MIDDLETOWN — The 2017 OHSAA D-I boys cross country state championship could be held in Monroe, Ohio and the post-race podium probably wouldn’t look much different than it will in Hebron come November. You see, Monroe and 14 seconds happen to be the only two things that separate two of Ohio’s top cross country talents.
Lakota East senior Dustin Horter and Middletown High School junior Conant Smith is currently ranked the No. 1 and No. 2 runners in the Greater Miami Conference, and No. 2 and 4 in the State of Ohio according to Milesplit.com. Although both runners are well aware of each other, they have not faced off yet this season.
Smith, who has started the 2017 cross country campaign unblemished after five meets, is excited to see things tightening up this weekend when the Middies travel to Centerville for the annual Under the Lights meet where his competition will certainly be more difficult.
“State is all that matters to me,” said MHS star Conant Smith. “The regular season schedule is a process, but my focus is on winning a state championship.
“Coach (David Fultz) and I will have a plan for the course and a race strategy at Centerville. He may tell me to start the race faster and we will see some tougher runners there too, but my focus on November remains the same.
“I usually don’t get nervous pre-race, but tougher competition will change that. So, I may get a little unsettled. Centerville is a fairly flat course and those are my favorite because I don’t particularly like hills.”
Although Smith and Horter are not expected to compete Saturday night, they will find common ground at the GMC Championship and throughout the OHSAA postseason.
“When we finally meet on race day, I’m going to focus on me and not him. He will run his race and I will run mine. We’re both great competitors and we have a lot of respect for each other too.”
Although Smith’s talent seems to come natural, finding his passion for running didn’t take root until he got into middle school.
“Conant showed up at our high school practice one day while he was in middle school with his older brother Cole. He simply wanted to tag along as a way to prepare for his soccer season,” said veteran MHS head coach David Fultz. “He kept pace with the varsity kids then, and we knew immediately we had a special talent on our hands.”
When you discuss Middletown and distance running, Jeff See is immediately the first name that comes to mind. However, See’s impressive marks weren’t any unwritten goals Smith was striving to eclipse.
“Everyone wants to compare Conant (Smith) to Jeff (See), but they have two completely different styles. Jeff was a man amongst boys. Conant is going to be a late-bloomer. I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface of what his natural talent can lead to.
“Conant leads by example, and he’s not the vocal type either. His self-motivation is contagious amongst our team. We get creative with our training and find ways to help him continue progressing. In practice for example, we send the team ahead of him and then we have him chase them,” Fultz continued.
When Fultz was asked about Conant’s current mid-season development, “We’re shooting to break the 15-minute mark, and looking forward to a very strong effort on Saturday night at Centerville. Then, we’ll refocus Conant’s training to peak November 4.”
Although challenging for a state title (Nov. 4 at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, OH) is the main focus, Smith’s road won’t end there.
He and Coach Fultz intend to run at the Nike Cross Regionals Midwest Meet in Terre Haute, IN on November 11. From there, they’ll qualify for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, OR on December 2, or the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in San Diego, CA on December 9.
Smith will be the first to tell you that David Fultz has had a profound impact on his success and development.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Fultz I wouldn’t be at the level I am right now,” said Smith. “He knows everything about the sport and has had many opportunities to move on and coach at other places, but we’re happy and proud to represent Middletown.”
Although Smith is an elite level runner, he is still a normal teenager too. He listens to hip-hop before he runs, and enjoys watching the Steelers with his family in his spare time.
As you’d expect, Smith is garnering interest for nearly every university in the country and he plans to set five official visits prior to committing to a school. His aspiration is to study conservation science with the goal becoming a forest ranger after college.
You can follow Conant’s quest for a state championship and the Middies all season on social media at www.middletownmiddies.com and @XCMiddie on Twitter.