WATERVILLE — Zack Smith’s throwing career with the Waterville Senior High School track and field team is nearing its completion. Sarah Cox is coming up on the halfway mark of hers. When Smith and Cox compete in the Class B state championship meet Saturday at Yarmouth High School, each has a chance to make that throwing career special.

A senior, Smith is the top seed in the boys javelin and is seeded second in the discus, just one inch behind Samuel Hoff of Mt. Desert Island. He’ll also compete in the shot put. Cox, a sophomore, is seeded second in the girls discus and fifth in the shot.

“(Smith’s) really blossomed and gotten serious about the sport this year. The thing about throws, and track and field in general is, you’ve got to love to train. Zack loves to train. I feel like his best marks are in front of him on Saturday. He has a laser beam focus,” Matt Gilley, Waterville’s throwing coach, said.

“Sarah has just unbelievable natural ability and coachability. She listens well. She’s really her own biggest critic,” Gilley added. “She knows what you’re going to say before you say it. She understands the positions well enough so the sky’s the limit for her. As she gets better technique-wise, she’s going to explode. She’s only scratched the surface.”

While Class B competes in Yarmouth, the Class A championship meet will be at Massabesic High School in Waterboro. The Class C championship meet will be at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft.

This already has been a strong season for Smith and Cox, regardless what happens on Saturday. Each took a pair of conference titles at the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship last Saturday in Bath. Smith won the javelin (154-4) and discus (144-01), while Cox won the discus (114-03) and shot put (36-02).

Neither Cox nor Smith would pin down a favorite event.

“I really don’t have a preference. Probably discus comes easier, but shot put might be my favorite because it’s much harder for me,” Cox said.

“I always feel like, the favorite is what I’m throwing right then,” Smith said.

For Cox, the spring has been an extension of the indoor season, when she won the KVAC B title in the shot put and placed second at the state meet. Throughout the indoor season, Cox battled a right Achilles strain, her push off leg when throwing. The injury hasn’t been an issue this spring, she said.

“It’s fine now. Everything’s back to normal,” Cox said.

For Smith, who was a member of Waterville’s back-to-back state champion ice hockey teams, track and field is a one season sport. Smith makes the most of his short season and limited training time, Gilley said.

“It’s a rep thing. If you don’t get the reps in over time, it’s never going to be right or feel right. He just really quickly feels those positions in half the reps somebody who does indoor gets,” Gilley said. “Something like the discus spin, it’s a very dynamic movement. To do that only eight weeks a year, that’s very short, but it’s a testament to him understanding what we’re trying to do.”

Last year, Smith placed third in the discus at the state meet, with a throw of 139-04, and fifth in the javelin (150-10). Correcting a small thing, like pulling his head down when he threw the discus, can add a few feet to throws, Smith said.

“I knew what I was doing wrong. I knew how to correct my form. Coach Gilley does a great job helping me out with that,” Smith said. “In disc, every time I’d throw, I’d pull my head down. That was a bad habit for me. Every throw, we’d watch on film, that was what was wrong. Coach (Gilley) told me several different ways. Finally, one way he put it clicked, and I got it down… He takes a lot of film. He knows exactly what the throw should look like, and can help me make my body do what it’s supposed to do to maximize my distance.”

Cox said this spring, she’s doing a better job finishing her throws. She said the biggest thing Gilley has helped her with is confidence. Her older brother Tom was coached by Gilley. Watching that relationship, Cox looked forward to working with Gilley as she began her high school throwing career last year.

“He’s great at breaking it down so it makes more sense. He encourages me a lot,” Cox said of Gilley. “That encouraging’s made everything better. This game, as much as it might not seem like it, is very mental.”

Added Gilley: “She’s always thinking to the next throw. She doesn’t dwell on anything. You need that in this event. Some people would be a lot better if they had that ability.”

Cox will continue throwing for the Purple Panthers for two more years. Smith is moving on to Bates College, where he plans on continuing his throwing career. Shortly after he learned he was admitted to Bates, Smith heard from Nick Margitza, a former Waterville throwing standout who enjoyed a strong collegiate career with the Bobcats.

“(Margitza) messaged me and said keep competing hard and listen to what Gilley says, and keep your grades up,” Smith said.

Smith and Cox are also among each other’s biggest fans. Smith admires Cox’s reluctance to settle.

“Every meet, you look out and ask ‘How’d you do?’ She says ‘oh, I didn’t get my PR.’ ‘How’d you do?’ ‘I won, but…'” Smith said.

Added Cox: “(Smith’s) a great guy. He’s helped me a lot. He’s been a mentor for me.”

Teammates for one more meet, Smith and Cox will look to each stand at the top of the podium.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM