East Xtra: Oakland Catholic's Smith earns two more gold medals

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Oakland Catholic senior freestyler Leah Smith is in the news again.

At the PIAA Class AAA swimming championships last week at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium in Lewisburg, she won the 500-yard freestyle race (4:36.41), breaking her own state state record in the process. But it was Smith's 200-yard freestyle win that got all the attention.

What happened was that Smith went for the "fast start" approach in the 200 -- she normally races a faster back half. The result was that Smith comfortably out-touched Hershey's Megan Raab by 0.76 seconds (Smith's time was 1:45.52). In a nutshell, Smith managed to expend Raab's energy while finding an extra surge of her own.

So, could Smith do this again?

"Yeah, I could definitely do it again," Smith said. "I was really glad I took it out really fast ... I knew that I could rely on my back half to be good."

Smith noted that she hadn't speculated on the way Raab would swim the 200; Smith had only focused on her own strategy.

"I don't think [Raab] knew that I could take it out fast," Smith said.

Upon learning she had won, Smith let out a cheer and signaled to her family in the stands. Smith doesn't always react outwardly to her wins, however. She explained that the circumstances of each race are what determine her reactions.

"I was just really happy that I won," she said. "I had never won that race before."

Smith has, in the past, let her pre-race energy show outwardly. Prior to the 500-yard freestyle race at the WPIAL championships, she let a drop-filled dubstep mix play on her headphones. Smith bounced with anticipation as a remix of Nadia Ali's "Pressure" drowned out the crowds.

The PIAA 200-yard freestyle victory was a personal milestone for Smith. Interestingly, it left her with further goals.

"I wasn't really happy with my time," she said. "But I was happy that I won."

Likewise, Smith will head straight back to the pool to work toward her latest time goals. She explained that the next phase of competition will be in the form of club sectionals in Buffalo, N.Y.

Smith will swim with her club team, the Jewish Community Center Sailfish,. The JCC club encompasses many of her Oakland Catholic teammates. For Smith, the impending club season will feel like a fun extension of the varsity year.

Nonetheless, Smith, a Mt. Lebanon resident, is also looking forward to swimming a broader range of meets. In the late spring and early summer, Smith will attend training camp at the Olympic Training Center.

At that time, she will be training with the Junior National team. After that, Smith will compete in the "Grand Prix" meet series; these meets will take place in Arizona and North Carolina. Lastly, the end of June will mean FINA World Championship trials for Smith.

"If I make world championships, I'll be going to Barcelona in July," Smith said.

Smith seeks to compete in more distance freestyle events (800-meter, 400-meter, etc.) in the World Championships. She noted, however, that she would also love to get on a relay squad in order to swim with the best of the best.

As Smith looks ahead to World Championship trials and college swimming at the University of Virginia, she is not sure where she will focus academically. Smith did note, however, that she sometimes entertains the possibility of becoming a professional swimmer someday.

In the meantime, Smith is mainly looking forward to graduating and entering the next chapter of her life.

"I'm ready to get to college and to get out of Pittsburgh," she said.



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