Smith getting more comfortable with position change to centerback in 2012
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 07:09
West Virginia women’s soccer head coach Nikki Izzo-Brown does not scare easily when it comes to the sport to which she has committed her life.
After all, she has led the Mountaineers’ women’s soccer program from its birth 17 years ago, to conference championships, coaching all-American players, and even through a conference change.
But if there is one thing that strikes fear in Izzo-Brown’s eyes, it resides in the middle of the West Virginia backline, where opponents are bullied and battered.
"I will tell you, there is only one player on this team who intimidates me, and that is Mallory Smith," Izzo-Brown said. "I don’t know other people’s opinion, but if I had Mallory Smith coming at me, I would think a little bit."
Smith plays centerback for the Mountaineers. The senior, who was voted captain by her teamates, towers over most opponents at 5-foot-11. Smith anchors the heart of Mountaineer’s defense, causing all offensive attacks to go through her.
"Everything is going to go through the middle," Smith said. "I feel like I just need to bring that leadership, whether it’s communication or leading by example."
Smith’s leadership is vital to a Mountaineer defense, which plays with an almost completely reworked back line compared to last year. The backline also features two freshmen, Jess Crowder and Leah Emaus, who play on either side of Smith. Not only is half the line made up of freshmen, but the position is also new to Smith.
In her junior season last year, Smith started the final 18 games at defensive midfielder, before Izzo-Brown moved her to the backline this year.
"You are always going to make mistakes in any new position," Izzo-Brown said. "I think she is just trying to learn and clean up her game back there."
Each game provides a new learning experience for Smith. As she has transitioned, she has relied on her coaches, teammates and even former teammates to help ease the burden that comes with the last line of defense.
"It’s a lot more pressure, I would say," Smith said. "Everyone’s helped me, from (senior defender) Bry McCarthy to (freshman defender) Leah Emaus to (former teammate) Drea Barklage.
"They’ve really taught me well, and I feel like I’m more comfortable as games progress."
Not only is Smith getting better with each game, but the backline as a whole also excels with each game.
"We are definitely feeding off each other. We know what we are good at," Smith said. "We are reading each other a little bit better than in the beginning of the season, which is kind of expected."
While Smith’s primary position is on defense, a few times a game she gets to show off her skills on the offensive side of the ball. Because of the senior’s menacing size, Izzo-Brown puts Smith in position to head the ball off corner kicks. The defender headed her first goal Friday in the Mountaineers’ Big 12 Conference opener win against Texas Tech.
"I’ve been working on my headers all season and in the summer," Smith said. "I just hadn’t gotten the right timing on it, so it is great to get one."
Smith may be scoring for the Mountaineers, but her first goal is to cripple the Big 12 offensive attacks with physical play, a style that fits nicely with the Mountaineers’ new conference.
"With our mentality, I feel like a lot of players are tenacious. They want to get into hard tackles, especially our backline," Smith said. "The Big 12, they are all corn-fed. They’re just big.
"You can’t really dribble around them, they’re just going to come right through you. We have to dish it right back."