Keepin’ up with Fairfield’s Daje Pugh (above) and Del Oro’s Austin Smotherman was no easy task this spring.
BAY AREA SPRING 2012 FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Daje Pugh • Track & Field • Fairfeild
At long last, Daje Pugh finished on top — and in a big way, on the biggest stage.
Despite four years of qualifying for the CIF State Track and Field Championships in both the 100 and 300 hurdles, Daje Pugh had never finished her high school track season the way she wanted to. But, in her final trip to Clovis to compete with California’s top hurdlers, the senior reversed her fortune with the best performances she’s ever delivered.
Pugh finished third in the 100 hurdles before shattering her personal best in the 300 hurdles with a record-setting victory. Her time of 40.57 was more than one second better than her previous PR (personal record) and was the fastest high school girls time in the nation this season. The mark also ranks in the top 10 best times ever run by an American in the event.
“This year, I was so focused on training hard to have a good season and get colleges interested,” she said. “As a freshman, I fell; I tripped in my sophomore year; and I was not in top shape as a junior. Going into the state meet, I wanted medals. I knew that I wanted the gold, but never knew that 40 (seconds) was possible.”
After she crossed the finish line and saw her time, Pugh let out a scream, knowing that all of her hard work had paid off. She sailed over the final hurdles ahead of rival Jordie Munford of Rancho Cucamonga and has been flying high ever since.
“Daje matured this year,” Fairfield track coach Dave Monk said. “She had a renewed commitment and dedication to work ethic. She worked like I had never seen her work before and that work culminated in near perfection at the state finals.”
Daje’s father, Lewis, ran the hurdles back in his day, but he concedes that he did not possess the talent that his daughter was blessed with. As a mentor and coach, Lewis has provided training and encouragement for nearly 12 years, so the culmination of Daje’s high school career may have brought as much satisfaction to him.
While father and daughter certainly envisioned a first-place finish in the season’s final event, the record-setting performance was an incredible feat after three relatively disappointing season-ending results.
“I thought that if I ran hard that maybe I could win,” Daje said, “but I never even thought that what I did was possible.”
— Jim McCue
THE PUGH FILES
• THE STATS: Pugh won four consecutive SJS Division I titles in the 100 and 300 hurdles, including a section record-tying performance in the 100 this year (it was her own record). She qualified for the State Meet four years and finished in the top three in both events in 2012.
• SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE: After finishing third at state in the 100 hurdles with a section-record time of 13.69 seconds, Pugh recorded the top time in the nation this season (40.57 seconds) to claim the state title in the 300 hurdles.
• FAVORITE ATHLETE: Sanya Richards-Ross, reigning 2012 World Indoor Champion (400 meters) and Olympic gold medalist (4×400 relay, 2004 and 2008).
• THE NEXT LEVEL: After a dream senior season, Daje will run for the University of Washington next year. “They have a state-of-the-art indoor facility and I really saw myself having a better fit with the coaches and athletes there. I liked the atmosphere, and the coaches focus on each individual on the team.”
BAY AREA SPRING 2012 MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Austin Smotherman • Golf • Del Oro-Loomis
Austin Smotherman likes company, so it is no surprise that his senior season was his most successful and rewarding.
Watching his Del Oro team and the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top young golfers develop through his four years on the high school scene, Smotherman enjoyed his CIF Boys Golf Tournament individual championship with plenty of company from near and far in Northern California.
Smotherman shot a 4-under 67 at San Gabriel Country Club to win the state title while NorCal swept the top three team spots, led by Sierra Foothill League rival Granite Bay.
“My whole high school experience has been awesome,” Smotherman said. “It was great to be getting better each year and seeing the team getting better, too. Northern California junior golfers showed that we have arrived this year.”
As a junior, Smotherman was the section’s lone representative at the CIF Tournament where he finished fourth with a 1-under 71 at Poppy Hills in Monterey. But the 2012 state convoy from the Sac Joaquin Section was packed with five individuals, the Granite Bay team, coaches, friends, and family members.
“It felt different at state this year,” Smotherman said. “I felt that we had a chance to go to state as a team and we were right there to the end before missing out. But it was great to have (Del Oro teammate) Dustin Rankin with me and a lot of other golfers I know from juniors and high school.”
The SMU-bound senior understood that the state tournament was his last chance to shine as a high school golfer — his final high school “major,” if you will — and that he would have to step up to cap off a memorable season.
Just over two weeks removed from setting an SJS Masters Tournament record 65 (7-under), he stepped up in a big way to edge Beau Hossler (the same Beau Hossler that made a splash at the recently-concluded U.S. Open) by one stroke. Smotherman’s signature shot of the championship came on the penultimate hole when he stuck his approach shot to within about a foot of the hole to secure a birdie and claim the lead with one hole to play.
“I am comfortable leaving now with the relationships I developed with teammates, friends, competitors, and the entire school and community,” he said. “We did a lot of great things this year, and I was just glad to be a part of it.”
— Jim McCue
THE SMOTHERMAN FILES
• THE STATS: Averaged 35.6 in Del Oro’s nine-hole dual matches and broke par in every postseason 18-hole tournament, including a Sac Joaquin Section Masters Tournament record 65 (-7). Smotherman won the SJS Masters individual championship and the individual state championship.
• SIGNATURE PERFORMANCE: Made five birdies and just one bogey to record a 4-under 67 at San Gabriel Country Club to claim the state individual title. On the second-to-last hole of his round, Smotherman landed a wedge from the fairway within two feet of the hole and tapped in for birdie to seal the championship.
• FAVORITE PLAYER: Ernie Els. “I have always liked his demeanor on the golf course. He is relaxed, but can get excited and feed off the energy of the crowd when he needs to.”
• THE NEXT LEVEL: Smotherman will headline a class of five incoming freshmen at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in the fall after a busy summer schedule which could include the Cal State Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, and the U.S. Amateur Championships.
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