When you first see Ben Smith on the track, you might mistake the Winslow High School sprinter for a distance runner. He’s lean and lanky, his long hair pulled into a tight ponytail when he runs. When you see Smith explode from the blocks and take off, however, there’s no mistaking it. He’s a sprinter, and a good one.

“I’m proud of him. I’m just glad he’s having fun with it and he’s improving,” Winslow indoor track and field coach Ken Nadeau said.

In the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship meet last Saturday at Bowdoin College, Smith won a pair of Class B titles, in the 55 and 200 meters, and ran the anchor leg for the Black Raiders’ victorious 4×200 relay team. Smith was the only Class B boy to run under seven seconds (6.85) in the 55. In the 200, Smith was the only Class B runner to break 25 seconds (24.23), finishing almost a second ahead of second place Kyle McGadney of Waterville.

A junior, Smith will be a contender in the sprint races at the Class B state championships Saturday at Bates College in Lewiston. The Class A state championship meet is scheduled for Monday at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

This is just Smith’s third season running indoor track. Smith plays soccer in the fall, where he starts at forward. An outfielder for Winslow’s baseball team, Smith hit leadoff on a team that reached the Class B East championship game last spring. As a freshman, Smith looked for something to fill the winter sports season.

“I was playing basketball and that wasn’t going very well so I decided to give track a try,” Smith said. “I guess I’m pretty good at it so I’ll keep going with it.”

Nadeau was an assistant coach when Smith joined the Winslow indoor track and field team.

“I kind of knew he was fast, but it’s always nice to see it put together on race day,” Nadeau said.

Smith didn’t need any time to find the events in which he could excel.

“I knew I was a sprinter. It’s pretty natural,” Smith said.

“He’s kind of been off pace a little bit, but he’s put it together today,” Nadeau said at the KVAC championships. “He always wants to run his best time. He’s super critical of himself but he’s a super kid. He showed what he’s made of today. He’s definitely a leader of the team. I’m excited for him and his future.”

As a freshman, Smith ran the 55 meters in 7.22 seconds at the state meet and didn’t make it out of the preliminary heats. Last season, Smith placed seventh in the event at the state meet, with a time of 6.92 seconds. His improvement in the 200 also was noticeable. Smith cut his time from 25.57 as a freshman to 25 seconds flat last year. As seen at the KVAC championship, Smith’s times have come down more this season.

“He’s pretty impressive to watch. I wish we had him for outdoor, but baseball’s his other sport, and soccer,” Nadeau said.

When he raced at the KVAC meet, Smith wore socks bearing the likeness of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

“Marshawn Lynch, I’m a big fan of him. I love his work ethic. He handles his business, keeps it quiet, doesn’t talk too much. I love that,” Smith said.

Added Nadeau: “He’s pretty quiet and kind of sarcastic. He’s pretty humble, too. He always downplays his success.”

Reaching the podium at the state meet won’t be easy. Smith is seeded eighth in the 55 and third in the 200. He is part of a deep and talented field in the sprints, with a few strong runners coming out of the Penobscot Valley Conference, in which five runners broke seven seconds in the 55 and seven went under 25 seconds in the 200 at the conference championship meet. Troy Crawford of Old Town ran 23.17 in the 200 and Mt. Desert Island’s Ryan Bender took the PVC 55 title in 6.72. Evan Porter of Traip, Xander Bartone of North Yarmouth Academy, Old Town’s Ian Haddow, Nathaniel Church of Foxcroft, and Poland’s Evan Gallagher are also among the top sprinters in Class B.

“The times coming out of Bangor (area) are impressive. I think (Smith will) be middle of the pack in the 55. If he runs his best day, the (sky is) the limit. I’d love to see him top five, no matter what,” Nadeau said.

In the spirit of Marshawn Lynch, Smith was succinct in discussing the state meet.

“We’ll work hard all week and see how it goes,” he said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM