She’s simply the best!

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Katelyn Smither might be the best player Suffolk field hockey ever saw. But you didn’t hear that from her.

You could ask some of the players that plan to use her examples to continue Lakeland’s winning traditions in field hockey.

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&uot;I learned a lot from Katelyn,&uot; said Lindsay Cutchins, who became the only First All-District freshman this season and finished third in the district with 13 goals. &uot;It was really fun and enlightening that I could learn so much. It was helpful to see what she would do in certain situations. I was always trying to make myself better, and try to re-enact the things she did, like making plays and scoring goals. I’m not sure if I’d have made (First All-District) without her.&uot;

You might try a coach faced with the unenviable task of stopping the Lady Cavalier, which was difficult, as she led the Eastern Region in scoring the last three seasons.

&uot;It’s always nice to see her play, because she’s such a nice kid,&uot; said Great Bridge coach Bruce Mayhue. &uot;It was really tough this

year, because she was much more mature and controlled the field. You just had to put your best player on her and hope for the best, and (Smither) was very, very good at controlling the ball and taking the shot when she had it. That team was fantastic, and she’s been a big part of it.&uot;

Or you could go to the coach lucky enough to have one of the biggest assets in district history.

&uot;Katelyn doesn’t care who scores or who gets the assists,&uot; said Lakeland coach Tara Worley, who grabbed her second Coach of the Year Award of Smither’s tenure (and third overall) last week. &uot;She just wanted to win. I’ll miss her for a lot of reasons, like her work ethic, her attitude, and her commitment.&uot;

But Katelyn Smither is her own least favorite topic of conversation. That’s because for her, it’s never been about scoring goals or making assists, though she did both in abundance, leading the Southeastern District in both categories the last three seasons. It’s never been about winning games, though there was quite the quantity there as well, as Lakeland won the Southeastern district regular season and tournament title for all four of her years there, losing just one district game the entire time. It’s not even about her two district and Co-Regional Player of the Year awards, the second of both arrived last week to make her the first student in Lakeland history to take the awards twice.

Nope. Ask Smither how she feels about her time on the fields of field hockey, and, after a few tears, she’ll talk about something else.

She remembers her first year on the fields. Surrounded by veterans Darcy Pinchbeck, Cara Byrd, Courtney Brown and the rest of the Lady Cavaliers that helped her get her cleats dirty back in the 2001-02 season, Smither wasn’t quite sure what her older colleagues had in mind.

&uot;For that whole year, they were always saying, ‘We’re going to get you soon!’&uot; Smither recalls, her voice wobbly as her eyes start to run. &uot;At the end of the year, they said, ‘We’ve got something for you!’&uot;

They certainly did. Just before the Lady Cavaliers charged to the first title of Smither’s career, the seniors showered her and the rest of the squad’s youngsters with huge balloons, and told them how much they’d appreciated them.

&uot;We had a lot of good times,&uot; Smither says, wiping her eyes. That year, she made the Second All-District team, then exploded onto the scene the next year by leading the league in goals and assists and making the First team. She did the same in her junior year, getting her first district and regional Player of the Year nods, and headed out to the Lakeland grass last summer to start her farewell tour.

&uot;We were some of the closest we’d ever been,&uot; she said. &uot;We were a family. The seniors and juniors brought the freshmen and sophomores in. They hadn’t been in long, but they ended up playing really good.&uot; So well, in fact, that the squad won four games by a combined 19-2, culminating in a 3-0 defeat of Kecoughtan, to take its second-straight Suffolk Invitational Tournament title.

&uot;At that point,&uot; says Smither, who snared her second consecutive tournament-Most Valuable Player title, &uot;we’d played a couple of games, so we had already spent time together. We were learning how each other played. With every game and practice, we got stronger.&uot; That became evident to everyone who had the misfortune to take them on; aside from an early loss to Princess Anne, Lakeland rolled through a near-unscathed season, not allowing a district goal in a 16-1 season, one that went all the way to the regionals for a fourth straight year, where it ended last Thursday with another Princess Anne loss.

Along the way, Smither racked up a region-leading 37 goals and 14 assists. But, again, she wasn’t counting.

&uot;When the ball’s in front of the goal,&uot; she says, &uot;as let as it gets in, it doesn’t matter who gets it in.&uot;

This fall, she’ll follow Pinchbeck, 2001-02’s top district player, to Old Dominion University, which has sent its field hockey team to the last 23 NCAA tournaments, which they’ve won eight times.

&uot;I went there this summer and got to know the players and coaches,&uot; Smither said. &uot;(Head coach) Beth Anders coaches a lot like the style Lakeland plays. They’re very passing-oriented. It just felt right.&uot; She plans to study education.

So back to the original query; where does all that modesty come from? How come Smither doesn’t boast about herself and her own accomplishments?

&uot;I don’t know,&uot; she says after a long hesitation. &uot;Field hockey isn’t an individual game. Everybody needs to be told that they did well. I’m a big part of it, but so is everybody else. Everybody is important. I really don’t have any idea.&uot;

It’s OK. There’s enough other people and records to say it all for her.

Aside from Smither’s second selection as the region’s top co-star, several other Suffolk ladies made it past the district as well. Lakeland goalkeeper Kelsey Cutchins, a three-time First All-District selection, made the First All-Regional team, and Stephanie Owen and Lindsay Kelly got

Second team honors.

Ashley McCord represented Lakeland on the Honorable Mention squad, and Nansemond River’s Katelyn Yandle and Natalie Sims were voted to the third squad as well.