Sunday, May 9, 2021

BYU takes on Utah State in a game at North University Field on March 27. First-year keeper Emma Smith is in goal for the Cougars. (Austin Rustand)

BYU women’s lacrosse finds new keeper of the frame

Emma Smith never imagined that as a first-year BYU lacrosse player she would hold the fate of each game in her hands. She had previously declined to play the position of keeper in high school but was now tasked with protecting the 6-by-6 frame that determines wins and losses, something she never would have chosen for herself.

Austin Rustand
Emma Smith defends the goal as keeper during a BYU women’s lacrosse match. Smith became the starting keeper in just her first year with the team. (Austin Rustand)

For Smith, lacrosse is a family affair. Her brother and cousins played lacrosse growing up and introduced her to the sport and she immediately fell in love with it. She started playing competitively in eighth grade and loved how lacrosse taught her principles of hard work, dedication and trust in her team. 

Smith started in soccer and mostly played defense, which she said translated well when she began playing lacrosse on her high school team at Copper Hills in West Jordan, Utah. She and the Grizzlies went to the state playoffs every year she was there and played for the state championship her sophomore year. 

BYU Photo
Emma Smith, BYU’s new starting keep for the women’s lacrosse team. (BYU Photo)

Despite her successful high school career, Smith decided to forego playing lacrosse for BYU her freshman year. But after serving a mission in Tallahassee, Florida, Smith returned to BYU with a determination to return to the sport. 

“I didn’t play my freshman year, but I regretted it,” Smith said. “When I got back I decided that I wanted to come back (to lacrosse). I wanted to play and I knew they had a really good team. So I just trained to be able to keep up and get better so I could try out in the fall.” 

Part of that training was playing in a summer seven-on-seven league with BYU head coach Nikki Dabrowski, where Smith gained valuable experience and a new opportunity. She was talking with Dabrowski after one of their summer games and the coach mentioned a shortage of goalies on the team and that she would need someone to step up. Smith decided that this might be her opportunity.

“I really wanted to be on the team,” Smith said. “And I thought to myself, am I willing to make that sacrifice? I know it’s going to be difficult and it’s probably going to hurt, but I decided I would give it a shot, so I just asked Nikki, ‘I know I have zero experience, but would you take me?’”

Coach Dabrowski jumped at the opportunity and gave Smith a shot.

“When I realized we didn’t have a goalie, I remembered Emma saying that her brother played goalie and that she might be willing to give it a shot, so I came to her and said, ‘I need a goalie, would you be interested?'” Dabrowski said. “It amazed me how willing she was to take on that challenge. She wasn’t worried that her playing time as a defender would be impacted and just said ‘if you need a goalie, I’ll play goalie.’”

After tryouts, Smith studied the position, trained with a goalie coach, and looked to her brother for advice as she worked to master her new position. Smith’s first game in goal came against a very good Westminster team and she was naturally very nervous. 

Austin Rustand
Emma Smith and the BYU defense defend the net in a February 27th game against the Westminster Griffins. It was Smith’s first game in goal for the Cougars. (Austin Rustand)

“Going into that game I told myself, ‘I’m going to do my best and that is all I can do,’” Smith said. “A couple of things stood out from that first game. First, the game just comes at you so fast. Also, as much as I love it, standing in the frame is terrifying, but I think that’s what makes it exciting. And when you stop a shot it is the most exhilarating feeling.”

Smith said she has learned a lot since taking over as the keeper for the Cougars and she is eager to keep improving by applying what she has learned in upcoming games against the likes of Utah State, Utah Valley and Weber State. 

Coach Dabrowski, despite the uncertainty of the COVID-19-impacted season, is looking forward to competing this year and has high praises for her first-time keeper.

“I just can’t speak enough to her personality and how awesome she has been about the whole thing,” Dabrowski said. “She is like this in a lot of areas in her life where she has the ability to make the best of situations and I could trust that when she accepted this opportunity, she would rise to the occasion. This is her first year so I don’t know her super well, but she has completely proven that she can take a challenge and not only survive but thrive in her new role.”

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