UCLA excited about Smith’s potential | TahoeDailyTribune.com

UCLA excited about Smith’s potential

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Steve Yingling / Tahoe Daily TribuneKelsey Smith, a South Tahoe High distance runner, is surrounded by family and coaches during a mock

UCLA’s commitment to and outlook for South Tahoe High’s Kelsey Smith hasn’t been swayed by a spinal stress fracture that kept her from competing for most of her final track and field season.

Forest Braden, a men’s and women’s distance assistant coach for the Bruins’ track and field and cross country teams, is excited about Smith’s future at UCLA.

“Kelsey has the toughness, talent and desire to run with anyone. If she believes in herself and continues to train with purpose and race with fire, then the sky is the limit for what she can accomplish at UCLA and beyond,” Braden said by e-mail correspondence with the Tribune last week.

Smith won her third straight Nevada state cross country championship in the fall but believes she suffered a sacral stress fracture near the base of her spine during a Foot Locker West Regional Race in December. The injury forced her to forgo most of her senior track and field season.

“I need to realize if my body is telling me it hurts, I should probably stop,” Smith said. “I don’t want to be injured like this again.”

Smith doesn’t expect doctors to clear her to run until the end of this month or early July.

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“They wanted to take a very conservative approach to my recovery,” said Smith, who has been able to keep up her conditioning by swimming. “It’s definitely tough. I’m having running withdrawals. I just want to run.”

Braden believes the injury could help Smith in the long run.

“Anytime there is an injury that disrupts a runner’s training and competition seasons, it is a tough thing to go through, but in many cases it teaches you more about yourself and keeps you humble and appreciative every time you have the opportunity to run,” he said. “It will take some time to get back into the swing of things, but when she gets back running it is just a matter of time before she is back rolling again. Like our great coach/person/teacher John Wooden said, ‘Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.'”

With the team’s top runner Shannon Murakami returning and only one of the team’s elite runners graduating – Rosa Magana – Braden has the luxury of slowly easing Smith into the program.

“It’s a very solid team and UCLA is also getting so many talented incoming freshman this year,” said Smith, who signed her partial scholarship with the Bruins back in April. “I’m excited to be part of this already strong team. I hope I can add to more than what they already have.”

The team’s depth and experience don’t mean that Smith can’t become an immediate contributor, Braden said.

“Kelsey definitely has the ability to make an immediate impact on the program,” Braden said. “She has all the tools to be great immediately, but every athlete adjusts differently to the new training program and the new atmosphere. Sometimes it can take several years before an athlete adapts completely and sometimes it happens overnight. Whatever the case my be with Kelsey, we expect her to be a big part of our team for years to come.”

Smith said in April that she welcomes the challenge to compete in the Pac-10, one of the nation’s toughest women’s cross country conferences.

“It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt that,” she said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can and help my team.”

Braden, a former All-America runner at Boise State, said that when he was named as a UCLA assistant last August, Smith became one of his primary targets. “Kelsey was one of the initial recruits that immediately stood out,” he said. “Her performances on the track and in the classroom potentially made her a perfect fit at UCLA, but it always takes actually meeting with the prospective student athletes to really tell if she could be a good fit. After meeting with Kelsey and talking with her I realized the drive and commitment that she has for the sport and got the feeling that she would fit perfectly into the program.”

UCLA placed seventh at the Pac-10 championships last October, and two Bruins competed in the national championships. Big-time meets have been a consistent part of Smith’s running career since she was a preteen.

“Kelsey’s big-race experience is very important in her development into a collegiate runner,” Braden said. “We will be racing against the best distance runners in the country on a consistent basis and having the confidence to stand up to them every race will come from those big race experiences and having had success against some great runners already.”

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