Chanel Smith is a sprinter who specializes in short dashes, but the journey to her senior year has seemed more like an uphill marathon.
The Piscataway High School standout missed most of her sophomore year with a knee injury and was hampered by a various ailments as a junior. Now, finally healthy, Smith is poised to take her place among New Jersey’s top speedsters.
“Lots of kids would have said, ‘I can’t go through with this; it’s too hard,” Piscataway track coach Keith Brunson said. “I’ve had that situation before, where kids are dealing with injuries and they lose their focus. Her desire to get back propelled her to where she is.”
At last spring’s NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Smith placed fifth in the 200 (time of 25.35), seventh in the 100 (12.34) and ran on the Chiefs’ second-place 4×100 (48.03).
“It felt great, because with my injuries I didn’t think I would be able to do it,” she said. “It was really hard. At one point I wanted to give up. The pain was too excruciating. But my teammates helped me through it.”
Three of those teammates are still around, giving Piscataway one of the New Jersey’s top sprinting corps. Fellow seniors Nia Dupiche and Jazmine Elleston ran on the all-state 4×100, and senior Brionna Pettus was runner-up in the Meet of Champions 400 with a Middlesex County-record time of 54.70.
“It’s going to be a good season,” Smith said. “I feel like we’re going to be able to push each other and make each other faster.”
Smith had to watch that process from the sidelines for long stretches over the past two years. As a sophomore she suffered what was diagnosed as an IT band injury.
“The doctor told her it would be close to a year before she felt normal,” Brunson said.
Being a competitor, Smith tried to come back twice that spring, with mixed results. She made it through the ensuing winter, but other tweaks – hamstring, calf, groin – mounted until Brunson shut her down for a month. She missed the Penn Relays and Greater Middlesex Conference Relays.
“I saw other people taking my spot in the relay and I didn’t like that,” Smith said. “I knew I had to come back.”
She did for the GMC Championships, placing second in both the 100 and 200, and spent the next three weeks cutting her time down before the season ended. Her flying finish raised a question: How fast can she go as a senior?
“I think she can be of the top three in the state (in the 55 dash),” Brunson said. “In the 200, I told her and Brionna, my expectation is for both of them to go low 25s if not 24 indoors.”
That would give Piscataway a whopper of a 4×200. The Chiefs qualified for nationals last winter, but as Brunson put it, “we want to do more than just make the nationals this time.”