PORTLAND—Yet another McAuley Lion is taking her talented act to the next level.
Olivia Smith, about to enter her senior year of high school, announced Thursday that she has committed to play for and attend prestigious Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.
“Ever since I can remember, I always knew I wanted to go to an Ivy League school and play Division I college basketball,” said Smith, who was also considering Fairfield, Quinnipiac and Rhode Island. “It’s one of the top schools in the country. For me, academics come first, then basketball. (At Dartmouth) I get the best of both worlds. It’s a great opportunity. Not many kids go play Division I basketball from Maine.”
Dartmouth has long been a top women’s basketball power. The Big Green has 17 Ivy League titles to its credit and welcomes a new coach in Belle Koclanes.
“(Dartmouth) was a winning tradition,” Smith said. “The new coach is very energetic. I hope I can make an immediate impact.
Smith, a Yarmouth resident who stands 6-foot-3, said she was relieved to have the decision behind her, bringing some happy news to what’s been a challenging few months.
Smith tore her ACL and meniscus in her left knee back in May, had surgery in June and has been sidelined all summer. The silver lining from the experience is a budding interest in physical therapy, which Smith plans to pursue in college. She hopes to be back to 100 percent and back in action by the first of next year.
Smith has been a longtime member of the Firecrackers AAU program and credited coach Don Briggs for his assistance in the college selection process.
Briggs said that Smith has turned herself into an elite player.
“Olivia is a rare athlete, but it wasn’t always that way,” Briggs said. “She was tall in the younger grades and with being tall always played in the post. With being tall comes lots of expectations and with being tall she was lazy, so when she came to play for us in sixth grade, we had to teach her a lot about the game. She hated it at times, but she was willing to be coached.
“She became the player she is and I truly believe her best basketball is ahead of her because she was willing to be coached. She took the critics, the stern voice, being called out when her effort wasn’t at the level expected and she did something about it. She came back wanting to be better. Olivia set a standard for herself that matched what my expectations were and it worked.
“Olivia’s a competitor, she’s humble and she’s goal oriented. Not satisfied with her God-given ability, she worked tirelessly to be the best she can be and she’s far from done. Olivia’s a coach’s dream.”
Smith went to Yarmouth High School as a freshman, then transferred to McAuley, where she thrived.
As a sophomore, Smith was named to the Southwestern Maine Activities Association second-team, while helping the Lions to a Class A championship, then, as a junior, she made the SMAA first-team and capped an up-and-down offensive season with a dazzling performance in the state game against Bangor, leading McAuley to a third straight championship (and its 48th successive win) with a stat line of 20 points, 10 rebounds, four blocked shots and a steal.
“When (Olivia) was struggling last year, she wanted to be pushed and coached even more in practice,” said Lions coach Billy Goodman. “She never wanted me to let up until she got better. She’s extremely coachable. Zero attitude. She just plays.”
Smith praised McAuley and the experience of playing alongside current college players like 2012 Miss Maine Basketball Alexa Coulombe (now at Boston College) and Sadie DiPierro (University of New England) and soon-to-be collegiate players like Molly Mack (St. Joseph’s College) and 2014 Miss Maine Basketball favorite Allie Clement (committed to Marist College) for getting her to this level.
“McAuley has been great,” Smith said. “We have a great coaching staff.”
The leader of that staff, Goodman, believes Smith’s game will translate nicely to college.
“Olivia’s developed an outside shot, she has back to the basket moves, she can run the floor, she’s fast, there’s nothing she can’t do,” Goodman said. “Her height and speed stick out. For a girl to go to an Ivy League school and play basketball has to be tops on the list. As a father, if my daughter can get there, sign me up.”
We last saw Olivia Smith leading McAuley to a Class A girls’ basketball title in March. Thursday, Smith announced she’ll attend and play for Dartmouth (N.H.) College following her upcoming senior season.