Louie St. George: Injured UMD hoopster hopes for Christmas presenceKylee Smith will have a unique perspective when the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball team commences its season in mid-November. The fifth-year senior from Cromwell will start the year in street clothes after breaking a bone in her left foot back in August.
By: Louie St. George, Budgeteer News
Kylee Smith will have a unique perspective when the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball team commences its season in mid-November. The fifth-year senior from Cromwell will start the year in street clothes after breaking a bone in her left foot back in August.
Though Smith’s early-season impact will be more subtle from the bench, she’s anticipating a significant role on a team that went 20-11 in 2009-10. Almost as soon as last season ended, UMD coach Annette Wiles began hammering home the importance of the current crop of seniors filling a leadership void created by the departure of Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Year Jheri Booker, as well as Monica Mayry and Jordanne Even.
Smith is happy to serve as a leader/cheerleader while she recovers.
“It’s going to be hard, but I’m just going to do my best to support and give pointers when I can,” said an upbeat Smith, who hopes to return to the court by Christmas. “I’m not going to be leading from the floor now — I’m just going to have to be leading with my voice.”
Wiles, entering her third year at the helm, knows all about fostering success without ever making a shot or grabbing a rebound. It’s been nearly two decades since the coach played in a competitive game, yet she knows her words and demeanor make a monumental difference at practice and during games.
Smith won’t be alone as she battles back from injury. Fellow hard-luck seniors Katie Haas and Ella Olson are in the same boat.
“I keep encouraging them that the injuries that they have are a long ways away from their heart and a long ways away from their mind,” Wiles said. “And so those injuries do not affect their ability to bring energy and emotion, excitement and enthusiasm to daily practice.”
Smith made her mark on the Northland’s basketball scene as a do-it-all guard at Cromwell, where she led the Cardinals to a fourth-place finish at the Class A state tournament as a sophomore. A four-year starter, Smith ended her prep career with 1,859 points and countless accolades. She was savvy enough to play every position on the floor, whether it was running the point or using her strength to score inside.
Ah, her strength. Former Cromwell girls basketball coach Dave Foster noted Smith’s strength by recalling her football-playing past. Smith, it turns out, was pretty good on the gridiron too. A running back and linebacker, she was one of the “top three players” on her team in seventh and eighth grade, according to Foster, an assistant football coach at Cromwell.
The players on that team, by the way, went on to finish second at the state’s nine-man playoffs in 2005. Smith, meanwhile, switched to volleyball in ninth grade.
Now, Smith’s focus is on helping the resurgent Bulldogs reprise last season’s NCAA Division II appearance. She never really considered applying for a medical red-shirt because she’s anxious to compete and graduate with the teammates she came to UMD with. Plus, Smith knows what the Bulldogs are capable of.
UMD, which finished fourth in the NSIC a year ago, returns three starters: Lindsay Miller, Kelsey Hewitt and Shelly Stemper. That trio will be joined by a loaded freshman class that includes Barnum product Katrina Newman, who attracted a bevy of Division I interest after leading the Bombers to a state championship last spring.
The Bulldogs tip off Nov. 15 when Northern Michigan comes to town.
Naturally, Smith would prefer to start her senior campaign at full strength. But that’s not the reality — and Smith’s persistent smile hints at a determination to bounce back.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” she said. “I mean, yeah, I obviously wish this didn’t happen or happened in the past, but it’s when it happened.
“And now I’m staying positive about it to support my team as much as I can.”
That last part, staying positive, doesn’t surprise Smith’s high school coach.
“That’s how she’s been for-ever, just a positive kid,” Foster said. “She’s a “happy-go-lucky, team-first kind of kid.”
Duluth sportswriter Louie St. George last wrote about the men’s basketball team at UMD for the Duluth Budgeteer News. He can be reached via email@example.com.