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Third-year hurdler Ayla Smith tied the school record in the 60m hurdles at the first meet of the 2009 season before shattering Kim Turko’s 8.55 record from 2001 at the Virginia Tech Invitational. Smith improved her time to 8.44 the following weekend at the VT Challenge and is currently one-tenth of a second shy of meeting the NCAA provisional qualifying mark in the event.

Smith will take a break from the 60m hurdles this weekend, though, and focus on the pentathlon – a first for her – at the Penn State National Invitational. The pentathlon will kick off events at noon on Friday at the Ashenfelter Multi-Sport Facility, with the last scheduled event being the men’s 4x400m relay at 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.

Question: Competing in the pentathlon for the first time, what is your mindset heading into this weekend?
Smith: I’m focusing on the big picture of the event. I want to have a solid performance in my first full pentathlon, mentally and physically. It’ll be good to see exactly where I am so I’ll know what I need to work on during the next four weeks leading up to ACCs.

Question: Is the pentathlon something that you’ve always wanted to do? What is it about that event that sparks your interest?
Smith: I have always admired pentathletes for their diverse abilities in track and field, but I had never considered myself a good fit for the event. I’m a sprinter and hurdler, so the 60m hurdles and 800m run are strong events for me, but events like high jump and shot put don’t come as naturally. I was a little nervous about the idea of being a pentathlete, but I honestly feel like I couldn’t have better coaches in those events (Carrie Lane and Michael Eskind), so if anyone can help me transform myself, it’d be them. I still consider myself a 400m hurdler though, and I won’t be doing the multi events outdoor, so I’m really excited for the spring season to get back to competing in what I do best.

Question: You’ve had some time to train with the new coaching staff now. How has that transition been?
Smith: I had a great relationship with my last coach, Randy Bungard, so it was really hard to move on without him. However, the new coaching staff is phenomenal as well. Everybody on the staff, including our volunteer coaches, have been extremely helpful every step of the way. They’re all very knowledgeable and enthusiastic for our future. The combination of my early training with Randy and the new visions of the current staff are really doing wonders for me, so it’s been very smooth and I’m really excited for this year.

Question: What have been some of the highs and lows of your collegiate experience so far?
Smith: I think my experience has been one that started off pretty low and has continuously improved over the last few years, and will continue to improve over the next few. I had a very poor attitude coming into track at the collegiate level. I felt very unmotivated and my performances showed it. It’s all about attitude. I have transformed track into a huge part of my life now. I couldn’t be happier with what I do, and that is a huge source of my improvement in training and competitions.

Question: The team does a lot of traveling, what has been your most memorable trip?
Smith: Definitely when we went to Texas for the Texas Relays my first year. I had never been off the east coast so it was an awesome opportunity that I’m really thankful for. Going to Miami last year for a meet was also really fun, because the traveling group was larger and we got to see South Beach and hang out together as a team.

Question: What do you hope to accomplish before you graduate?
Smith: I definitely want the school records in the 400m hurdles and 100m hurdles, and I want to be an All-American in the 400m hurdles – hopefully twice if I’m fortunate enough to remain injury free.

I really want our team to be at least top-three in the ACC before I graduate, too. We’re all working very hard and I’m really excited to see what we can pull off in the conference, especially outdoors where we have really strong events, like Meghan Briggs in the javelin, Stephanie Garcia in the steeplechase, Billie Jo Grant in the discus, etc.

I also want the 4x400m relay to make it to NCAAs!

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