SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The USC Upstate athletic department and Director of Athletics Mike Hall announced the hiring of Natalie Smith Wednesday as the head coach for the men's and women's cross country and track & field programs.
"We are thrilled to have Natalie join our staff and look forward to watching her build on what is already a strong foundation with our track and cross country programs," said Hall. "Natalie has a long history of success as both a coach and student-athlete with a strong commitment to excellence in athletics and academics."
"I'm excited about the challenge ahead with the transition into full Division I membership this year," Smith said. "I believe my experience at Georgia Southern has prepared me to fit in with the overall vision of the athletic department here at Upstate. After working with the women's team at GSU, I'm looking forward to working with both men's and women's teams again. I want to focus on a holistic approach with the cross country and track & field programs by concentrating on bringing a new depth in terms of academics and student-athlete participation. I want the Upstate programs to begin to ring in the ears of recruits and draw a strong caliber of student-athlete."
Smith comes to Upstate after a five-year stint at Georgia Southern, leading the Eagles to the 2007 Southern Conference Outdoor Women's Track & Field Championship crown. It marked the school's first conference title in track & field. As a result, Smith was named the 2007 SoCon Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year.
She established Georgia Southern as a premier team in the SoCon in the areas of jumps, multi's and sprints. In those three areas, Smith's athletes claimed six different conference championships and numerous top-three finishes. During her time at GSU, her squads set a combined 14 school records, including 11 outdoor and three indoor.
In 2009, Smith became the first GSU track coach to have a female athlete qualify for the NCAA National Championships. Later that year, two of her athletes were named to the SoCon's 25th Anniversary of Women's Championships Team. Smith was chosen as the 2008 Georgia Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Female College Coach of the Year.
During Smith's five years with the Eagles, her teams accumulated numerous academic awards. She had more than 100 student-athletes named to the SoCon's All-Academic Teams. Smith coached 10 student-athletes, who were honored by the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for academic achievements. She also had three athletes chosen to ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District Team during her tenure at Georgia Southern.
Prior to working at GSU, Smith served two years at the helm of her alma mater Tarleton State University men's and women's cross country and track & field programs. She spent time as a graduate assistant coach and then as assistant coach before taking over the head coaching reigns at TSU, spending a total of five years as coach of the Texans. She coached 14 Division II All-Americans during her tenure with the Texans. In her first year, she led 11 student-athletes to national championship events at the D-II level. She was the first female in school history to coach a men's program.
As a track & field athlete at Tarleton State, Smith was a national qualifier and an Academic All-American in 2001. She was a three-time MVP award winner for the TexAnns and a two-time Minority Athlete of the Year recipient for the university. Smith earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a minor in Psychology from Tarleton State in 2001. She received a Master of Education in Physical Education from TSU in 2002.
Smith takes over as head coach at Upstate, replacing Jimmy Stephens who started the track & field programs and reestablished the cross country programs at the university. Stephens led the Spartans to 15 A-Sun individual championships in track & field and cross country. Current associate head coach Carson Blackwelder will remain in his position with the program.
"When we began our search for a new head coach, many people called on behalf of Natalie," said Hall. "She is very well liked and respected in the coaching community and among the administrators where she has worked in the past. We feel very confident that she will be able to continue to build our track & field and cross country programs into contenders for A-Sun Championships."