University of Michigan runner Jill Smith and her distance medley relay teammates gave up individual honors so they could run more effectively as a unit Friday.
Their concentration and four strong performances brought them a national title at the NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships in Fayetteville, Ark.
Smith, 21, a Southern Regional High School graduate, ran the 800-meters in the third leg of the Michigan relay, which won in a school-record 10 minutes, 56.46 seconds. Her partners were Rebecca Addison, who ran 1,200, Maya Long (400) and anchor Amanda Eccleston (1,500). The four Wolverines each earned first-team All-America honors.
"Some of us qualified for individual races, but we gave that up and put all our eggs in one basket," said Smith, a resident of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township. "All four of us were concentrating on one final. We were ranked No. 1 and we knew we had a chance, but there were a lot of other good teams."
Smith is a senior in indoor track but has two seasons of eligibility left in the spring season.
She sprinted the Michigan team to the lead on the third leg. Addison, a senior, started in the back of the pack and made a move to third. Long, a freshman, maintained the third position. Smith stayed in third but rallied in the final 100 meters to take the lead. Eccleston, a senior, increased the lead.
"It means a lot to them, and I told them it will mean a lot more 10, 15, 20 years from now," Michigan associate head coach Mike McGuire said on the school's website. "The neat thing is that I got text messages from from our 1994, 1998 and 2005 kids that were national champions in this event, so there is a lot of pride that goes into what we do in that event."
Villanova was second Friday in 10:57.96 in the 12-team race.
"First, it was a shock to win, and then it was thrilling," said Smith. "The best thing is that I could share it with my teammates. It was a great way to end the indoor season, and it was a good start for Maya in her freshman year. It was better to have the win be in a relay than an individual race. In a relay you're more there for each other."
As she began her 800 leg, Smith was alongside Georgetown's Chelsea Cox, a former Southern Regional teammate. The Hoyas finished sixth in 11:01.49.
"I got the baton next to Chelsea and I stuck with her," Smith said. "It was comforting to run with her, even though we were on different teams. We trained together at Southern."
Southern girls track coach Brian Zatorski watched the race online.
"It was super exciting," Zatorski said Monday night. "It was an amazing accomplishment for Jill, and the fact that it was a relay was a fitting end to her indoor career. She always put the team first, and that always seemed to mean more to her.
"Chelsea ran a great leg, too. It was great to have two All Americans from the same (high) school, and for one to be a national champion is really amazing."
The previous weekend, Smith and her teammates broke the Michigan distance medley record, which had been set in 2008 by a team that included Danielle Tauro, another former Southern runner. The current Michigan team ran the distance medley in 10:56.66, then the nation's fastest time, on March 1 at the Notre Dame Alex Wilson Invitational in South Bend, Ind. The previous mark was 11:01.51.
"Danielle was one of the first to text me, and she called to congratulate me," said Smith. "I see her a lot. The great thing about Michigan is that year after year the team gets faster."
Tauro was The Press female Athlete of the Year in 2006 and 2007 at Southern, and Smith won the award in 2009. As a Rams senior, Smith won her third straight outdoor Meet of Champions 800 meters. She also won the girls mile for the second straight year at the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Smith will do an internship in the fall for environmental education at the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science in Manahawkin. Asked if she'll keep running after college, she said. "Hopefully, I'll stay healthy and keep my eyes open for all opportunities."
Contact Guy Gargan: