At the end of her sophomore year, Mount Baker’s Natalie Smith felt she was on the cusp of competing for a girls’ wrestling state title. She didn’t realize she was also close to a state title in track and field nor did she believe a state appearance in cross country — a sport she had never competed in — was in the works.
But Smith’s junior season proved to be mighty successful, as the Mountaineer athlete went to state in all three sports, finishing second in girls’ wrestling and winning a Class 1A 800-meter title in track and field.
Because of the strides Smith made this year, she has been selected The Bellingham Herald’s 2015 All-Whatcom County Girls’ Athlete of the Year.
“I feel like I grew a lot. I got stronger and more confident in myself,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I was able to go out and try to do my best and not have worries or fears. ... I work hard at everything I do and put in a lot of extra time. I’m glad that hard work paid off.”
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Smith started off the year in cross country, something she took up instead of volleyball — which she played her first two high school seasons — because she enjoyed the atmosphere of the track and field team and cross country had many of the same faces.
While she didn’t run her best at the Class 1A State Championships, it was her first state appearance in a running sport — she had failed to qualify in track and field her first two seasons — and her first trip to state of the year.
The sport was mostly to keep Smith occupied during the fall season, but the added benefit was getting Smith in shape for her primary sport — wrestling.
“I think it really helped. There’s a difference in conditioning between volleyball and cross country,” Smith said. “I felt like the first days of wrestling practices, I was ready to go. I had the endurance a lot of girls didn’t have. I was ready to really focus on wrestling instead of getting in shape.”
The extra time Smith had to hone her technique paid dividends, as she made the leap from a seventh-place finish at state her sophomore season to a state championship match appearance in the 120-pound weight class her junior year. She ended up losing in a close match to Puyallup’s Jordyn Bartelson but the season was a big success.
“Freshman and sophomore year, I was finding my own style, who I wanted to be as a wrestler,” Smith said. “This year I was just confident in what I was doing and improved mentally, just believing in myself.”
As well as her first two seasons went, Smith still had more success coming in the spring.
During track and field, Smith switched from running the 400 to competing in the 800.
After watching Chynna Phan take home the Class 1A title in the 800 for the Mountaineers last season, Smith felt the event fit her perfectly.
“It looked like a good race I would like to run,” Smith said. “My strengths worked really well in that race. I had the speed and endurance. It was a good balance there.”
Turns out Smith’s instinct was right. Smith improved all season before running her best race of the season at the Class 1A State Championships to take home Mount Baker’s second consecutive title in the event while capping off a great sporting year for the junior.
“That was a huge accomplishment for me,” Smith said. “I always dreamed of being a state champion, but I always thought wrestling is where it would come from first.”
Smith will aim to continue her improvement in all three sports — her goals being a medalist in cross country, a championship in wrestling and another title in track while adding another event (possibly the 1,600 or 3,200) to her resume.
In order to meet those goals, though, Smith has no time to relish in her 2014-15 success.
Instead she’ll get back to training over the summer, including competing in a wrestling national tournament, because Smith found out this year what a little extra work can do.
Athletes of the Year
For the 10th year, the Bellingham Herald is proud to celebrate Whatcom County high school student athletes with its All-Whatcom County teams. A look back at the athletes selected All-Whatcom County Girls’ Athlete of the Year:
2005-06: Meghan Dahl, Ferndale
2006-07: Bronwyn Crossman, Squalicum
2007-08: Courtney VanBrocklin, Mount Baker
2008-09: Brandi Benner, Lynden
2009-10: Haley Locker, Ferndale
2010-11: Jasmine Hommes, Lynden Christian
2011-12: Jasmine Hommes, Lynden Christian
2012-13: Emily Pittis, Sehome
2013-14: Chloe Gardner, Nooksack Valley
2014-15: Natalie Smith, Mount Baker