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Smith goes for back-to-back and a 4th straight title for Southern

Jill Smith (photo below by John Nepolitan)has been favored to win every race she’s run on the track for more than a year. And she knows that’ll be the case again on Friday when she toes the line to defend her title in the mile at the 102nd Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden. But the All-American senior from Southern Regional in New Jersey, who hasn’t lost on the track since June of 2007, says it’s not as easy as people think to be on top, and to stay on top. ``There are so many expectations that people put on you, and it’s tough to always live up to them,’’ said Smith.

But that’s what happens when you continue to deliver major victories and dominate the high school running scene the way Smith has.

It all started at Millrose last year when she ran the third fastest time in meet history (4:50.87), and continued with her victory in the mile at the Nike Indoor Nationals. Outdoors, Smith remained unbeaten at all distances and capped her campaign by capturing the 800 at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

Despite all the success, Smith said she still gets tense before every race.

``It’s just as nerve wracking for me know as it’s always been,’’ said Smith. ``I know there are runners out there getting better and better from year to year, so I know I have to always been on my A game to win.’’

Smith has plenty of motivation to keep her Millrose crown. She’s not just running for a second straight title on Friday. She’s also running to keep an incredible streak alive for Southern. If Smith wins, it would give Southern a remarkable four straight wins in the Millrose Mile. Current Michigan sophomore Danielle Tauro (photo right by John Nepolitan)) finished first at Millrose for Southern in 2006 and ‘07.

``Keeping the Southern tradition of winning going is something I’ll be trying to do,’’ said Smith. ``It’s certainly something that’s on my mind.’’

Something that Smith says isn’t on her mind is the meet record of 4:49.94, set in 1989 by Sarah Schwald of Washington State. Smith, running with a bad sinus infection last year, missed the record by less than a second (4:50.87). But that should come as no surprise, since Smith has never been about breaking records or aiming for certain times. Her only concern over her career has been winning.

``I try to just focus on place and running smart to put myself in position to finish first,’’ said Smith. ``If that record happens it would be cool, but it’s not something I am thinking about. Running a time like that depends so much on how everyone else decides to run and what kind of pace it is.’’

Smith, fourth as a sophomore at Millrose, says that running on the cramped 11-lap to a mile track for a third time gives her an edge.

``Since you don’t get to warm up on it, I think it gives me an advantage that I know how to handle all the turns and I kind of know what to expect out there.’’

Smith will be up against a field that consists of Juliet Bottorff (Tatnall School, De.), Anne Carey (St. John the Baptist HS, NY), Emily Lipari ( Roslyn HS, NY), Cory McGee (Pass Christian HS, MS), Emily Menges (Garden City HS, NY), Ariann Neutts ( Roxbury HS, NJ), Grace Rodriguez ( Hanover HS, NH), and Lanie Thompson (Voorhees HS, NJ).

Smith’s biggest competition is expected to come from McGee, Lipari and Thompson.
McGee was second at Millrose the last two years. Lipari, a FL finalist and seventh at Millrose a year ago, has run US #1 times this season in both the mile (4:54.40) and two-mile (10:38.66). The Oregon-bound Thompson was fifth last year and owns the US #2 time this season (4:55.65).

``I know there’s a lot of talent in the race and some kickers in there,’’ said Smith. ``I’ll try to cover whatever moves they make and put myself in good position to try to come out on top.’’

Smith comes into the race following a sizzling performance at the New Balance Games last Saturday, anchoring Southern’s US#1 4x800 (9:06.67) with a 2:05.4 split.(photo left by John Nepolitan)

``I was surprised by that,’’ said Smith. ``I expected maybe 2:07 or 2:08, but I was just feeling real good the whole time. I feel like I am definitely ready for Millrose.

Smith’s biggest asset, along with her brilliant race tactics, is her punishing kick. When she goes to it, it’s usually means the race is over.

``It gives me confidence to know that I have a good kick,’ said Smith. ``Hopefully it will be there again for me on Friday.''

Millrose meet page