Unionville grad Courtney Smith qualifies for shot at Olympic stardom

FRAN MAYE - Digital First MediaCourtney Smith is hoisted up by her cross country teammates at Unionville in this 2014 photo. She was a star athlete at Unionville and is trying to make the Olympics.
FRAN MAYE - Digital First MediaCourtney Smith is hoisted up by her cross country teammates at Unionville in this 2014 photo. She was a star athlete at Unionville and is trying to make the Olympics.
Courtney Smith
Courtney Smith

EAST MARLBOROUGH >> Courtney Smith, a 2014 graduate of Unionville High School, has qualified for the Olympic trials after posting the fastest 10K NCAA time in the country at Stanford University earlier this month.

“I will try to make Unionville proud,” Smith said after learning she is eligible to compete in the Olympic trials. “Right now it is just excitement, but as it gets closer, it will turn more into nerves.”

The Olympic trials will be held in Eugene, Oregon in July. The top three finishers will go to the 2016 Summer Olympics, to be held Aug. 5 to Aug. 21 in Rio de Janeiro.

“We couldn’t be more proud that Courtney is a Unionville High School alum,” said John Sanville, Unionville-Chadds Ford School District superintendent. “This is proof positive that Mark Lacianca’s coaching coupled with innate talent and hard work are the springboard for greatness. You may be able to catch the U-CF spirit, but you can’t catch Courtney.”

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Lacianca coached Smith on the girls’ cross country team while she was at Unionville. She now attends Harvard University, and is planning to be a chemical engineer.

At the Stanford Invitational earlier this month, Smith ran the 10K with professional and NCAA Division 1 runners. She came in sixth in the 10K and was the fastest college runner in the race. Smith and senior Paige Kouba led the Harvard team on the West Coast, with smith posting the eights-fastest time in NCAA history in the 10,000 meters (32:08:32) en route to beating the Olympic standard.

The best mark in the NCAA this season, Smith’s time shattered the Ivy League and Harvard records by 35.8 and 42.9 seconds, respectively, and was 2:45 better than her previous career-best. Smith took sixth place in the event, and was the top collegiate finisher.

“Just qualifying for the Olympics was my stretch dream goal my whole life,” said Smith, who not only was a star runner at Unionville, but carried a 4.67 grade-point average. “For it to happen this early is pretty cool. It just hasn’t sunk in all the way yet.”

At Unionville, the 5-foot 2-inch Smith was named the Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. She also earned victories at the District 1 Championships, the Ches-Mont leading the Indians to second place a Championships, the Cherokee Challenge, the West Chester Henderson Invitational and the PIAA Foundation Invitational.

Ranked as one of the state’s 20 best cross country runners last year, other accolades include PA cross country runner of the year, Daily Local News Cross Country Athlete of the Year and Running Times National Runner of the Week.

And at Harvard, she ran the second fastest time in Harvard University’s history for the 5K at a track meet at the University of Washington earlier this year. The time is the eighth fastest in the country for D1 athletes and the fourth fastest ever recorded in the Ivy League.

Smith said her family will accompany her to the Olympic trials. She said she has been training and feels like she is in the best condition of her life. She said she misses Unionville, and is not sure if she will be back this year.

“I feel like while I was at Unionville, everyone knew each other and there was a lot of support from my teammates and my high school team,” she said. “We were really close.”

About the Author

Fran Maye

Fran Maye is an award-winning journalist and a graduate of Shippensburg University. He and his wife Marianne live in East Marlborough. He enjoys golf and is a 4.0 tennis player. Reach the author at kennettpaper@gmail.com or follow Fran on Twitter: @kennettpaper.