A hundredth of a second separated Bayard junior Jessi Smith and Stanton sophomore MacKenzie Brandl when they qualified for the Class C girls 400 meters Friday.
It was nearly as close when they went head-to-head in Saturday’s final.
Smith and Brandl ran stride for stride in the event’s final 50 meters, but Smith was able to maintain a narrow advantage to win her second event of the day.
“When she came up on me at 50, I was terrified,” said Smith, who won the 400 and 800 for the second straight year. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s going to get me.’ I pushed it all the way through, and she had an awesome finish, as well. I don’t think the finish could have been better for either of us.”
Smith’s winning time was 57.18 seconds, while Brandl ran a 57.23. Oakland-Craig’s Ashleigh Carr, who set a Class C state record later in the afternoon in the 300 hurdles, was third in 58.16.
In Friday’s preliminaries, Brandl ran a 58.00, Smith a 58.01.
“I felt wonderful about my 400,” Smith said. “I thought it was a great performance. It was my best time ever by a second.”
Smith, Brandl and Carr met again about 30 minutes later in the 200 final. Brandl won that race in 25.54 followed by Smith (25.78) and Carr (26.08).
This was the first season Smith had run the 200.
“I thought it was awesome because (Brandl) was a state champion last year and competing against a state champion is really hard to do,” Smith said. “She had confidence coming in of knowing what it takes to win, and my first year I didn’t have that.”
Smith’s victory in the 800 lacked the drama of her matchups with Brandl and Carr in the sprints.
Smith took the lead on the first lap and ran out front the rest of the way to win in 2:17.28. That time was more than three seconds faster than runner-up Quinn Wragge of Crofton.
Smith wanted to run a better time in the 800, but running alone in front, she said, she “didn’t have the mental push” for a lower time.
Even though she was a two-time winner as a sophomore, Smith said her confidence dipped during the regular season. But it returned when she got back to Omaha.
“I was excited to see the competition that was going to be here today,” she said.