Atlantic City High School track and field standout Claudine Smith is known for her bright, contagious smile.
“I would say that I am a very optimistic person. A lot of my track teammates say that I am optimistic, maybe too optimistic sometimes,” Smith said with a laugh. “But I like to make everyone happy around me. I like to smile. I like to be happy.”
Smith, who named her Instagram handle (@claudine_smiles) after her beaming trademark, won the 55-meter hurdles at the Meet of Champions in a personal-best 8.03 seconds.
The 17-year-old senior from Egg Harbor Township captured the South Jersey and state Group IV titles for the third consecutive season. Smith, who won the S.J. title in a meet-record 8.09, is The Press Girls Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“I would say my senior year was a little more nerve wracking, especially because I didn’t want to lose my titles,” Smith said. “I wanted to keep on defending my titles, so I had a lot of pressure. Sometimes, I could be a little nervous, but I stayed calm.
“Going into my meets, I said, ‘I will do what I have to do, and whatever happens, happens.’ I was just happy that I was injury-free in my senior year.”
Smith won the triple jump at the Bishop Loughlin Games (37-11.75) and placed fifth in the 55 hurdles. She also won the girls 55 hurdles at the Eastern States Indoor Track and Field Championship.
The South Jersey Track Coaches Association selected Smith as The Girls Performer of the Year for the indoor season.
“I always like to see her have a season like this,” Atlantic City coach Roy Wesley Jr. said. “But she has been groomed and working for this her entire high school career. She has always been a gamer, (and) she rises to the competition.”
Smith, who competed in gymnastics for eight years before high school and was in the Girl Scouts, volunteers at different events, like the Special Olympics at Stockton University in the spring and Read Across America.
Smith is on the executive committee of her school’s National Honor Society and is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She is also an assistant coach at a track and field summer camp at Pleasantville High School.
“She does everything and anything to make herself better on the track, as well as in the classroom and even as a citizen,” ‘Wesley said. “She is a well-liked and well-rounded, young lady — not to mention an inspiration to the other athletes and students here at Atlantic City High School.
“She is a hard-working individual. I gave her a nickname: ‘Claudine A. Smith — hungry but humble.’ That is her personality.”
Smith, who will continue her track and field career at Rutgers University, has won four state and eight South Jersey championships in indoor and outdoor track and field.
In December, she placed second in the triple jump and fifth in the 55 hurdles at the Marine Corps Holiday Classic.
Smith finished fourth in the emerging elite 60 hurdles and earned All-American status with a fifth-place finish in the triple jump at the New Balance Nationals Indoor Championship.
“I am just a really determined person,” Smith said. “But I like to enjoy myself, but still do well at the time time. I’m not really somebody who gets down on themselves when they do bad, but I enjoy doing well and pushing myself to be the best I can be.
“This season, all around, was really good. I did all that I wanted to do in my senior year.”
Coach of the year
Raffael Craig led Millville to the South Jersey Group IV and the state Group IV team relay titles for the first time in the program’s history.
Craig is The Press Girls Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year.
“This season went beyond expectations,” Craig said. “The girls really rose to the occasion and did a great job. A lot of great things happened this season.”
Craig, who is also the girls cross country and outdoor track and field coach, said he expected this winter to be special after how the cross country season unfolded. Craig added that his team has a strong bond, which was a main reason for the success.
Craig also coaches the boys indoor track and field team.
“I always tell them to enjoy it as much as they can,” he said. “They are only in high school once, so they should enjoy this time and look back fondly on it. I am extremely proud of them.”
Contact: 609-272-7210 PMulranen@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressMulranen