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Warren Central's quest for IHSAA girls track state title is a family affair.

INDIANAPOLIS – Laila, a senior, is the state’s top high school hurdler. Samaya, a sophomore, is the state’s top-rated tennis player in her class. Kira, a freshman, is a softball slugger featuring stats to boggle Sabermetric minds.

They are Team Smith. Smith is the most common surname in the United States, and it is ubiquitous at Warren Central.

Three Smith sisters are running toward a track and field state championship for their school. For their coach, Le’gretta Smith, who happens to be their mother. For their father, Steve, the jumps coach and a Pan American Games silver medalist.

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The girls’ cousin, Ashley Spencer, was an Olympic bronze medalist. What the Mannings are to football, the Smiths are to track.

“It’s really cool we get this one special year to all be together,” Samaya said.

Smith family photo: From left, Steve, Laila, Le’gretta, Kira, Samaya.
Smith family photo: From left, Steve, Laila, Le’gretta, Kira, Samaya.

It is once-in-a-lifetime special. This is the only year the sisters can all be on the same team, pursuing the same goal — winning the state championship Friday at Bloomington.

Le’gretta, a data administrator at the NCAA for 25 years, is in her 12th year at Warren Central. Both parents said the school has always supplied all they needed to succeed. Le’gretta wanted to coach long enough to coach her daughters.

Indeed, Samaya might not run track again, because girls tennis is a spring sport and she could devote herself to pursuit of a singles state title.

“If she wants to go for her state shot in tennis, you’ve got to let her do it,” their father said. “Because she’s helping Laila and Kira go get their dream of a state title.”

It could have been a nightmare, considering a team bus slid off an icy highway during the winter. But the dream remained alive. And it is realistic.

Laila ranks first in the state in the 300-meter hurdles, third in the 100 hurdles, second in the long jump. Samaya advanced in both hurdles. Kira ranks third in the high jump — at 5 feet, 8 ½ inches, she is tops in the nation among freshmen and second in the world among 14-and-under girls (according to World Athletics database).

The sisters make up three-fourths of the 4x400-meter relay, along with Jila Vaden, top seed in the long jump.

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Le’gretta Smith conceded she sometimes feels the pressure of it all.

“It’s a family affair,” she said. “But it’s pressure because you feel like you don’t want to let your kids down if they don’t perform up to their own standards.”

Standards are high in this household, and not just in sports.

All three sisters are fluent in Spanish, have grade-point averages of 4.00 or higher, rank in the top 25 of their respective classes. To relax, Laila plays the piano, Samaya assembles 3,000-piece puzzles and Kira knits or reads.

Their mother has the best resume of any active track coach in Indiana — top three in eight of nine state meets, albeit no championships since 2017. She has coached five hurdlers to state titles, including Laila indoors and Spencer while at Lawrence North. There are four 20-foot long jumpers in Indiana history, and the girls’ father has coached three of them.

Warren Central's Laila Smith jumps during the long jump Friday, April 28, 2023, at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis during the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference track meet.
Warren Central's Laila Smith jumps during the long jump Friday, April 28, 2023, at Warren Central High School in Indianapolis during the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference track meet.

Still, track talk stays at the track. TV is more often tuned to softball games or tennis tournaments.

“They don’t come home and obsess over it,” Steve Smith said. “They’re really focused on the track. When they come home, they dive into their other interests.”

When the girls were younger, Le’gretta said, she felt like a mother of triplets. The sisters wanted to do everything together. They are doing so this spring, but perhaps no more.

“They love each other,” the mother said, “but sometimes want to do their own thing.”

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Laila is as conscientious as you might expect from a firstborn, winning a school award for setting a good example.  She said she can be “uptight” at meets and Kira laid back. Samaya, she said, is a balance of both.

It doesn’t take long for peers at meets to recognize the three are sisters.

“We know how our minds work with each other,” Laila said. “It’s easier to bring each other up when we’re down and keep each other in a good head space.”

It was not inevitable the senior would end up in track, even though she follows in spikeprints of her mother, whose school record in the 400 hurdles at Long Beach State has stood for 28 years.

Laila twice was in residence at Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., doing schoolwork online. After a stress fracture in her navicular bone sidelined her for four months, she fell behind peers in tennis. She is a perfectionist, she said, and put down her racket. She focused on track after missing the 2022 season in that sport.

Her time of 43.07 seconds in the 300 hurdles, in which she was third at state last year, leads the state by more than a second.

She watches film so can refine technique, and she received tips from Olympic hurdles medalists Allen Johnson and Terrence Trammell, coaches at North Carolina A&T. She has visited A&T, Indiana, Purdue, Cincinnati, TCU and UCLA.

She is uncommitted about college but committed to winning that state championship. Warren Central finished second in 2021 and 2023, both by one point.

“The first year, we were ecstatic because we weren’t even in the conversation,” Le’gretta said. “Then last year, it wasn’t the same because we felt we could have won. We’ve got to go in there tough this year.”

Three Smith sisters: Laila (with track spikes), Kira (softball bat), Samaya (tennis racket).
Three Smith sisters: Laila (with track spikes), Kira (softball bat), Samaya (tennis racket).

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At 5-8, Samaya is the tallest sister. A tennis player since age 8, she has twice been to the Evert Tennis Academy.

She created a ripple in the tennis community two years ago when she went to a third-set tiebreaker against Kathryn Wilson of Columbus North. Wilson was last year’s high school state champion with a 30-0 record.

Although track is an individual sport, Samaya likes the team component. It is not that way in tennis, she said.

“It’s just you out there,” she said.

After the state meet, Samaya plans to return to the courts for two months of practice, then resume playing tournaments to boost her tennis ranking.

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All three sisters used to play softball, but Laila and Samaya gave it up.

“Once they decided they didn’t want to do it,” their father said, “Kira latched onto it.”

Did she ever.  Albeit in small sample size (36 at-bats), she batted .667 last year for her Red Storm club, featuring a 1.417 slugging percentage, 25 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.

Softball can wait until summer and fall. Spring is for track, in which there is seemingly nothing Kira cannot do. She has expressed interest in the heptathlon, comprised of seven events.

So does she resemble Willie Mays or Jackie Joyner-Kersee?

Kira won four events in the Marion County freshman meet, including the pole vault. Her best is 8 feet, and her mother asked her to vault at sectional, even though her father was uneasy about it.

“We’re going to need those points,” Le’gretta told her husband.

They did. Kira placed sixth, scored three points, and Warren Central beat Franklin Central by a half-point.

She has surprised her parents, who hoped she might jump 5-4 and score a couple of points at state. Her father has shown video of Kira to Tacoria Humphrey, who he coached to a high jump state title. For Illinois, Humphrey won the Big Ten long jump, and she ranks in the world’s top 10.

“Tacoria was like, ‘My gosh. More powerful than me,’“ the father said.

Kira said she likes being coached by her father, a self-described girl dad who dedicates himself to the task. He runs from long jump runway to high jump pit, evaluating, filming, teaching. It was easier when he was jumping 7-7 himself.

“It’s exciting to watch,” he said, “but boy, at the end, I’m so gassed.”

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The scariest day of the season is not Friday. That was Feb. 17.

A bus transporting eight girls to an indoor meet slid into a guardrail on I-74 near Crawfordsville. Laila and Kira were among the passengers. Samaya was at a tennis tournament with her mother.

Laila was banged up, and Kira was transported to the hospital. Kira lost a tooth, endured a concussion and bruised her right shoulder.

“One second, I was on the bus. The next second, I was in my bed,” Kira said. “My brain kind of blanked out the rest.”

She said she felt OK about four weeks later but acknowledged she sometimes thinks about the incident. She doesn’t think about it in the way she first did.

“It made me feel grateful to be where I am,” Kira said. “I felt happy to be back. It made me take my time more, enjoy the moment.”

It has taken Team Smith time — it has taken years — to get here. Every moment has been precious, and especially so at this state meet.

Contact IndyStar correspondent David Woods at dwoods1411@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Warren Central quest for IHSAA girls track state title a family affair