How Belle Smith's U19 Experience Prepared Her For The Next Chapter

PHOTO BY NICK IERADI


SPARKS, Md. — Belle Smith’s first day of collegiate lacrosse this past fall didn’t even involve lacrosse.

It was about as bad a way a college career could start, though one that exemplified the state of college athletics late in 2020. Smith, a U19 gold medalist and one of the top-ranked incoming freshmen in the country, tested positive for COVID-19 and was sent home to Westhampton Beach (N.Y.) for 10 days.

“It was the definition of what this year was,” Smith said. “First day of fall ball. That day, I was at such a low. Who knew that a few months from then I’d win a national championship?”

Smith did indeed hoist the national championship trophy at Towson University with her Boston College teammates, a moment that was a long time coming for the university, its coaching staff and alumni. Smith proved to be an integral contributor, setting program freshman records and posting 47 goals and 18 assists.

But it took her awhile to get acclimated. She said she only lost her taste and smell, so the physical impact of COVID-19 was minimal. That said, she was only active for the last few days of fall ball. She didn’t have the chance to get used to the speed and size of college women’s lacrosse.

Come the early stages of spring, Smith still didn’t feel like she belonged just yet. Add in the fact that she missed her senior season of high school due to COVID-19 — she said her last real lacrosse game was the U19 world championship game on Aug. 10, 2019 — it had been a long time since Smith had gotten to compete.

“Even though I was there physically, mentally I was still telling myself I was behind, and that’s what I struggled with,” she said.

But BC’s game on the road against Hofstra on March 20 gave Smith the chance to reconnect with her family on Long Island, boosting her confidence and cementing her place on the field for head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein.

The U19 process prepared her for the next chapter in her journey, she said — even if that chapter was met with some unexpected twists and turns. Smith was one of several U19 alumni who impressed during the three-day tryout period at USA Lacrosse Headquarters in Sparks, Md., joining Izzy Scane (Northwestern), Sophia DiCenso (Richmond) and Ally Palermo (Northwestern).

“Being one of the youngest here, these are people who I grew up watching,” Smith said. “It’s so awesome to learn from them and see how my skills compare.”

McCool Talks Trenchard

Marie McCool spent the 2021 college season back at her alma mater, serving as a volunteer assistant with North Carolina.

While in Chapel Hill, she served as the scout team’s impersonator of Charlotte North — among other players — allowing the vaunted UNC defense to prepare. In doing so, McCool went toe-to-toe with Emma Trenchard.

“She’s a silent killer,” McCool said. “She gets the job done. I think she’s the best one-on-one defender in the entire country, hands down.”

Both players impressed at senior team tryouts. Trenchard shut down some of the best attackers on the planet, while McCool was as flashy as ever on Friday — evening in the morning’s driving rain.

One twisting backhand goal sent the sidelines into a frenzy.

In scoring that goal, she took a page from the current collegiate players who are revolutionizing the way the game’s played. North is one such player, and McCool heaped high praise on the 2021 Tewaaraton Award recipient.

“What the collegiate players have been able to do for our sport is incredible. Charlotte North specifically, she is so talented,” McCool said. “She’s doing things that nobody has done before with her stickwork. It’s so important for young kids to see those things.

“Women’s lacrosse has so many talented players out there. So much creativity and so much skill. I feel like it’s finally being recognized on the biggest stage.”







DIRKS’ DREAM

Olivia Dirks and Penn State made national headlines with key wins over Maryland this spring. While the Nittany Lions were somewhat inconsistent, Dirks’ play in the midfield was anything but.

The sophomore parlayed her strong showing into an invite with the U.S. women’s national team.

“I never thought I’d be here,” she said. “But after this season and all the crazy COVID stuff, it was nice to be here and be with the best players in the world.”

Dirks said it didn’t take long to feel like part of the group, even while patrolling the midfield with the likes of Taylor Cummings and a few other childhood idols. “They welcomed me in,” she said.

Determined to make a name for herself among the nation’s best, Dirks pushed through an intense three days — made even more interesting with obstacles like cicades and pouring rain.

“Coming in with the best players, you really have to pick up your game,” she said. “Your legs get a little tired, but you have to keep pushing through.”

NOTEWORTHY

  • Many players wear untraditional or unfamiliar numbers during the evaluation process, sometimes making it difficult to identify who’s who from afar. Not Emily Parros. She wore orange cleats during tryouts, flashing through the midfield with a bright streak.

  • Ellie Masera, the youngest athlete at tryouts after just completing her freshman season at Stony Brook, shared the field with her cousin, Kelsey Huff of USC. They stretched together and posed for pictures after the final session.

  • Molly Dougherty is the resident jokester. The James Madison goalie is as talented as they come between the pipes, but she’s also great at providing levity during downtime. Anyone around her could be heard laughing between drills or after workouts.

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