As the Corona del Mar High girls' lacrosse team made a historic run over the last two weeks, Gabby Smith definitely was excited.
Excited, yes. But surprised at the Sea Kings' success, which included a co-Pacific Coast League title and a berth in the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division title match? Maybe not.
Smith said she could sense it even before the year began, that her senior year might be a special one for CdM.
"I knew it was going to be different than other years," Smith said. "I really did. Being on a team, you know when people want to be there and want to get better, and when they don't. [You know] when people are really invested in it. I was telling everyone, 'We're going to be really good this year.'"
Smith, a four-year varsity player, helped make it happen. The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week has been a versatile contributor all year at midfielder for the Sea Kings, who fell to defending champion Los Alamitos, 12-6, in the Orange County championship on Wednesday.
Smith finished second on the team with 56 goals, second with 21 assists and led CdM with 58 ground balls. She will play next year at Chapman University, the first player in the program to play in college.
Just as often, Smith's senior leadership showed up in what she said. She said part of the thrill of beating league rival Beckman, 13-8, in a South Division semifinal on May 5 was that she and junior Molly Rovzar, the team's leading scorer, didn't necessarily have big games.
"It's like, so what, someone birds [closely guards] me," Smith said. "So what, someone birds Molly? We have 10 other players that can do the same thing … We like being the underdogs, because everyone wants the underdogs to win. We have so many people rooting for us. With our seeding, we weren't necessarily disappointed with that, because it just means we can prove ourselves again. And we did."
The playoff semifinal victory over Beckman, after the teams split their league meetings, was part of a big weekend for Smith. That game occurred on her 18th birthday. The night before the game, she went to a concert of her favorite band, Coldplay, at the Hollywood Bowl with some friends.
"But I didn't stay out too late," Smith said, smiling, "because I had to prepare [for the game]."
Gabby Smith smiles often. But at times during her athletic career there has been frustration. Growing up, she was certainly athletic, and her parents Todd and Sherry always supported her. But Gabby struggled to find a sport at which she excelled. She said it led to her father calling her a jack of all trades but a master of none.
Gabby's younger sister Sabrina, a sophomore who also plays lacrosse for CdM, started wanting to play the sport. At first, older sister was skeptical.
"I was like, 'Eww, lacrosse.'" Gabby Smith said. "It didn't have the best reputation. It's an East Coast sport and we didn't know much about it. I didn't want to go."
The first person to pass with her was Aly Vislocky, coaching for the Newport Wedge youth program. Soon, Gabby Smith was hooked.
She made varsity as a freshman, one of two from the current senior class to do so along with Ally Brahs. Then Smith made the Women's Division National Team as a sophomore, the first player from CdM to do so. It was a turning point.
"I trained super-hard for it, but I wasn't expecting to actually be on [the team]," Smith said. "I somehow made it and got to go to Maryland, and that's kind of what started me wanting to play lacrosse for a long time."
But she was again frustrated last year, when she failed to make the team again as a junior. That only provided more motivation.
"Molly made it the second year and I didn't," Smith said. "It was a different tryout, and I was not on my game. I was really torn up about that, because that was the point that I wanted to play D1 in college. That was a moment where everything just hit me hard. It was a big deal, but everything happens for a reason. I'm really happy where I'm at now, and where I'm going."
For a while, she was the person people thought of when they thought of CdM lacrosse. This year, as Smith noted, the Sea Kings had plenty of weapons. She was happy to be all about the team, but she never stopped being one of the hardest workers on that team.
"People see her as a leader on the field," said Vislocky, the CdM coach. "She wants it. She was constantly trying to improve."
Gabby Smith now leaves the program and heads to Chapman, where Vislocky is an assistant coach. CdM varsity assistant coach Kara Podesta is also a goalie at Chapman.
"I'm really excited about that, and I'm sure Molly's right after me [playing in college]," Smith said. "And Sabrina and Kacie [Kline], they're starting in the XTeam program this year. They're going right up there too.
"Lacrosse was bound to get up there sometime. CdM sports are awesome; we just needed to work our way up there. A lot of [the credit] goes to Coach Aly and CuJo [assistant coach Curtis Jordan]."
And also to Gabby Smith.
Born: May 5, 1994
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 5 feet, 8 inches
Coach: Aly Vislocky
Favorite food: Fettuccine alfredo
Favorite movie: "Inception"
Favorite athletic moment: On her birthday, helping Corona del Mar beat league rival Beckman, 13-8, in the semifinals of the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division tournament May 5.
Week in review: Smith scored a combined eight goals as the No. 7-seeded Sea Kings won three times in the U.S. Lacrosse Southern Section South Division tournament, advancing to the title match for the first time in program history.