It’s No Small Coincidence…
By Terri Smith and Rocio Watkins
When your Division 1 qualifying time is the same as your graduating year, you’ve had a great day! That’s exactly what happened to C3C Cadet Jaci Smith, Class of 2019. She and the AFA Women’s Cross Country team qualified for the NCAA Division 1 Championship Meet for the first time in USAFA history! And Smith’s time was 20:19! But the amazing coincidence doesn’t stop here. Her team was ranked 29th going into this regional meet, and Smith is a Black Panther in CS29! The stars are aligning perfectly for Cadet Smith and her XC team, which includes another Class of 2019 Cadet, C3C Shanna Burns.
Smith’s primary goal for any race was to achieve a new personal best time and push her teammates to run their best. Her stretch goal at the beginning of the XC season was to break 22 minutes…. she broke 21 minutes at the Pre-nationals meet. She expected her time would be a little slower than 21 minutes at the Regional meet since they were running at altitude, so she was thrilled with her time of 20:19.
Although that time wasn’t a goal, the “2019 Strong” analogy was one of the first things she acknowledged after the race. To finish with this time in such a big race is very cool and something she will always remember.
So, what does a typical week look like for the USAFA XC team from a training perspective? Currently she and her teammates are running between 60 and 70 miles per week. The runs vary between long runs (12-14 miles), progression runs and speed workouts. In addition, they do cross training – primarily swimming and biking – 2-3 times per week and early morning weigh lifting twice a week. Totaled, they spend about 30 hours per week in training.
Smith started running in 5th grade and ran in her first half marathon with her dad (OKC Memorial Marathon) when she was 11 years old. The age requirement was 16 so Smith’s parents had to sign a waiver for her to be allowed to run. She finished 4th in the women’s age 19 and under.
She was a duel sport athlete in middle school and high school and she was a member of 3 state championship tennis teams, a two-time state champion at 2-singles and a 3rd place finisher at 1-singles. Her major academic achievements include AP Scholar with Distinction, National Merit Scholar, Class Valedictorian, and Oklahoma Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
When Smith was in middle school, she set high academic goals for her future education. Once she decided on a major, she began searching for schools whose Astronautical engineering programs ranked high, and that is when USAFA appeared on the radar. She researched USAFA’s running and tennis programs and filed out online questionnaires for both. Although she started the application process very late, she received tremendous support and assistance in getting her nomination and completing the application requirements. As she began to narrow her college options, doors continued to open in the direction of USAFA, which she accepted as a sign that this was the path forged for her. She received her USAFA appointment and shortly thereafter signed a letter of intent to run for the USAFA track and cross-country team.
Fun USAFA Women’s XC Firsts:
- First women’s XC team at any service academy to be nationally ranked (ranked #29 going into the regional meet, #20 going into the NCAA Championship meet).
- First women’s team in USAFA history to qualify for a Division 1 Championship in any sport.
- First women’s XC team at USAFA to have multiple top 5 finishers at the regional meet.
- Highest team-finish at both the conference and regional meets.