JACKSON TWP — Rylie Smith had the plug pulled on a promising sophomore year on the track.
She intends to make up for lost time. In fact, she already has.
Smith, a Seneca Valley junior, earned a medal by placing eighth in the 400-meter run with a school-record time of 57.74 seconds at the Pennsylvania Indoor Championships at Penn State University earlier this month.
The effort broke her own standard of 59.03, set just a few weeks before.
“I was hoping to break 58 seconds, but I wasn't expecting to place,” said Smith. “A teammate came up to me after my race and told me I had made the podium and I couldn't believe it at first. I was excited. It felt really good to get out there and compete.”
Forced out of her active routine for most of the previous 10 months certainly contributed to that.
Two weeks before the WPIAL Class 3A championship meet last May, Smith's season was shut down due to a hip injury.
“I had fluid in the growth plate of my hip and it was causing me pain. I was told I couldn't run for six weeks,” she said. “I still went to practices, just sat there or walked around with my teammates.”
Gar Bercury, an assistant coach for SV's outdoor track team and head coach of the indoor squad, still thinks about what might have been.
“It was very disappointing. Rylie would have won the WPIAL title in the 400, or had a very good shot at it, at least,” he said. “It was a big loss for us.”
Smith's troubles were not over, even after she felt like she was back to form in September. Another hip problem arose last fall, this time with the bone itself.
“I'm also a diver and it hindered me there, too,” said Smith. “I had to modify my practices.”
Smith qualified for the WPIAL diving championships and placed 12th, all the while continuing to progress on the track.
“I finally felt like I was 100 percent shortly before the state indoor meet,” she said.
It didn't take long for Smith to find her niche in the 400, which she began competing in during her freshman year. According to Bercury, she has not only the physical talent, but also the right mentality to succeed in the event.
“It takes a combination of strength and guts,” he said. “You have to be able to deal with some pain. Rylie's not afraid of that, but it's a deterrent to some kids.
“I've enjoyed coaching (the 400) over the years. We've had some boys who have had a lot of success with it, but Rylie is one of the first girls who has really taken to the event.”
The spring sports season has been postponed due to the coronavirus threat, but Smith plans to be ready to go if and when it picks back up.
“I didn't have much endurance last year, but I've been doing longer workouts and I think that's going to help. Coach Bercury may send me some other workouts to make sure I don't get out of shape.
“My goal this spring is to break the school (outdoor) record. It's 58.04 and I'm pretty close,” said Smith, who turned in a 58.32 last year before her injury.
Other SV athletes who broke school indoor records over the winter include Chrissy Guerrero (shot put, 35-6¾), Karsyn Spears (1,600 run, 5:11.57) for the girls and Aiden Kutchma (60 hurdles, 8.67), Gavin Thomas (long jump, 21-7½) and Noah Petersen (3,000 run, 9:01.05) for the boys.
“I've coached indoor at Seneca for 19 years and this is the best group I've ever had,” Bercury said. “Not just the school records, we also had a lot of kids get personal records. A number of them worked with me over the summer and that made a tremendous difference for them.”