Shine With Some Added Silver
By Eric Sean Weld
Late last May, when 18 Smith crew team
members rowed their shells through the waters of the American
River outside Sacramento, California, coming in second in team points,
they capped off the best year ever in college history for the Smith
Taking the silver medal at that NCAA (National
Collegiate Athletic Association) Division III championship
tournament was the culmination of an undefeated season for the crew
team: they had already won the NEWMAC conference championship, the
East Coast Athletic Conference championship and the New England regatta.
Though the college's crew team has
achieved at a high level in the past, the NCAA silver
medal marked the first time any Smith team has won a medal in national
competition. The college joined the NCAA in 1981.
Smith crew was one
of only six teams invited to the NCAA tournament, along
with Ithaca, Coast Guard, the University of Puget Sound,
Trinity and Williams colleges. Ithaca was the overall gold medal winner.
were very happy to win the silver," says head crew coach Karen
Klinger. "They raced a great race," she said of her varsity team,
which had nearly upset Ithaca in the final race, losing by a 10th of a second. "It
was the most exciting racing of the tournament."
Smith's crew team crossed the finish
line at the NCAA Division III championship in California,
taking the silver medal and finishing the team's best season
in college history. Photo courtesy Karen Klinger.
The crew team's success
was one in a yearlong string of team sports achievements in 2003-04.
The hallmark year began last fall when the soccer team kicked to a 13-5-2
record before storming to the semifinals of the ECAC tournament in November.
"I really think they set the tone for the year," Lynn Oberbillig,
director of athletics, says of Smith's soccer team. "I think it's
contagious. When one team starts winning, everyone tries to do better. Soccer
is a fall sport and that got everything rolling."
Following the soccer
team's strong season, the basketball team posted
one of its best seasons in recent history with a winning record in conference
competition. Track and field took third place in the NEWMAC championship. In
March, the softball team continued Smith's success with a strong season
and its first win of the ECAC softball championship.
"This has been the
most successful year for team sports at Smith since 1998," says Oberbillig.
The recent achievements of Smith's
athletes are not a coincidence, emphasizes Oberbillig. Rather, they're
the result of an increased focus during the past five years on recruiting
strong student athletes, encouraging athletes to visit campus and showcasing
Smith's competitive athletic
facilities and resources, including the Olin Fitness Center, which opened
Team and individual sports competition
had been consistently strong at Smith in the 1980s, says
Oberbillig. On the heels of the construction of state-of-the-art facilities
like Ainsworth Gymnasium and the Indoor Track and Tennis facility,
recruiting of student athletes peaked. "Then in the 1990s, that
tapered off," she says, until the recent renewed emphasis.
College's sports teams joined the NCAA as a Division III program,
which is distinguished from the organization's two higher divisions
by its emphasis on a balance of academics and sports and on the student-athletic
experience, as opposed to a heavier focus on athletic competition. Division
III sports programs do not offer athletic scholarships.
offers Smith the chance to compete against other like-minded schools
that emphasize the student-athlete experience over simply wins and
Smith's coaches work closely with
the admissions department in recruiting their team members from among
students accepted to attend the college. It's
an important cooperative arrangement, says Audrey Yale Smith, dean
of enrollment and former director of admission.
the coaches have always worked well together, but have
increased our cooperation in the past few years," she says, "and
recently decided to link an admission officer to each sport to further
improve communication and understanding."
It can be a challenge
to maintain a healthy balance between competitive sports
and the concentration on academics that Smith demands, admits Oberbillig,
in order to derive the most benefit from each aspect of student life.
"We've really been able to maintain the balance of academics and
sports here," she says. "I think we're positioned
just right. It's a nice balance here. We're getting the
kinds of kids Smith wants."
"Smith does an extremely good
job of balancing the commitment to a demanding athletic schedule with
a rigorous academic program," agrees Smith.
Maintaining a competitive athletic program provides benefits to the
entire Smith community, says Oberbillig. Team athletes learn important
life skills, such as how to successfully cooperate with others to
realize goals and work effectively with a diverse group of people,
not to mention the required values of discipline, commitment and
"These are all things that will
serve (student athletes) well in the work force and throughout their
notes. Potential employers often seek employees who have participated
in sports for those very reasons, she continues. "We take
pride in teaching those things."
As strong as 2003-04
was for Smith sports, Oberbillig believes that this year could
be even stronger.
The successes of the crew,
soccer and softball teams were won mostly by non-seniors, she
points out, and the teams returned this fall largely intact. "We're
looking strong, to repeat that success or do even better this
Klinger's silver medal crew team, which graduated
only five varsity athletes, expects to at least match last year's
success. "We're poised
for a return trip to the NCAA championship," she says. "The
potential is there to do really well."