From the Bench: How a BHS Soccer Coach Helped Create the Indian Track Beast of McKenna Smith

By Jeff Toquinto on May 28, 2017 from Sports Blog via

For those who have ever had a bad word to say about soccer, but have thoroughly enjoyed watching Bridgeport High School’s McKenna Smith turn her opposition into mulch on the track for the past few years you may want to rethink things. Actually, you may want to thank Bridgeport High School girls soccer coach John Reese for Smith.
The destruction you either witnessed or read about that took place at the Class AA state track meet in Charleston this past weekend may never have been possible without Coach Reese. Seriously.
If not for Reese, chances are good McKenna Smith would likely have been a soccer player. She may have turned out to be a great soccer player, maybe all-state and maybe even a collegiate level player. The thing is, we’ll never know because of the keen eye of John Reese.
“I had absolutely no desire to run track at all I was enjoying my first year of soccer and that’s what I planned on focusing on,” said Smith. “I actually tried out for soccer (at Bridgeport) Middle School, but didn’t go back because I had soccer league games to go to. The idea of running in circles or a straight line just didn’t excite me at all.”
Apparently, Reese’s eye for speed and talent excited him enough to approach McKenna Smith’s father – Jeremy – about why he felt McKenna should go out for track. The good thing is that her parents, including mom Naomi, listened.
“She didn’t want anything to do with track,” Naomi said. “Her dad kept trying to put that in her ear, basically telling her to give it a try her freshman year.”
The rationale for Reese was that of what any good coach wants for a talented member of their team. To get better utilizing the skills offered by other sports and track is exceptional for doing that in many areas.
“Coach talked to my dad and he talked to me. He kept telling me it would really help with soccer and he was right,” said Smith. “I was really a lot stronger after my freshman year of track. My sophomore year of soccer I felt stronger and could kick the ball so much better and my speed and balance was better so he was right.”
The thing is, Coach Reese had exposed her to the sport where she not only was going to make a name by rewriting the state’s history books, but also earn a Division I scholarship to West Virginia University. After her sophomore year, McKenna Smith had realized her future – and a really good one – rested with track and she needed to switch from offseason travel squads to offseason track meets.
It wasn’t, however, as easy as it sounds.
“I played from the time I was five years old until 10th grade and I loved it; it was fun,” she said. “Leaving after my sophomore year was hard because all of my best friends played, but I realized I wanted to focus on track and dedicated my time to it. It turns out it was the best decision of my life.”
Understand that making that decision was truly as difficult as she says it was. She grew up in Leesburg, Va., close to Washington, D.C., and Naomi said we she suggested “dance or ballet,” Jeremy wasn’t too thrilled. So they put their little girl in soccer.
“I remember they didn’t’ have goalies, just open nets and I think it was the first time we realized that she was pretty fast. She would get the ball, kick it and go to the goal,” said Naomi. “The coach told her, and told us, that she’s really fast. I remember the next game she scored something like 12 goals, which is odd because she ended up being a really good defender in her later years as opposed to scoring.”
Speed, though, had more than just benefits in organized sports. It also had some fun perks at school.
“I still remember her coming home from school and she’d say all the boys in gym class were mad at her because she beat them running and they didn’t like it,” said Naomi. “She loved being faster than all of them.”
Since it was a small, private school, the Smiths didn’t know just how good her speed was. At that time, they just knew she was pretty fast in soccer and when the boys at the private school were ready to race they were also about ready to lose.
“We just didn’t think too much about it until John Reese approached us and she got involved in track,” said Naomi. “She seemed to catch on pretty quick.”
Quick is both a fair pun and an understatement. As been talked about on Connect-Bridgeport and just about every other media venue in the state, McKenna Smith has managed to take the Class AA state meet and make it her own for the last two years. Not only did she set a state meet record in every event last year, she did the same this year and walks away with not only state meet records in the 100, 200 and 400 meter dashes, but she added the 300 meter hurdles to the all-time state mark this year.
Think about that? McKenna Smith holds the best times in all three events – at every single state track meet ever held – in every single classification – and in every meet that’s ever been held anywhere in West Virginia.
“I knew if I left it all out on the track that I could do better than last year, but I did get one surprise. The 300 hurdles; I was surprised about … I didn’t know I broke the actual record until later in the day,” said Smith.
Of course, another Harrison County athlete also has made waves the last two years in Charleston in South Harrison’s Freddy Canary. All he did was walk away with marks that may never be topped in the 100, 200, and 400 as well as capturing a state title in the long jump.
The reason I bring up Canary? He and Smith were nearly teammates.
“We moved to West Virginia at the end of my sixth grade year and I went to West Milford (Elementary). In sixth grade, I moved to Bridgeport and immediately went out for soccer, which wasn’t too difficult,” she said. “I was already playing travel soccer with a bunch of my new classmates who were on the team from Bridgeport.”
Of course, had she stayed in the southern part of Harrison County, maybe she wouldn’t have been urged to go out for track. Then again, maybe she would have. Regardless, things ended up working out pretty good for McKenna Smith on the track.
“I’m glad he did that. It certainly was worth it,” said Smith. “I’ve had a great past four years and great memories and experiences with great people. It would be hard not to say this all worked out for the best, even if it took me a while to make the decision.”
In the last four years, the decision is the only thing that McKenna Smith didn’t do fast. And it still produced a win.
Editor's Note: Photos show McKenna Smith competing, with teammates and with South Harrison's Freddy Canary during this year's state track meet.

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