Men’s track places third at MAC Championships

Josh Johnston

Ypsilanti, Mich. — A girl in the bleachers begins to slowly clap. Soon, hundreds around her follow suit. The clapping builds to a crescendo. Kent State senior Shamel Smith raises his hands. The clapping silences. With every eye in the Bowen Field House watching, he gallops up to the bar, gaining speed with each step. Smith leaps. His body arches gracefully over the bar set 6 feet, 11.75 inches above the ground. As he falls to the pit below him, the crowd erupts into cheers and applause.

This was the scene at the Mid-American Conference Indoor Track and Field Championship meet this weekend at Ypsilanti, Mich., when Smith won the high jump.

Coming off an ankle injury that sidelined him for two weeks, Smith said it didn’t bother him.

“It was more adrenaline that took over,” Smith said. “I really didn’t pay too much attention to the injury. When you know you have people watching you and depending on you to succeed it really helps you do what you have to do.”

The MAC title marked Smith’s sixth high jump win this season.

“I almost went undefeated,” he said. “It’s a big accomplishment coming from last year when it was a bit of a struggle.”

Smith’s only loss came at the Sykes-Sabock Challenge on Feb. 1 and 2, where he placed third.

Despite winning this weekend, Smith said he was still disappointed with his performance.

“I wanted to PR today,” he said. “I also wanted to put my name a little higher on the national list.”

Smith’s win capped off two days of exciting track and field action. Kent State’s men’s team took third overall behind Eastern Michigan and Akron, while the women’s team finished eighth.

“My hat is off to (Eastern Michigan coach) Brad Fairchild and to the men’s team,” coach Bill Lawson said. “I think even at full strength we would still have difficulties with (Eastern Michigan).”

Lawson said injury and illness limited the teams’ performances.

“Obviously we would’ve liked to perform better on both the men’s and women’s side,” he said. “We were fighting against the odds from the middle of the season.”

The Flashes still managed to come away with some victories. Sophomore Evan Whiting threw his way to a MAC shot put championship with a toss of 58 feet, 10.75 inches. Whiting’s throw also provisionally qualifies him for nationals.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “I’ve been shooting for it since the first meet.”

Also in the throws, Kent State placed all three of its weight throwers, with seniors John Harper and Jaroslaw Zakrzewski taking first and second.

Harper’s hurl of 63 feet, 11.75 inches was also a national provisional qualifying mark.

Sophomore Curtis Eaton Jr. won the 400-meter dash in 48.54 seconds. Coming into the weekend, he was ranked first in the event.

“It was definitely good experience leading the MAC this year,” Eaton said. “I just wanted to maintain the No.1 spot.”

The women’s team dotted the awards podium with a handful of top eight finishes.

Sophomore Jessica Lhotsky led the women with a second place finish in the 800-meter run. Lhotsky said a key to her running was her race strategy.

“You always need a plan,” she said. “You can’t just go in there not knowing anything.”

Lhotsky also ran the 800 leg of the second place distance medley relay team. On the team was senior Tiffany Brenneman running the 1,200-meter leg, junior Ashley Rhodaback with the 400 leg, and sophomore Kelly Gephart anchoring with the 1,600-meter leg.

“We’re definitely happy with a second place finish,” Gephart said. “Last year we placed sixth, so to come from sixth to second is amazing.”

Even though the women’s team ended the indoor season with an eighth place finish, Lawson said he looks forward to the outdoor season.

“Mark my words,” he said. “This women’s team will be much better.”

Contact sports correspondent Josh Johnston at [email protected].