New Trier’s Mimi Smith follows game plan to perfection

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Mimi Smith ran against Glenbard West senior Madeline Perez at the Lake Park Sectional a week before the New Trier junior won the Class 3A state title.

Perez, the 2012 Class 3A state champion, set a scorching pace at the beginning of their sectional race. She wound up beating Smith by 10 seconds, but Smith said she was able to significantly cut into Perez’s lead in the last 400 meters of the race.

Smith and New Trier coach John Burnside said they knew Perez would likely set the same torrid pace at the start of the state meet, and their goal was for Smith to stay within a manageable distance early in the race before closing on the leaders late.

Smith and Burnside believed her strengths — a strong will, the ability to close late in races and belief in herself — would give her a chance to win if she was able to execute her strategy.

“I knew that if I stuck with my race plan and believed in myself that I had enough confidence that I could do it,” Smith said. “I wanted to be about seven seconds behind them [Perez and Hinsdale Central freshman Alexa Haff] at the mile. I think I was pretty close to that.”

Burnside said Smith trailed Perez and Haff by about 10 seconds after her first mile.

“She needed to make sure she stayed in contact with the lead pack, so she could continue to attack them all the way through,” Burnside said. “That’s what she did. Every step from the first-mile mark all the way until the end, she was closing and closing. Then she caught up.”

Smith said she caught Perez, who finished third (17:03), and Haff with about 800 meters remaining in the race. Haff matched Smith’s pace when the Wilmette resident caught them, and Haff stayed in first. Smith was able to remain focused and stick to her plan in that moment — despite running so hard that she said her legs were tingling — and she told herself to wait.

“I can remember thinking just that I have this opportunity and that I couldn’t start surging yet, but when I see the finish line that, if I want to win this, that’s when I have to go,” Smith said. “When I did [see] the finish line, Alexa was a couple of steps ahead of me — maybe a second or two — and then when I hit the 200 [meter] mark, I caught up to her. Once I passed her I remember sprinting and trying to hang on for dear life.”

Smith crossed the finish line in 16:43, two seconds faster than Haff (16:45). Smith said she walked away from where runners were congregating after they crossed the finish line, laid down and closed her eyes for a couple of seconds because she was so tired.

Smith opened her eyes to see a number of familiar faces — her father Chuck Smith, New Trier senior Molly Krueger and members of the Trevians’ boys team — looking down at her. Mimi Smith said she didn’t show very much emotion after the race because she was so tired, adding that some of her friends walked up to her afterward and thought she had finished second.

Mimi Smith celebrated with her team, which finished third overall (173 points), on the bus ride home after the meet. Although she celebrated her victory on Saturday, she said the magnitude of her accomplishment didn’t set in until she watched the end of the race on her father’s iPhone the following day.

“I watched it, and then it really hit me that I just did that,” Mimi Smith said. “It’s sometimes weird when people talk about it to think that that was me, that I just won because in past years I have looked so much up to Madeline Perez and [2012 Naperville Central graduate] Amanda Fox when they won. It had always been my dream to be them, and it was so cool how they won. It’s just weird that it’s me now.”

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