Kentlake junior Zach Smith knows what it’s like to run, jump and be free again.
Two years ago, Smith wasn’t able to do any of those things after overextending himself with weightlifting, track and basketball. The taxing load caused a stress fracture in his lower back and kept him out of action until his sophomore track season.
Smith came full circle when he captured the long jump with a lifetime-best leap of 23 feet, 3 inches last Friday in the Class 4A Star Track state meet at Pasco High School’s Edgar Brown Stadium.
“About a year and a half ago, I didn’t know if I’d be able to jump again,” Smith said. “To be able to jump now is great. Winning state is a goal I had since I started track.
“I was fortunate that I pulled my best stuff out for state. It took a lot of hard work, both physical therapy and core training, and just a lot of hours to come back. I couldn’t run or jump for about a year.”
Smith, encouraged by a rhythmic, building clap by friends and teammates, got his personal-best effort on his final jump.
“I pretty much had first place already,” Smith said. “I went 22-8 on my first jump and the second-place guy was at 22-6. I saw the other guys were putting out some big marks, so I knew I had to go bigger.
“The crowd getting into it helped get me pumped.”
Smith beat eventual runner-up Donovan Hunt, an Oak Harbor sophomore, by nine inches.
Building his core was critical to his advancement as an athlete, Smith said.
“I think the injury almost made me better,” he said. “I got more drive and (the injury) made me want to work harder and it really strengthened my core. I never would’ve spent so much time on my midsection.”
Added Smith, “I wouldn’t have been as good of an athlete without getting hurt. I had to work hard to get back. I’m lucky to be jumping, really.”
Fishel flying high
Kentwood junior Cody Fishel made some huge strides to finish second at state in the high jump, clearing a personal-best 6-7.
Fishel was right behind the winner, Mead’s Anthony Maricich, who went 6-8.
“He’d never attempted 6-7 this year and he set a personal-best with 6-5 last week at district,” Kentwood coach Steve Roche said of Fishel. “That was huge for him to get 6-7. We were thrilled with that.”
Conquerors’ teammate Devin St. Clair, a junior, registered a second-place finish in the 100 meters in 10.89 seconds, seven-tenths behind Ty Lang of Heritage. St. Clair also took third in the 200 at 21.87, just two-tenths behind Lang.
“For a kid who had never competed in a individual event at the state meet, I thought that was really good,” Roche said of St. Clair. “But if you ask him, I’m sure he’d say he was disappointed. But he’s a junior this year, and he’ll be the top returning kid in those two events next year. So there’s a lot to look forward to.”
Kentwood took sixth place in the team standing with 28 points.
“We were overall very happy,” Roche said. “You can’t be upset scoring 28 points at the state meet essentially with three people who you have coming back.”
Steven Warner of Kentwood jumped for a surprise third-place finish in the 110 hurdles (14.55).
Tahoma senior Jono Lafler ended his high school career with a second-place showing in the 3,200 meters on Friday, posting a time of 9:18.61. He was happy with the finish despite chasing eventual winner Miles Unterreiner of Gig Harbor. Lafler was just 5.10 seconds behind Unterreiner.
“My goal was to run even splits and let (Unterreiner) have the lead,” Lafler said. “Three laps into the race, he made a big move. So, if I tried to make a recovery, it would’ve just killed me.
“So, I stayed back and passed my future teammate (Decatur’s) Justin Englund with about 100 meters to go.”
Lafler, who will run at Washington State, nearly ended his career on a down note on Saturday in the 1,600 where he finished last of 16 participants in the finals. But he gutted out his final three laps with a tight hamstring.
“Going into the last lap, my hamstring started tightening up,” said Lafler, who was third moving for second when he almost put on the brakes with pain. “It almost felt like I pulled it. I limped the last lap. I basically hopped on one foot holding my hamstring. I just jogged.
“It was excruciating pain. But I didn’t want to finish my last high school meet with a DNP (did not finish).”
• Kent-Meridian senior Sean Harris was denied a state title in the 110 hurdles, again finishing second to Garfield’s Stephone Jordan narrowly. Harris checked in at 14.43, just behind Jordan’s 14.29 clocking.
• Kent-Meridian freshman Brandon Harris finished third in the long jump at 22-5.
• Kentwood junior Lindsey Moore took fifth in the girls high jump with a PR of 5-6.