Two La Jolla High School runners in national track meets this week
Chiara Dailey is competing in the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle and both she and Payton Smith will be in the Nike Outdoor Nationals at the University of Oregon.
Two La Jolla High School runners have qualified for national track meets this week after making it through the recent state competition.
Chiara Dailey (who will be a sophomore this fall) will compete in the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle on Wednesday, June 14. Then she and Payton Smith (who will be a senior in the fall) will run in the Nike Outdoor Nationals tournament at the University of Oregon on June 15-18.
Both are racing independently and not as part of the La Jolla High team.
Though Payton qualified for the Brooks PR Invitational, she is not participating because she will be at La Jolla High’s commencement ceremony that day.
Both runners’ dreams were almost dashed at the state meet last month.
Despite an impressive freshman resumé in which she set records at the Mount SAC (Mount San Antonio College) Cross Country Invitational in Los Angeles County in October and earned third-team All-American honors in cross country in December, Chiara said her performance at the CIF State Track and Field championships in Fresno was “not a good race for me.”
The 14-year-old freshman, who recorded victories at two key meets in two months, has a plan for success.
Chiara said she tried to beat Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura, a runner who has set national records, and went too fast too soon and lost steam in the 1,600-meter race.
“I wanted to go for the win rather than settle for second,” Chiara said. “Looking back, I would have tried to race for second because [Englehardt] was so fast.”
Chiara placed 11th at the meet, but combined with her running times throughout the school year, she qualified for nationals.
Chiara said she “didn’t want to end my season that way” and that she’s using the experience as fuel for her next meet. “I know I can hang with everyone there and maybe not beat them, but give it all I have,” she said. “I want to beat my [personal record], and getting in the top three would be amazing.”
Similarly, Payton said she thought she didn’t perform well enough at the state meet to qualify for nationals. But she did — barely.
Despite setting personal records in the 200- and 400-meter races (23.73 seconds and 53.86 seconds, respectively) at state, she made it to the finals by only 0.01 second.
“I was crying right afterward because I was sure I didn’t make it,” Payton said. “I was disappointed in my performance, but I tried to give myself tunnel vision for the finals. Track is super mental and I had to get my mind right. I had a lot to prove to myself. I knew I belonged there.”
The La Jolla High School junior has recorded some of the fastest times in the country since breaking in her freshman year.
Ultimately, she performed well enough to be seeded third in the nation for the 400-meter race in her age group and qualified for nationals.
“It’s such a fun moment to think about,” she said of competing in the nationals. “You get to compete against the best of the best, and it’s a chance to showcase what I have done on such a big stage. It’s a big deal and I want to just be there.”
Ideally, she said, she’ll break her personal records. But Payton said she’d also like to earn a spot in the top three.
“I just want to get on the podium, that’s the big thing,” she said.
If anyone can do it, Chiara and Payton can, according to La Jolla High School track and field coach Paul Byrne.
“I think they learned a lot from state races and will use that going forward,” he said. “They just need to run their race and not get caught up in the hype. Both runners were nationally ranked and are both such talented athletes. … They just need to be who they are and think about what got them there.”
Payton Smith says she wants to help all students make the best of their time at the school.
In addition to coaching the two, Byrne taught them in his math classroom. “As students, they are dedicated and focused and great students. As athletes, it carries over,” he said. “They work hard and help each other along — not just each other but the rest of the team.” ◆
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