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DOUBLE DUTY: Price-Smith shifts from Rebels to Team USA

The first season as the Ole Miss track and field coach is in the books and it was a fairly successful one for Connie Price-Smith.

Smith took over last fall for former coach Brian O’Neal, who departed the program after coaching his alma mater for four seasons.

After coaching 14 years at her alma mater of Southern Illinois, Smith came to the Southeastern Conference with a wealth of accolades and Missouri Valley Conference titles.

Her knack for success carried over, helping the men’s team to their best finish in the SEC Outdoor Championships last month with a fifth place finish while the women improved with an 11th place finish.

At the National Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, earlier this month all 13 Rebels who qualified for the championships placed among the top 16 in their events, breaking a previous record of nine set last year.

“It’s been a great first year just coming in and getting to know everybody that was here,” Smith said. “All the event groups were really strong. It was really exciting to come in and be able for everybody to put everything together as a team and do as well as we did.”

Winning combination
Smith did have one national champion in her first year at the helm with Ole Miss as Raven Saunders claimed the women’s shot put title in record-breaking fashion. The two are no stranger to each other as Saunders transferred from Southern Illinois after her freshman year, coming over with Smith to Oxford.

Saunders had already claimed two national titles with Smith, winning the indoor and outdoor shot put events last year.

They could be continuing the winning relationship on the global stage as Smith has been tabbed as the women’s track and field head coach for Team USA in 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. Saunders will try to make it on her collegiate coach’s team as she will head to the Olympic Trials, which are held July 1-10 back in Eugene.

“Having coach Connie there is definitely going to be a lot of help,” Saunders said. “Trying to understand because she’s been there four times. Should I eat this? Should I not? How early should I be to here? Small things that a lot of people may take for granted that having that person there, helps a lot.”

Olympic experience
The four years Smith has gone to the Olympics were 1988 (Seoul, Korea), 1992 (Barcelona, Spain), 1996 (Atlanta) and 2000 (Sydney, Australia). Her best result in came in the 96 games with a fifth place finish in the shot put event.

In 1992 Smith became the first woman to win the shot put and discus at an Olympic trial in 32 years.

Having the wealth of experience on the Olympic stage as well as a 25-time U.S. Champion in the shot put and discus makes Smith a seasoned choice to lead the women into Rio.

The transitions from collegiate coach to national coach sort of began for Smith when the NCAAs began earlier this month as she started looking at potential prospects for the trials.

During those trials in July, Smith will be spread thin with all her duties to Team USA but hopes to still be able to keep an eye on the Rebels who are participating like Saunders.

“It is a shift but it’s kind of been gradual throughout the year,” Smith said. “Everything I do, even when I’m (at Ole Miss), I’m still working on that other part, too. The shifting gears, kind of watching everybody growing up and making sure they have ‘A’ standards. I still will take care of our kids. I’ll still watch our kids but I will spend a little more time trying to prepare for the games and making sure all the athletes have a standard.”