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Westwood’s Smith places 4th in national championships

James Smith II (second from left) competing in a hurdle race at the Chandler Rotary Invitational in 2017. (James Smith/Special to MyNewsMesa.com)

A very long, very productive season came to a conclusion for James Smith II with a new state record and a spot on the awards podium at the USATF Hershey Junior Olympic Track and Field National Championships.

Smith II, who will be a senior at Westwood High School, finished fourth in the 17- to 18-year-old division in the 400-meter hurdles on July 29 at Rock Chalk Park in Lawrence, Kansas. He ran a time of 52.61 seconds, which is the fifth-fastest time among athletes returning to high school this fall, according to stats accumulated by the track and field website athletic.net.

“This will give me a confidence boost for next year,” said Smith II. “I’m glad I finished on a high note.”

There have been a lot of high notes for Smith on the track. During his junior year at Westwood, Smith II placed in three events at the Division I state championships, the 110-meter high hurdles (7th), the 300 hurdles (3rd) and the 1,600-meter relay (4th). Among those returning for the 2018 high school track season, Smith II has the top mark in the 110-meter hurdles with his time of 14.33 and he is second in the 300 hurdles at 37.76.

“This year I could have done better in the 300 hurdles, but colleges look more at 400 hurdles and I did really good in the 400 hurdles,” Smith II said. “We started training for those right after the high school season ended.”

Smith II trains year-round with his father and coach, James Smith, who is the head track coach at Westwood and also coaches the Arizona Flames club team that the younger Smith competes for during the club season. They have found a successful formula as they work towards two championships in late April/early May in high school and then again in July on the USATF circuit.

“I have a program that I do that works,” coach Smith said. “We ramp up, then take time off, then ramp back up. We had to keep him at such a high level for a longer period of time, but we’re smart about it. You have to give the body some rest, can’t go all out.

“I don’t kill him in the off season, we’ll take a month off and then start training again. I don’t have to push him. He really likes it. It’s shocking me with how mature he is.”

Smith II came into this season with a 400 hurdles personal best of 54.90. He was aiming for 53.12, which is the state record in that event for youth athletes. He eclipsed that mark in the preliminaries, running 52.99, and then lowered his time even more in the finals.

“I was happy with the time,” Smith II said. “My goal was to get the state record, I did that in prelims. In the finals I wanted to drop my time some more, so I was happy.”

“We were pleased that James was still running PRs (personal records) in late July,” said coach Smith. “His time has dropped every year. That’s a technique thing and a strength thing.”

Strength is one area that Smith II says he will focus on during the offseason. At just 17, he’s still got a lot of growing to do, which should result in more speed and lower times.

“I feel good about going to the next level because I have a lot of things to improve,” Smith II said. “I know I am still growing, so I’m going to work on form and body placement and strength and conditioning. The main thing is to get stronger, but I feel good going into next year. I know what I can do.”

As his senior school year gets set to start, Smith II has put himself in a strong position to land a college scholarship, be it academically based or athletically. He just begun the recruiting process and has already had talks with Brown University, Oklahoma State and University of Miami.

“I want to graduate with a GPA over 3.5 and I want to get better as a person to get ready for college, get involved with the school more,” said Smith II, who has been enrolled in honors classes during his years at Westwood.

“I know I’m going to go to the college that best fits me. I’m going to try to go to a place that I can succeed and that puts out a lot of successful hurdlers.”

– Steve Burks is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.

VIDEO LINKS: To watch Smith II’s in the finals of the 400-meter hurdles at the USATF Hershey Junior Olympic Nationals Championships, go to:

For his preliminary race, go to:

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