Belle Smith has envisioned tossing the USA women’s lacrosse jersey over her shoulders for years.
In fact, it’s written on the Westhampton Beach girls lacrosse player’s bedroom wall, inside a room decked out with trophies, awards, medals, and posters of those who’ve inspired her along the way.
“It’s an absolute dream come true,” the junior said of making the USA U19 team. “It’s such a different feeling from anything I’ve ever had before. I’m just so grateful. Ever since a young age my parents taught me to be goal-oriented — that if you want something you have to envision it — and that’s what I did. If I want something or believe I can achieve something I write it down, and by putting it on my wall it reinforces it every day and reminded me that’s what I want. If I want it, I have to go after it.”
Smith started out having catches in the backyard with her father and two older sisters before she even knew how to use a lacrosse stick. She picked it up quickly, making the third-grade team as a first grader, and fifth-grade team by the time she reached third. In seventh grade, she was called up to the varsity team, and verbally committed to Boston College as an eighth grader.
The junior has played club lacrosse for the Long Island Yellow Jackets travel team since fifth, winning a national championship; represented Long Island during a school girls tournament; and competed in several Under Armour All-America games, being named most valuable player in 2017.
“Her room is basically a vision board,” her mother Jen Smith said. “Without a goal, you’re like a ship that leaves port going nowhere. It’s so inspiring as a mother to see your child take a vision and a dream and bring it into reality. It’s so much more than just ‘I’m proud of her.’ This kid’s got it.”
The road to the USA U19 team started with a pool of 500 applicants from across the country, 110 of which were asked to play in front of a coaching staff and evaluators. Smith took part in a 10-month process that included continuous cuts until the final roster of 18 was released June 17. Only six of those girls are high school players, three juniors like Smith.
“I set this goal a few years ago — seeing a few other girls from Long Island make it inspired me,” Smith said. “There’s no better feeling playing the game I love with the most amazing teammates and coaches, and at the same time playing for my country. Even just playing on Long Island, I compete against some of the best players in the country. It’s kind of the same with U.S.”
She added, “A bunch are older than me, girls I’ve looked up to, so to play with those girls is just so exciting.”
What’s making the opportunity to play for the USA team even more special for Smith is Eastport-South Manor senior Kasey Choma, a fellow Yellow Jackets travel team competitor and good friend, also made the cut.
“People call us twins. They say we look so much alike, play alike, act alike — we even went on vacation together a few months ago,” Choma said. “We just instantly connected. Belle is such an amazing player. She’s someone I’ve always looked up to and to have her by my side through the process is great. I learn from her every day as a player and a person.”
A Deep Talent Pool
The girls were chosen by Northwestern University head women’s coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who’s won seven NCAA championships and will be leading the U19 team.
“They’re all unbelievable with great attitudes and are just a joy to work with,” she said. “This was truly a very hard decision to make. We had a lot of considerations, including our style of play and how we could be successful with our choices. The depth of talent in the United States is unbelievable. It’s been really fun to work with all of them.”
Smith said through the process she’s started to appreciate everyone around her more, knowing it wouldn’t be possible without them, including her family, teammates, coaches she’s played for, and coaches and girls she’s competed against.
“My coaches are all so different, and I think each and every one of them had an impact on me,” the junior midfielder said. “None of this would’ve ever been possible without the people that have gotten me here. They’ve all supported me.”
This includes current high school varsity coach Mary Bergmann, who called her up to the varsity team. Bergmann said she’d known Smith since sixth grade, but as the girl who kept the stats and attended a summer camp that year, where she saw her play for the first time.
“Every year her game evolves and every year when we see her play we always are like, ‘Wow, she just keeps getting better and better.’ She is a human highlight reel, and she’s fun to watch,” the coach said. “Most people wouldn’t notice, but she’ll come back with a better feed, a better shot, a better fake. She gets better at the little things by doing all the behind-the-scenes work, and that is what makes her great. She works so hard, and on top of it, she’s naturally gifted. Ever since I met Belle, she has been the best at everything she does.”
As a Hurricane, Smith’s been a two-time US Lacrosse All-American, four-time All-County selection, three-time Player of the Year for Westhampton, and was named top midfielder in her class by Inside Lacrosse and the organization’s No. 2 overall 2020 recruit. Since seventh grade, she’s posted 345 points on 231 goals and 114 assists, and has a career 319 draw controls. Smith also has a career 110 ground balls and 110 caused turnovers. She tied a season record 33 assists with Haley Daleo, and tied for most goals in a game with nine with her older sister Alexa Smith. The junior also holds the record for most points in a game with 12.
She is also a back-to-back Under Armour Underclass Tournament champion, helping lift Long Island to national bragging rights in the Command and Highlight divisions in 2017 and 2018.
Respected By Teammates
What Bergmann said also sets Smith apart is how she acts with class, and is humble despite her numerous accolades.
“Her teammates respect her — they respect her work ethic, they respect her talent, and they respect her kindness. They also respect that she comes out and plays lacrosse and never acts as if she is better than anyone because she is on the USA team or is an All-American,” Bergmann said. “She doesn’t expect to win games, score goals, or assist teammates because of her accolades, she expects it because she is prepared and she has spent years working toward this level of play.”
The coach said she had no doubt Smith could make the final cut.
“If you know her and know how she plays and have seen her highlights, she is a stud, and they would have been crazy to not take her,” Bergmann said. “Even the PAL kids look up to her. She’s the first player to ever have this status and the young kids eat it up. She is a celebrity to them. People even request to be in her group when we do clinics and camps. It is so fun to watch, because that is going to make a huge difference in our program.”
Young girls could be seen running up to Smith and her USA teammates during practice asking for autographs; others have cheered from up the stands during high school games. The lacrosse player said while she plays for the excitement of the game, it’s the relationships that mean most to her.
“I play for that love,” Smith said. “Seeing them up in the stands and loving the game, it brings me back to that age when I would do the same thing. Little do they know they have just as much of an impact on me as I do on them.”
Team USA is scheduled to play its first game of the championship tournament August 2 against Australia. The team is looking to reclaim gold after a string of four straight world championships ended with a loss to Canada in the gold-medal game in 2015, the last U19 world championship held in Scotland. The U.S. has won four of the six previous World Lacrosse Women’s U19 championships (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011) while Australia (1995) and Canada (2015) have each won once.
“We’ve always stressed ‘if you can be anything, be kind,’ and ‘with great things comes great responsibility,’” Jen Smith said. “As a mom, it’s big to know your kid is going to go places in life because she has all the tools. She’s immersed herself in these goals and these dreams. She’s able to see her dreams in order to bring them into reality, and I think more’s in store for her. It’s to be something more to people.”