January 4, 2012

LM NCAA Division I Women's Preseason Player of the Year: Shannon Smith

Losing Not an Option for Northwestern's Leader

by Robbie Levin | LaxMagazine.com

Reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Shannon Smith said she can envision a future in coaching. Thankfully for Northwestern, her college career isn't done quite yet.
© Jim Cowsert

Shannon Smith hates to lose. Luckily for her, it does not happen often in Evanston. In her three years with the Northwestern women's lacrosse team, the Wildcats have lost just four games. Smith suffered enough defeats on the driveway, in her front yard and in the living room of her home in West Babylon, N.Y., to never need to relive the sensation.

Smith's father, Bill, fought for superiority against his two brothers growing up. He was never given anything; he always had to earn it. So why should his kids have it any different?

Bill pitted Shannon against her younger brother, Andrew, from the time they could walk. When Bill was left to care for the kids, he would clear out the furniture of their house and orchestrate football and soccer games. Later, Bill would referee and even participate in pick-up games in the front yard.

"My friends would say, 'Bill, you never let her beat you in basketball," Bill Smith said. "Well, you gotta give them something to challenge them to, give them something to always shoot for. I never got anything handed to me, and I expressed that to the kids: if you want something, you've got to go out and get it."

Shannon Smith has done just that at Northwestern. She has seen opportunity, and she has taken it.

"There's something inside of me. It's like, 'I don't want to be stopped,'" she said. "I'm going to do everything not to be stopped. Playing around with my brother, playing around with my dad, I'm not going to be stopped. I'm going to do whatever I can to score that goal. I'm not going to let my teammates down. I'm not going to let my coaches down."

There is no better example of Smith's remarkable drive than the last nine games of the 2011 season, during which she tallied 50 points on 40 goals and 10 assists en route to NCAA championship MVP honors and the Tewaaraton Award.

Smith's phenomenal performance was spurred by a setback. On April 14, the then-undefeated Wildcats fell behind to Florida 9-5 at halftime, never recovered and lost, 13-11. Two days later, Northwestern dropped another game to unranked Johns Hopkins. It was the first time the Wildcats lost back-to-back contests since 2003.

Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller sat down with Smith following the Wildcats' loss to Johns Hopkins, and the two discussed how to refine Smith's role in the offense. Smith's undying determination led to her pressing and forcing plays on the field, and Amonte Hiller encouraged Smith to be patient and let the game come to her.

"Sometimes Shannon wants to do so much. She's just got to figure out how to do that within the game plan, within the team setting," Amonte Hiller said. "Once she trusted in what was happening and the coaches and the team, unbelievable things happened for her, and she was able to take advantage of her own strengths and the team's strengths."

As if Smith needed more motivation, she was determined not to let senior co-captain and former U.S. U19 teamate Colleen Magarity end her college career on a sour note.

"It kind of just hit me," Smith said. "I was like, 'You only have four games left. I have a full season left, and you've been playing this game for your whole life, and we're not going out like this. It's not happening.'"

For the remainder of the season, Smith took matters into her own hands. One week after the loss to Hopkins, Smith tallied seven goals to push Northwestern past Stanford. In the ALC final, Smith notched three goals in the second half to help Northwestern come from behind to knock off Florida. She netted five goals in each of the Wildcats' first two playoff wins, then raised her game another notch in the final four.

When Northwestern's semifinal match against North Carolina was tied with one minute left, there was no question Smith would take the last shot. On a set play following a foul, she sidestepped a double team, bulldozed past another defender, drew goalie Lauren Maksym out of the net, faked one shot and then fired the ball over Maksym's stick for the game-winning goal.

"There's something inside of me. It's like, 'I don't want to be stopped.'"

— Northwestern senior attacker Shannon Smith

"I see it sometimes and I'm like, 'How did I do that?'" Smith said.

If it's not Smith's superior skill, it's her composure under pressure that has allowed her to step up when it matters most.

"I actually do much better with pressure on me," she said. "I wasn't going to let anything stop me. I didn't mind having the last shot or having the pressure on me because I liked it. I enjoyed it and I thrive underneath that."

Had Smith been a senior, last year would have provided a storybook ending. Northwestern defeated Maryland in the NCAA championship game and she won the MVP nod just 30 minutes from where she grew up.

But Smith has one more year at Northwestern. There is no looking back.

"You can't look at [last year]," Smith said. "It's going to be hard, but whatever my role is this year on the team and whatever I have to do for the team this year, that's what I'm going to do."

After graduation, Smith wants to help her father as an administrator and coach with the lacrosse club he owns, the Long Island Top Guns.

"I considered going to work in Wall Street or going to work in financial firms, but for me, that's not what I want to do," said Smith, an economics major with a minor in business. "I want to be able to coach, and I want to be able to help kids. I want to be able to change someone's life."

LaxMagazine.com WD1 PPOY Fan Vote

Ally Carey, Vanderbilt

Shannon Smith, Northwestern

Kitty Cullen, Florida

Karri Ellen Johnson, Maryland

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