as suddenly finds himself now cast as an underdog because of the abundance of talent that has blazed across New Jersey trails this fall.
``I’m trying to go into this race as calm and loose as possible and not be tense,’’ said Smith. ``Who knows what is going to happen, but I am confident that I can do what I need to in order to have a shot to win. I have to run as fast as I can for as long as I can.’’
Smith knows he’ll most likely have to run his Holmdel personal best to have any chance at capturing the title.
Smith has a Holmdel best of 15:44, which he ran to win the state Non-Public B title last year. He ran 16:13 to win that race for the third straight year last Sunday..
There are seven runners in this race that have gone faster than Smith at Holmdel this season, led by Udland (a junior), senior Brett Johnson of Ocean City and Joe Rosa of West Windsor North. Udland (15:36), Johnson (15:41) and Rosa (15:51) went 1-2-3 in the Group 3 race last week. Rosa’s best at Holmdel this season is 15:38, which broke Smith’s sophomore course mark.
``When I ran 15:44 that wasn’t the fastest I could run and was right when I started to get sick,’’ said Smith. ``Last week was real windy and I was all by myself and didn’t get out fast (5:25 first mile). But when I was a sophomore I ran 5:14 and last year it was 5:08 for the first mile. I am in better shape now, so I know I can push as fast as I need to. I think there will be be 2-3 guys together at two miles and I expect to be one of them.’’
After being the state’s top sophomore and junior the last two years, Smith isn’t surprised to see himself as an underdog as a senior.
``I saw it coming in the spring,’’ said Smith. ``When I lost to Udland and Jim Rosa (Joe’s twin) broke my state freshman record in the 3,200, I knew those guys were going to be strong cross country runners. There are always guys getting better and faster and catching up to other runners, so it’s not shocking to see. That used to be me.’’
Now Smith is hoping he catch them and finally call himself a Meet of Champions winner.
``It would mean a great deal to me,’’ said Smith. ``I’ve worked a long time to try and get it and it would be very satisfying.’’
Doug Smith through the years:
2005-06: Played soccer at Roxbury during cross-country season . Finished fourth in M of C 3,200 indoors (9:26.34) and outdoors (9:14.61, a state freshman record at the time).
2006-07: Transferred to Gill St. Bernard’s. Third in XC M of C in 15:46.2 (Holmdel Park sophomore record at the time). Second in M of C 3,200 indoors (9:11.39), fourth in M of C 3,200 outdoors (9:04.52).
2007-08: DNF at XC M of C (illness). Second in the M of C 3,200 both indoors (9:01.86) and outdoors (9:05.73).