“When I first met Coach Smith, she came off pretty hard with the yelling,” said junior Janee Harris, who leads the team in scoring at 19.7 points per game. “I wasn’t really used to that. She demands our best. I’m used to it now. I’m happy I’ve got a strict coach.”
Smith embraces the focus on defense and discipline, calling herself “a yelling coach” who would be happy to win games 3-2. Both traits are easily traceable to her roots in the sport.
Raised in El Paso, Texas, Smith found an early basketball mentor in a local high school boys’ coach named Nolan Richardson.
While Smith earned a basketball scholarship to play at Texas El-Paso, Richardson moved on to the college level and led the University of Arkansas to the 1994 NCAA National Championship. In her early days of coaching, she would help Richardson at his summer camps where she latched on to the finer points of his teams’ frenetic style, dubbed ‘40 Minutes of Hell.’
Smith, who came to this area for her work in the federal government, was able to bring that uptempo game to Parkdale, at times, but she said she’s been careful to bring her new team along at the right pace.
After winning 11 games last season, the Cavaliers will equal that number with their next victory. The team features three of the county's better guards in Harris, junior Uniqek Miller and freshman Jewel Ledbetter.
“These young ladies are getting it,” Smith said. “They’re starting to understand the game. There’s no use in you playing at that speed if you don’t know the game. You’re just running around with your head cut off.”
The next step, Smith said, is showing Crossland can match up with the league’s top three teams. The Cavaliers lost to Gwynn Park, Largo and Friendly by at least 19 points apiece the first time through the schedule. With Friday’s postponement due to snow, they will play the Yellow Jackets and Lions on consecutive days to begin the week.
Harris, a 5-foot-6 guard who has scored at least 20 points in five games this season, said she believes the team can keep progressing because of the trust the players have developed in Smith.
“Ever since my freshman year, I thought Crossland had the talent to do big things, but we never had that coach to get us all together as one,” Harris said. “I can see it this year. Coach Smith is getting us together as one big team. I can see us going far with everybody playing together.”