Feb. 22, 2013
Eli Smith pursues breakthrough performance
By David Boyce
By the time the MIAA Track and Field Indoor Championships ends this weekend in Warrensburg, Mo., Northwest Missouri State sophomore Eli Smith wants to be on the medal stand.
A year ago, Smith narrowly missed that opportunity when he placed fourth in the men’s 400 meter.
“It is very important,” Smith said. “One of my goals at the beginning of the year is to be an all-conference and get on the MIAA stand and get one of those conference medals.”
The Indoor Championships run Friday through Sunday at Central Missouri’s Multipurpose Building.
Smith figures to be in the running for a top three finish in the 400. Two weeks ago at the Concordia Invite in Seward, Neb., Smith took first with a time of 49.73.
“I didn’t run my best time,” Smith said. “I really competed well. There were some conference team’s there that I really needed to run well against to get ready for the conference meet.”
Besides finishing first, the indoor meet in Seward was another example of why Smith likes college track and field.
Throughout the race, Smith had teammates urging him on.
“It definitely helps out in a race,” Smith said. “When I was running my 400, my team was scattered around the track. Every few steps I took there was another teammate cheering me on, trying to get me to run harder.
“You become like a family. They push you in practice and are there to cheer you in meets. It is something that really helps you out to do better.”
Smith is from Troy, Kan., a town so small that Maryville looks big by comparison.
“My graduating class had 21, including me,” Smith said. “It was a big change coming up here.”
But it didn’t take long for Smith to adjust to college athletics. He nearly finished in the top three in the 400 meter at last year’s MIAA Indoor Championships. It is a fairly impressive feat considering last season was his first experience in indoor track.
“It is way different for me,” he said. “The smaller track is definitely harder to run on. It takes more strategy because there is a lot more cutting in. You can cut in after 125 meters. You have to fight for position.
“Indoor is not my favorite. It really helps with my competitiveness. It really does get you ready for outdoor. It really makes you appreciate the big track.”
Since he has arrived at Northwest, Smith has obviously been working hard. He started very strong this season.
In the first indoor meet of the year, the Cyclone Holiday Preview at Ames, Iowa, on Dec. 7, Smith took second with his best-ever time of 48.86, good enough to be a provisional qualifying time for the NCAA Division II national meet.
“I think training hard all fall was the biggest thing,” Smith said. “Coach really pushed me hard in the fall and that helped me in the first meet.
“I am definitely a lot stronger than last year. The weight program here is great and made me a stronger runner. I finish my races harder this year. I don’t die as quickly. And then there is the experience. Having that year under my belt makes a big difference.”
So far, Smith is enjoying every aspect of being a student-athlete at Northwest.
“College athletics makes it that much more enjoyable and that much more satisfying,” he said. “Athletics is a huge part of my life. In high school, I did all the sports. Coming to college at the NCAA Division II level is one of the best things for me.”
Academics are just as important to Smith. At Troy, he made the Dean’s List and National Honor Society.
Smith is majoring in Pre-Optometry. He knows he has many more years of school left.
“That has been my goal since I was in high school,” he said. “I have a long road ahead of me. I always wanted to do something in the medical field. I like science.”
Smith also likes to run fast. This weekend he wants to finish in the top three in the 400 and improve his time.
“There is only a tenth of a second between me and the top 10 runners,” Smith said. “A good time the next couple of meets would get me to nationals. That is what I am hoping for.”
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