Smith leads by example for PatriotsJuly 21, 2021
BY JIMMY LAFAKIS
LINCOLN CITY — There was never a doubt that MaKenize Smith would be one of the first Heritage Hills student-athletes to attend Tuesday morning’s strength and conditioning workouts. Smith arrived on campus and immediately got to work.
She earned a championship at the USA 16U Women’s Wrestling Freestyle Nationals in Fargo, North Dakota, on Sunday, but Tuesday’s workout was business as usual.
Her diligence came as no surprise to Patriots wrestling coach Adam Zollman. Not even 48 hours earlier, Smith and Zollman were exchanging text messages about her 13-0 victory over Mikayla Garcia of California in the 100-pound championship match.
“It felt pretty amazing,” Smith said. “When I pinned her, I stood up and was like, ‘Oh, yeah.’ It was so exciting.”
Smith, a rising sophomore, pinned Garcia in 1:39. Zollman watched Smith’s matches throughout the tournament, but no feeling came close to the final moments of the title match.
“When she threw her and pinned her at the end, my heart was racing,” Zollman said. “You go back into ‘coach mode.’ You can’t give her that high-five, so I’m immediately on the phone. We’re messaging back and forth. It was fun. I was pumped.”
Smith said she felt a bit nervous as she first arrived on the national stage in Fargo, but her nerves quickly transformed into excitement. When the early jitters subsided, she locked in and worked her way into the final rounds.
Smith underscored the strong relationships she has built during her wrestling career.
“It’s not just from your team, but it’s from other states and other teams,” she said. “Everyone is cheering everyone on. No matter who you are or what you place or anything, everyone is just cheering you on.”
Smith is one of over 150 participants in Heritage Hills’ strength and conditioning workouts this summer. She goes about her business in the weight room with an assertive demeanor. She will share a laugh with her friends, but her work ethic always shines through.
“Everybody around here now knows her,” Zollman said. “When you walk into places, they’re like, ‘Hey, where’s your girl?’ And I’m like, ‘She’s right there.’ They’re like, ‘Oh, she’s so good.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, she is.’”
Her speed and strength set her apart on the mat. Zollman highlighted her improvement with her footwork and noted her overall confidence.
“She’s aggressive and she’s smart,” he said. “She’s very smart when she wrestles. She sees openings and goes for them.”
Wrestling rewards those who take chances at opportune times. Smith is learning the sport’s complex nuances, but she displays a keen understanding of when to bide her time and when to strike. She hones her agility and quickness with box jumps and hurdle exercises during the strength and conditioning workouts.
Her Heritage Hills family is alongside her for every step of the way.
“I’m not doing it alone,” Smith said.
Zollman listed California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois as some of the most prominent wrestling states in the country. As he communicated with Smith over the weekend, Zollman observed state and national media outlets recognizing Heritage Hills on Twitter.
“It’s fun for our school to get that recognition,” Zollman said. “With social media being what it is now, everybody is blowing it up on different stuff. It’s fun that our program is getting a little bit of notoriety there.”
Moments before she raced back into another drill, Smith offered her hopes for the future.
“It felt pretty good to bring our school out there and to show other girls around here that they can wrestle, too,” she said. “Hopefully, it will bring more women into the sport around here.”
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