Published 9:02 pm Saturday, August 31, 2013
Lakeland grad smashes the competition
Kelsey Smither was a huge force in the world of field hockey when she played at Lakeland High School, and her accomplishments in 2013 alone have proven nothing has changed during her college career.
Smither began her junior year with No. 8 Old Dominion University on Friday against No. 6 Penn State. Though the Lady Monarchs fell 3-1 in their first contest as a member of the Big East, Smither was the one who gave her team a 1-0 lead 14 minutes into the game.
Earlier this summer, she made it through a strict selection process to be one of 18 players in the nation named to the United States Under-21 Junior World Cup Team.
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“It’s the biggest junior event in our sport, and so it’s a pretty big accomplishment,” new ODU head coach Andrew Griffiths said.
He said, “The U.S. came in seventh, which equaled their best ever finish.”
“Being able to go to Germany to play in the Junior World Cup was just a phenomenal experience that I’ll never forget,” Smither said.
For a brief while, her ability to play was uncertain because she pulled her hamstring about a month before she left.
She worked through the injury with physical therapy and said the coaching staff and teammates helped her to be ready for the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“It will be the only one that I can ever go to,” she said of the U-21 Junior World Cup, which takes place only once every four years.
Smither was excited to be playing alongside familiar teammates from many previous competitions she had been a part of in the United States.
Prior to Smither’s selection, she competed in the U.S. U-21 National Championship in Norfolk, where coaches could make further evaluations of her.
“Of course, I was thrilled for her but not surprised,” Lakeland head coach Tara Worley said. “She’s an awesome player and she performs when necessary, and every coach sees that.”
Andrew Griffiths has only been working with Smither at ODU since the spring, but he said, “I’ve watched Kelsey play for a while from afar.”
He said, “She is definitely one of the top players in her age group in the country, and I’d say probably one of the strongest players in the (National Collegiate Athletic Association).”
“She’s got great speed, she’s really strong on the ball,” he said.
Griffiths praised her instincts and will count on her as a defensive mid-fielder.
Smither said she will still be able to distribute up the middle, something she has done well that last two years, leading ODU with 11 assists in 2012, tied for second-most in the Colonial Athletic Association, and 13 in 2011, tied for fourth in the CAA.
Worley and Griffiths broke down some key reasons why Smither is so effective.
“She’s just very smart,” she said. “I don’t know that I’ve had a smarter player than Kelsey, that really just understood the game and how it works.”
Worley cited Smither’s having the physical attributes and the work ethic to develop them to their fullest potential.
And on top of all that, Worley said, “She just has always allowed herself to be a coachable player and humble about her abilities.”
Already, Griffiths has noticed Smither’s humility, saying “She never thinks she’s done a great job, but she usually does.”
“All of that is why she is where she is,” Worley said.
Smither has set high expectations for herself for the coming season.
“I’d probably say just to take on more of a leadership role because of experience that I’ve had,” she said. “I have knowledge from outside sources that I can bring to the team.”
For the team, the Lady Monarchs have knocked on the door of an NCAA Division I championship in recent years. Smither hopes, particularly this year, to get there and win it.
“That’s obviously the goal for every college team, but just the fact that it’s being played on our field makes it all the more important,” she said.
Old Dominion hosts American University today at the L.R. Hill Sports Complex in Norfolk at 1 p.m.