By Rubin E. Grant
On the eve of the 49th AHSAA Indoor State Championships at the Birmingham CrossPlex, Hoover junior Kyle Smith spent part of the evening praying and, as he put it, “getting my mind focused.”
Smith’s time in prayer and meditation was well spent.
He won his specialty event, the Class 7A triple jump, Saturday with a leap of 45-07 feet, easily outdistancing his teammate John Watkins, who jumped 43-05.75.
“I was hoping for a 47- or 48-foot jump, but I couldn’t expect that not getting in as much work before the meet than I wanted,” Smith said. “But this being my first individual state championship, I’m so happy. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
On Friday, Smith finished second in the high jump, with a leap of 6-6, two inches behind Vestavia Hill’s Carl Nesbitt, who set a meet record with a jump of 6-8.
Smith’s performance helped coach Devin Hind’s Hoover boys win their second consecutive Class 7A title and the school’s eighth boys’ title overall. Hoover scored 135 points and runner-up Vestavia Hills was second with 62.50.
Hoover completed a sweep of the competition when the Bucs’ girls totaled 113 points to win the state title for the fifth consecutive year and for the sixth time in the past seven years. Hoover has won all four Class 7A titles. McGill-Toolen Catholic finished second with 78 points and James Clemens was third with 74.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” Hind said of winning both titles. “We had our work cut out for us. Just like every other group, they know how to win.”
Smith now fits into that category despite being a jumper for only four years. He began in the eighth grade after having some disciplinary problems at Bumpus Middle School that landed him in alternative school for a few weeks.
“Before that, I didn’t do sports,” Smith explained. “I had good grades, but I’m ADHD and I struggled with behavior problems. I would finish my class work before my classmates, then I’d start acting up and I got sent to alternative school.
“I feel God blessed me by taking me through that. After I went back to Bumpus, they moved me to a new hallway. My science teacher, Chad James, asked me to come out for track and I did.”
James had Smith compete in the arduous triple jump and he took to it right away.
“Nobody wanted to do it,” Smith said. “Coach James showed me how to do it and some other coaches tweaked what I was doing and I became a technique guy. Now, I feel like it’s my baby since I’ve been doing it so long.”
As a sophomore in the 2017 state indoor meet, Smith finished fourth behind three seniors, Noah Igbinoghene of Hewitt-Trussville, Daryl Bowden of Sparkman and Treymarius Roberson of McGill-Toolen Catholic.
Hoover coach Hind described Smith as energetic and a hard worker, but what makes him a standout in the triple jump is his athleticism.
“He’s an all-around good athlete,” Hind said. “You have to be a good athlete to do the triple jump.
“He loves this sport and that makes a difference. He works hard at it, even in the off season.”
Hoover pole vaulter James Courson also won a state title, clearing 16 feet, 1 inch. Courson attempted to clear 16-05 and set the AHSAA all-time indoor record, but he came up just short. He cleared 15-00, 15-06 and his winning height without a miss.
The Bucs’ Hakim Ruffin won the 60-meter dash with a 6.91 time. Teammate R.J. Nelson was second at 6.98.
The Hoover boys won the 4×400 relay in 3:24.01 and finished second (8:02.94) to Smiths Station (7:58.51) in the 4×800.
On the girls side, the Bucs’ Genesis Jones set a new Class 7A state indoor record in the high jump with a winning jump of 5-06. Julie Leonard of Mountain Brook originally set the record at 5-04 in 2015.
MichelleI Nkoudou won the 60-meter hurdles, clocking 8.81, and teammate Chakiya Plummer was second at 8.91.
Sydney Steely won the 800-meter run with a time of 2:13.93 in the 800-meter race and finished second (5:03.97) in the 1,600-meter race behind Thompson’s McKenzie Hogue (5:03.81).
The Bucs dominated the relays, turning in two record-breaking performances. On Friday, Hoover narrowly won the 4-x-200 by just 4/100ths of a second over runner-up James Clemens. The Bucs clocked 1:43.12 and the Jets 1:43.16.
Then, on Saturday, the Bucs set the state and CrossPlex record in the 4-x-800 with a winning time of 9:19.70. The Bucs held the record coming in thanks to its 9:26.76 finish in 2016. They also set a new record in the 4×400, clocking 3:55.24 to close the meet.
Vestavia’s Carl Nesbitt, above, set a meet record with a jump of 6-8.
James Sweeney followed up Friday’s 7A state-record performance in the 3,200 meters, right, with a win in the 1,600 meters Saturday.
His winning time was 4:23.56, just under a second better than runner-up Charlie Slaughter of Mountain Brook (4:24.33). Vestavia Hills finished second in the meet with 62.50 points.
More photos at otmjsports.com