Amina Smith's determination has her rising to new heights

 Amina Smith was feeling some slight anxiety last week.


The snowstorm that pelted the mid-Atlantic region in early February, including her home state of Maryland, had kept her out of school for more than a week. Although cabin fever crept up every once in a while, that part the senior from Patuxent High could handle.


But the long layoff that stretched until this past Friday had also restricted the nation’s top high jumper, albeit with some company, from practicing her craft.


That was a bit more difficult.


“It’s been a nice physical and mental break,” Smith said. “But when you are trying to raise the bar - no pun intended - it does make you a little anxious when you can’t practice.”


The uneasiness is understandable for Smith, considering the success she has attained throughout her high school career in the vertical leap, particularly this winter. Right now, Smith is just two inches from the magical six-foot mark. On  Jan. 4, she achieved a personal best of 5-10 at the Calvert County Invitational, held at the Prince George‘s Sports and Learning Center.


Surprisingly, it’s a mark she now shares with two other athletes - fellow “Marylander” Lacey Shuman, a senior from Maryvale Prep School, and junior Moira Cronin of Andover High in Massachusetts. Shuman cleared the height twice in December. Cronin accomplished her best in a dual meet against Billerica High on Jan. 20.


There’s a possibility Smith will go head-to-head with either, or both, of the jumpers next month when she travels to New York City for the National Scholastic Indoor Championships.


“Hopefully, I get the chance,” she said. “I like the competition.”


Smith, a versatile athlete with a PB of 37-2 ¾  in the triple jump, has been excelling in the high jump since her freshman year. The proof is in her resume, which includes five individual titles in the 2A Maryland State Track & Field Championships.


Along with those crowns, Smith owns a national title, one she achieved on the outdoor surface when she copped the Intermediate Division at the AAU Junior Olympics in 2008, as well as a fifth-place performance at last year’s Nike Indoor Nationals.


But it’s her final year at Patuxent where Smith is hoping to make her biggest impact. And so far, everything is working out just fine.


Finally leaping 5-10, a mark she came agonizingly close to on numerous occasions, has certainly helped her mindset. Plus the fact that she’s graduating in a few more months.


“I just have way more confidence now,” Smith said. “I think it’s because it’s my last year I  feel like I have to be the best. I feel like there’s no way I can lose this year. It’s my most important year. I have to finish my senior year like I’m suppose to.”


Prior to this year, Smith cleared 5-8 four times. It’s a height that earned her a state indoor title and also a third-place effort at last spring’s Penn Relays. Smith believes she’s had the potential to go higher before the Culver County meet, she just needed some extra strength.


“I was jumping 5-8 for a while. It was getting frustrating because I knew I could jump 5-10,” she said. “I just needed power in my legs. I did do better than I thought, but I still wanted to get that extra height.”


With hopes of breaking the Maryland  state record of six feet, set by former Great Mills High standout and U.S. Olympian Tanya Hughes, Smith has been concentrating more on making her legs stronger.


She’s doing that by utilizing the weight room where she’s focusing her attention at the squat rack. She’s also been doing some bounding and resistance training with band exercises.


“I have been working on trying to strengthen my legs so I can jump higher and kick my legs faster,” Smith said. “As of now, my form is perfect. I just have to strengthen my legs so I can jump higher and get my feet over. That’s my goal.”


Smith, who is a slender, six-feet tall, will be taking her skills close to home next year. She recently signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Maryland College Park where she’ll be under the direction of hurdles and jump coach Frank Costello, a two-time national high jump champion and an All-American.


“I fell in love with the whole aura,” she said. “The athletes treated me very nice. It was like a whole family thing. I felt that maybe this is where I am suppose to be. I felt at home.”


Smith’s immediate goal is to crack six feet and grab a couple more state titles along the way.  She’ll begin that quest this Monday at the 1A-2A Maryland State Indoor Championships. As for long term, she’s looking to excel at the collegiate level and also earn a spot on the U.S. team that will be competing in the 2012 Olympics.


“I’m going to try my hardest,” she said. “I really think I can do it.”