Two Suffolk standouts named to Olympic Select program

Published 6:56 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

Stephanie Tarafas and Kelsey Smither play field hockey for rival schools during the high school season, but Tarafas, a senior goalkeeper at Nansemond River, and Smither, a junior midfielder at Lakeland, are now teammates on a much higher stage in the field hockey world.

Two weeks ago, both players were named from out of USA Field Hockey’s Futures Elite program onto the 2009-2010 Olympic Development Select program.

The Futures Elite group is already the top 150 junior players in the country and the Olympic Development team is a selection of about 50 Futures Elite players who are basically on the fast track to Junior National Team Camp, the U-21 National Team and potentially the full U.S. National Team. Additional training opportunities, camps and tours as part of the team are part of the Olympic Development program.

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“It’s really exciting, but the truth is, I really can’t tell you what it is,” said Smither.

“I was a little shocked. It’s kind of been a shocking year, but it’s been very exciting,” said Tarafas.

For both, it’s the first time in the ODS program, so that accounts for the surprise and admitting that they will have to learn on the fly.

Tarafas also plays softball at Nansemond River and thought of herself as a softball player first and field hockey goalie second. That’s been changing lately as Tarafas committed to a field hockey scholarship offer from James Madison University over the summer.

“I guess I haven’t really had a lot of confidence with field hockey, and that makes getting picked for this even more of a surprise,” said Tarafas.

“I’m really not sure what it means, but it’s definitely an honor and some people I’ve talked with have told me really good things,” said Smither.

Smither leads a Lakeland team that hasn’t lost to a district opponent during her time on the varsity team. She’s Lakeland’s first target on penalty corners, when she can line up and rip a drive on goal from the top of the scoring arc, and as a central midfielder, Smither is all over the field and plays with equal intensity on either offense or defense.

On the USA Field Hockey Web site, the information with the ODS program includes, “more information regarding playing opportunities will be available in mid-October.”

Tarafas admits she’s not sure what the next step is as part of this program. Both players see this as an impressive honor, but also as a call to work even harder than what it took to get to this level.

During national tournaments and work with the Futures Elite program, Tarafas said the coaching and training she received have helped her improve dramatically. Moving up onto the Olympic Development team is really nothing but another opportunity to take advantage of.

“This is a great way to sure up what I’m weak on, work hard and just improve,” said Tarafas.

“With going to college next year and this, I’m going to know the things I have to improve on and how I need to get better,” said Tarafas.

“It’s certainly great to have it happen, but I still have to play hard and this is actually a reason to practice harder and work harder,” said Smither.