World tour continues

Published 7:22 pm Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lakeland senior Kelsey Smither, here in an Eastern Region Tournament match this past fall, will see her first action as a member of the U.S. Under-21 National Team when the team travels to Ireland and Germany from March 19-27. Smither was a high school All-American as the Lady Cavaliers won the VHSL Group AAA state championship with a 24-0 record last season.

Lakeland’s Smither represents U.S. in international play

On Saturday morning in Lakeland’s gym, Kelsey Smither was coaching grade-school girls during indoor field hockey games as every varsity Lady Cavalier was coaching or refereeing as full-speed play ensued on side-by-side “fields.”

Next Saturday, Smither will be training at the University of Maryland as the U.S. Under-21 National Team makes last-minute preparations before going across the Atlantic for a week-long tour of Ireland and Germany.

It won’t be the first time for Smither representing the U.S. in international play. Smither was a starter on the U.S. Under-17 team during a five-match trip to Uruguay last spring.

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There will be a couple of big firsts for the Lakeland senior who was the state Player of the Year and a first-team high school All-American as the Lady Cavaliers had a perfect 24-0 season in the fall.

Smither made the Under-19 and Under-21 rosters during tryouts last summer and this will be the first Under-21 matches she’s played in. Smither, who’s accepted a full scholarship to play at Old Dominion next year, is one of five high school kids on the Under-21 team.

“A lot of the girls are from UNC, Maryland, Princeton and other big universities,” Smither said.

And the other main first? Whether for playing midfield or for any other reason, “it’ll definitely be my first time in Europe,” Smither said.

The Under-21 team reports to Maryland Friday for a couple practices before flying out Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

“That’s all the practice we’ll have had since January before going into these games,” Smither said. There was a weekend training camp for the junior national teams in January.

The U.S. is playing two matches in Ireland, then will travel on to Germany, and return home on Sunday, March 27.

“I think one of the main things is to give us exposure to different styles of play. Every country plays the game differently,” Smither said.

“It’s definitely going to be really, really good competition. It’s going to be a good learning experience. Even in training and practices, I learn so much being around such talented field hockey players,” she said.

It’ll be a whirlwind trip, which has its positives and negatives. The Uruguay trip meant two weeks away from Lakeland last year; normally outstanding news for a teenager.

“This trip should be better in that way. I can use Spring Break to make up my work. Last year, I had the hardest time making up all the work I missed,” Smither, who’s a 4.0-plus GPA student, said.

In Uruguay’s capital city, Montevideo, the U.S. team had a little time to be tourists. That probably won’t be the case on this tour.

“We’ll be playing so much and with all the travel. The point of the trip is definitely the competition and experience. Maybe we’ll at least see some things going from the airport to the field,” Smither said.

Even for elite players who dominate at the high school or college levels, the work on the field includes changes when playing for the U.S. Strangely, Smither said, it goes back to the basics most of the time. The speed of the game and opponents who give no room or time for error make the fundamentals everything.

“We work on being exact with our hitting, passing and receiving,” Smither said. “We focus so much on that because you have to have pristine skills when playing against these teams and at least for me, I know I’m not at that level yet.”

Last Saturday, Smither played in the Under-19 National Indoor Tournament in Richmond. Given her upcoming schedule, it would’ve been easily forgivable if she had slept in Saturday instead of being at the gym and ready to coach at 7 a.m.

“Coach (Tara) Worley has done so much for us. It’s a small thing we can do to help,” Smither said.

“Plus, it’s exciting. I enjoy it. It’s exciting when you see kids being energized about a sport you love. It’s good to just give them what little knowledge I have.”