The memories remain for Mikaela Smith.
She’ll never forget that fateful night, June 6, 2015, at the CIF State Track and Field Championships at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Smith came into the 800 as the two-time champion, looking to end her Clovis North career on a high note before heading to USC.
It ended badly.
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Smith made a cut inside, was spiked above her left heel, fell on the track and had to crawl off as the race was stopped. Her bleeding leg was taped, but as she prepared for a restart, the bombshell hit: She was disqualified, ruled to have impeded a competitor.
Coming here, I had to take deep breaths and not be nervous.
Mikaela Smith, on her return to Veterans Memorial Stadium, where she was disqualified in the CIF State championships last year
“I’ve had bad memories here,” Smith said Friday, back at Veterans Memorial for another 800 – this time as a Trojans freshman in the preliminaries of the U.S. Junior Outdoor Championships. “Then I false started at (the NCAA West) regionals, so I didn’t make it to nationals. So that beginning part of my race for the past couple of years has been a problem, but coming here, I had to take deep breaths and not be nervous.”
Day One ended well. Smith won her heat in 2 minutes, 7.54 seconds. Smith then placed fourth in Saturday’s final in 2:05.39. Samantha Watson of Rochester, N.Y., won in 2:02.91.
Despite her current and past success, including a three-year roll in which she dominated Central Section competitors, there still are reminders of last year’s state meet. Smith only has to look down on her left thigh, where a mark remains. But she uses it as a self-teaching moment.
“People say I cut into her. People say it was my nerves,” she said. “Said it was this and that. I just tried to run my race and got spiked. Pretty nice scar. The accident taught me to relax and just go out there and run my race.”
Her former coach at Clovis North, Richard Brazil, liked what he saw Friday.
“It was great to see Mikaela back out on the track in her hometown,” he said. “Mikaela looked very relaxed and ran a great preliminary race.”
Smith also had support from family and friends. She heard them while coming down the stretch.
“It’s amazing because, yes, it’s my hometown and there are a whole bunch of fans out here from Clovis North that watched me,” she said. “They’re cheering me on, and it’s really nice to have.”
Despite the false start at the regional, Smith’s first collegiate season went well.
At the Conference Clash indoor in January in Birmingham, Ala., Smith won the 800 in a USC freshman record 2:08.40. It was the fastest for a Trojans runner since Michelle Taylor set the school indoor record of 2:05.70 in 1990.
At the Pac-12 Championships in May, her personal-record 2:05.33 in the prelims ranked seventh on the school’s all-time list. She was one of two freshmen to reach the final and led for most of the first 550 meters before finishing seventh in 2:07.96.
To go through my season and have a pretty good freshman year … it’s good to have under my belt as well.
Smith, on her first year at USC
“Feels awesome,” Smith said. “I don’t even know. It’s indescribable … to go through my season and have a pretty good freshman year. It’s good to have that under my belt as well.”
Blazing – Two-time world youth champ and U.S. junior record holder Candace Hill of Conyers, Ga., won Friday’s women’s 100 final in 11.24, but that was only part of the story. Her qualifying time of 11.09 was the fastest in the world this season for 19-and-younger runners and set a junior championships record.
Davis’ Fiona O’Keeffe, another California prep great making a return to the Valley, won the women’s 5,000 in 15:56.84, beating the record of 16:10.60 set by Caitlin Chock in 2004.
On tap Sunday – The 200-meter finals highlight the closing day of the three-day meet, with Hill among the top contenders in the women’s race that will be run at 7:22 p.m. She qualified first Saturday in 22.76 seconds.
Men to watch include Vista Murrieta’s Michael Norman, the CIF State champ in the 200 and 400 three weeks ago at Veterans Memorial. The USC commit led the way in prelims at 20.54. Florida-bound Noah Lyles, who won the 100 Friday in 10.08, was a scratch.
The field for the women’s 400 at 6:45 p.m. will include Oregon recruit Hannah Waller of Buchanan. She qualified second in 53.50; Indiana state champ Lynna Irby was first in 53.10.
USATF Junior Outdoor Championships
Sunday’s schedule at Buchanan High’s Veterans Memorial Stadium:
7 a.m.: Men’s 10,000 racewalk final
8:30 a.m.: Women’s 10,000 racewalk final
4:45 p.m.: Women’s long jump (heptathlon)
5:30 p.m.: Women’s pole vault final
5:40 p.m.: Women’s shot put final
5:45 p.m.: Men’s high jump final
6:15 p.m.: Men’s discus final
6:30 p.m.: Women’s triple jump final
6:35 p.m.: Men’s 400 hurdles final
6:45 p.m.: Women’s 400 final
6:55 p.m.: Men’s 400 final
7:05 p.m.: Women’s 800 heptathlon
7:22 p.m.: Women’s 200 final
7:32 p.m.: Men’s 200 final
7:42 p.m.: Women’s 1,500 final
7:54 p.m.: Men’s 1,500 final