Slowed by a fractured spine, KL’s Smith has returned to top form BACK ON TRACK

Zach Smith needed a second opinion.

  • Saturday, May 10, 2008 12:00am
  • Sports
Kentlake’s Zach Smith missed nearly a year between his freshman and sophomore track and field seasons with a fractured back. Now a junior

Kentlake’s Zach Smith missed nearly a year between his freshman and sophomore track and field seasons with a fractured back. Now a junior

Zach Smith needed a second opinion.

Because the first one simply was unacceptable for the fiery Kentlake High junior.

That was a little more than two years ago for Smith, who had to be helped off the Edgar Brown Stadium oval during the Pasco Invitational. A freshman phenom at the time with all the talent in the world, Smith had big designs on quickly vaulting into the state’s elite track and field competitors.

His back, however, had other ideas. And during Smith’s leg of the 4 x 400 relay, it let him know.

“My back pretty much seized up,” he said. “I pretty much had to walk the last 50 meters to hand (the baton) off and I had to be pulled off the track because I couldn’t walk.”

A trip to the doctor revealed that Smith had fractured his spine in four different places, the result of overuse. And, of course, it was due to the Kentlake junior’s constant pedal-to-the-metal philosophy when it comes to all things track.

“At the time, I was playing basketball and doing indoor track … and I had a weightlifting class and I was lifting for my other sports,” said Smith, a fit 6-foot-2, 180-pound, 17-year-old who competes in the long and triple jumps, the 200 meter and on the 4 x 100 relay team. “Basically (the first doctor) told me to quit sports altogether.

“So I got a second opinion.”

That “second opinion” led to six months in a back brace along with the use of a bone stimulator, a rather new technology, Smith says. In addition, he had to see a physical therapist regularly for nearly a year and was relegated to upper-body conditioning and abdominal workouts only.

See TRACK, page 12

The results, however, have been golden. Though Smith returned at midseason last year and just missed qualifying for state in the triple jump, the Kentlake junior has kicked it up a notch this spring.

“He usually wins the triple, the long jump, and the 4 x 100 relay team usually wins,” Kentlake coach Jami Weinbrecht said. “There’s just been a handful of times that he’s not taken first.”

And yet, he’s not quite 100 percent.

Despite that, Smith entered the week ranked among the state leaders in the long jump and triple jump and was among the West Central District’s best in the 200.

Smith’s ascension continued on Wednesday during the first day of the South Puget Sound League meet at Sunset Chev Stadium in Sumner, when he set a personal best in the long jump, uncorking a leap of 22 feet, 8 inches. The jump nabbed Smith top seed heading into next week’s district meet and was the second-best performance in the state this year.

“I’m pretty close (to 100 percent),” he said. “I am getting better every week. I am feeling good going into district No. 1. I am hoping to win it.”

Which is pretty much what Smith has done all season long.

Not bad for a kid who, not too long ago, was told he might not be able to compete ever again.

“That first doctor gave me no hope, so even to be out here is great.

“To be winning is even better.”

And there’s no need for Smith to get a second opinion on that.

NICE TRANSITION

Wrestling and pole vault?

In track and field terms, the two might seem as far apart as long-distance running and heaving the shot put.

But that’s not the case, Kent-Meridian coach Ernie Ammons has learned.

And the fifth-year coach is putting that correlation to the test this spring.

“I have found a natural progression between wrestling and pole vaulting,” Ammons said. “You have to be wild and crazy to do both.”

And, of course, Ammons notes, athletes must have a certain level of control over one’s body to reach new levels in both sports.

Consider Kent-Meridian sophomore Kelsey Bueno as Exhibit A.

While Bueno didn’t wrestle this year, she was on the team as a freshman, and has used some of her mat technique to achieve stardom in Kent-Meridian’s pole vaulting pit.

“In wrestling, you get a lot of power and strength from your legs,” Bueno said. “On my plant (in the pole vault), it’s a lot easier for me than other girls because I know how to work my arms to their full advantage.”

Bueno certainly has taken advantage of that strength as she entered the first day of Wednesday afternoon’s South Puget Sound League meet at Sumner’s Sunset Chev Stadium ranked fourth in the district in the event at 10 feet, 3 inches. The meet concluded Friday afternoon (results unavailable).

Part of that success stems from Bueno’s wrestling past, a sport she intends to compete in next year, but also includes a background in gymnastics as well. If that’s not enough, Bueno also competes with the Kent-Meridian dance team, which also aids with her aerial exploits.

“Wrestling helps with the strength part of pole vault,” Bueno said. “Gymnastics, which I did in middle school, helps with my flexibility.”

The two certainly have gone hand-in-hand this spring. So much, in fact, that Bueno once was able to clear 13 feet during practice. But that was “lucky,” she insists.

Bueno isn’t alone among Kent-Meridian’s pole-vaulting wrestlers. Joining her in the pit are wrestlers Nick Lemmon, Thomas Rheinhart, Keenan Komoto and Aaron Smith.

“Honestly, I think it’s a good transition because you kind of have to have that no-fear attitude,” Ammons said. “Your body control is there. You’re aware of your body position and you’re strong from head to toe.

“All that translates in the pole vault.”

Of course, there’s also that certain type of pole vaulter who simply puts in the time to improve. Ferin Barry, Bueno’s standout senior teammate, is Exhibit A in that department. Barry took 15th at state last year with a leap of 9 feet, 6 inches, but has shown a marked improvement this spring.

“Ferin has surprised me because her first couple of years of (pole vaulting), she was a solid athlete, but lacked some natural talent,” Ammons said. “What happened is she blossomed last year.

And this year?

“She has turned the corner,” the coach added.

Indeed she has. Barry entered Wednesday’s meet ranked fifth in the district in the pole vault at 10 feet, just behind Bueno.

Together, Bueno and Barry have made the perfect 1-2 punch for the Royals.

“They’re very, very athletic young ladies,” Ammons said.

THEIR FUTURE’S SO BRIGHT …

Youth is being served this spring on the Kentwood oval.

And the Conqueror girls aren’t missing a beat along the way. Matter of fact, Kentwood’s five dual-meet wins this season are two more than the previous best in coach Steve Roche’s three years with the team.

The secret?

“We’ve really been blessed this year with some speed and youth,” Roche said. “We’ve never had this many freshmen and sophomores who’ve been this talented.”

In fact, Kentwood might have the most gifted group of underclassmen in the area.

Leading the way have been the one-two punch of sophomore Dana Wareham and freshman Kailey Ulland. Wareham currently leads the South Puget Sound League North Division in the 400, burning up the oval in 59.25 seconds. Wareham also is ranked fourth in the 200, clocking in at 26.84.

“Dana has just been a rock for us,” Roche said. “She came out of nowhere last year … and qualified for state. But she’s taken it up another level. The sky is the limit.”

Meanwhile, Ulland has been the rare freshman who’s forced other, older counterparts to watch her from behind all season long. Ulland entered Wednesday’s SPSL meet at Sumner High ranked second in the 1,600 (5:22.12) and 3,200 (11:47.1).

“If you look at the top in the district and state, you will rarely find a freshman,” Roche noted. “Some events, freshman will come in and blow you away. Distance is not one of them.

“We knew (Kailey) was good coming in, but she has exceeded expectations.”

SHE DOES IT ALL

In the world of flips, jumps, tumbles and turns, there’s little Kentlake senior Jordan Powers hasn’t accomplished in her time with the Falcons.

A state-caliber gymnast and part of the South Elite cheerleading team, which won a world championship in Florida two weeks ago, Powers has proved just as impressive on the Falcons oval.

That was especially true on May 1 against Kentwood, when Powers established a new school record in the triple jump, uncorking a leap of 35 feet, four inches. The performance elevated Powers to seventh overall in the district.

It wasn’t necessarily the jump that surprised coach Jami Weinbrecht, but rather, the way Powers went about accomplishing the feat.

“She was gone the weekend before and wasn’t at our meet with Thomas Jefferson because she was at the world (cheerleading championship) down in Florida,” Weinbrecht said. “She wasn’t at practice Thursday or Friday (the week before), came back Monday with a trophy (from cheerleading) and competed Thursday and jumped her heart out.”

Of course, that’s nothing new for Powers, who also competes in the pole vault, the 100 high hurdles, the long jump and is part of Kentlake’s 4 x 100 relay team.

All the aerial and running sports combined have made Powers a force to be reckoned with, Weinbrecht noted.

“She sometimes scores all our points,” the coach said with a laugh.


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