Connect with us

Athlete Profile

Whitehall’s Jenna Smolen not afraid of the fast track, academically or athletically

Elmhurst-bound senior is the top sprinter for Vikings’ 2024 girls track and field team.

WHITEHALL – Jenna Smolen is always striving for new levels.

In the classroom, the Whitehall senior yearns for higher levels of intellectual stimulation. On the track, she’s constantly trying to lower her times and achieve new personal records.

It appears as though Smolen is finding success in both realms, sporting a 4.103 weighted GPA (3.913 unweighted) and recording the fastest times in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter dashes on her Vikings’ track and field team this season.

“To me, nothing is more exhilarating than running and winning and passing people,” she said. “Track teaches discipline, strength, and hard work.

“I also love the family feel of the team and supporting my teammates and seeing them win and PR — that makes me the happiest more than anything else. I also love seeing myself get better throughout the season and reach my PR goals.”

This season, Smolen has achieved PRs in the 100 at 13.84 seconds and in the 400 at 1 minute, 5.49 seconds. She is still attempting to PR in the 200 – her season-best time in the event is 29.09, while her all-time best is 28.82.

She also has participated in 4×100, 4×200, 4×300, and 4×400 relays this season.

Photos by Scott DeCamp for CatchMark

“After coaching Jenna for a bit, I have not only seen her progress with times coming down but also things like being more comfortable, encouraging, and motivating others on the team,” Whitehall girls track and field coach Jeff Bassett said.

“Jenna has really improved her starts out of the blocks this year, has great speed, and she is very competitive, which has helped her post our fastest times in the open 100, 200, and 400 this season.”

Things haven’t come easy for the 18-year-old daughter of Ronald and Jan Smolen.

Jenna Smolen has become mentally and physically tougher after enduring the challenges that come with running track and her coping with injuries and ailments. She’s overcome asthma, chronic knee pain and shin splints, and digestive issues.

Smolen has worked hard to get back to where she was in track prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting, when she lost her eighth-grade season. She went from running in only two events at each meet as a freshman to competing in four events consistently as a senior.

Smolen and her Whitehall teammates will be competing in an MHSAA Division 2 regional this Thursday at Fremont’s Pine Street Athletic Facility. Regardless of what happens there, she’ll be continuing her athletic pursuits in track at Elmhurst University, west of Chicago.

Photos by Harper Leon for CatchMark

Her 2024 season goals with Whitehall included running a 63- or 64-second 400, achieving a new PR in the 200, and qualifying for the state finals in the 4×400 relay at the regional.

“The only real regret I have is not being able to perform at the level that I had pre-COVID until this year,” she said. “It took me three long years to be able to run my 400 the way I was running it in seventh grade before COVID struck. I was hoping to be able to run a 61- or 60-second 400 as a freshman or just as a high school track athlete, but I will be going for that goal in college now.

“I felt stagnant for three years in track where I wasn’t improving at all, just staying the same, but that has finally been broken and I know I will only continue to get better and faster.”

Smolen is eager to push herself in college, both academically and athletically. She plans to study political science and pre-law at Elmhurst.

Her proudest academic achievements to date include scoring fives on all of her Advanced Placement exams so far, including Psychology, U.S. History, and Language and Composition. She’s also been accepted into the honors program at Elmhurst.

Some of her proudest athletic achievements include doing dance for 10 years and earning multiple track and field medals from middle school to high school.

“I love government and econ since politics and history have always been my biggest passion/interest as a kid, and I understand government and econ better than anyone else,” Smolen said. “I also have a big interest in economic theory and different economic systems and it’s something that I’m well versed in.

“I also enjoy AP Physics a lot because I love my teacher, Mr. (Tyson) Jasperse, and I love all of the different conversations we have as a class each day. I also love AP Literature, because I love writing and reading, and I’ve always been an incredible writer. I love analyzing literature and life on a deeper level to find meaning, and I love explaining it with my words and active mind.

“I also love my teacher, Mr. (Jesse) Thompson. He is one of the most intellectual and articulate teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of having, and I have learned more in his class than I have in any other class. I always look forward to having intellectual and stimulating conversations and lessons with him.”

Bassett characterizes Smolen as “nice, soft spoken, and driven.”

He said she possesses a strong desire to improve, which is something you can’t really teach.

“Jenna wants to achieve her goals and does a great job keeping that in focus,” Bassett said. “Some athletes might not be thrilled about a hard workout, but Jenna knows the hard work done at practice gets her closer to her goals so she goes into workouts with a positive attitude.”

Photo by Courtney Jimison | CatchMark

Lead writer for CatchMark SportsNet and Web Services leader for CatchMark Technologies.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Must See

More in Athlete Profile