Swimming with Sharks: Smith, Doucette excel at SimmonsFormer Lion, Windjammer join forces in field hockey
Boston, Mass. — Just over one year ago, two of the top high school field hockey players in the Midcoast were squaring off on the pitch for rival schools. What a difference a year makes.
Now those two girls have become fast friends and are part of the foundation being built for a successful team at Simmons College in Boston.
Renna Smith of Belfast and Monica Doucette of Camden ended their high school careers in June at Belfast Area High School and Camden Hills Regional High School respectively, and have now made the jump to collegiate field hockey. Both Smith and Doucette made the squad as freshmen and have been integral members of the Sharks, who compete in the North Atlantic Conference.
The Sharks finished 6-10 and earned the sixth seed in the NAC quarterfinals before falling to third-seeded University of Maine at Farmington 6-1, ending their season. Both young woman had their share of success this year for Simmons under the tutelage of first-year coach Amanda Maxwell, who is also the school's lacrosse coach.
"Monica and Renna have been great additions to the team," said Maxwell. "Both of them started every game and played virtually every minute of every game. To say they were immediate impact players is an understatement."
"It went really well," said Doucette. "Coming on to Simmons I didn't know what to expect as a first-year [player], but the girls were all really nice and the coach was too."
Doucette played left wing this season just as she did last season for Camden Hills, making her transition virtually seamless. Maxwell added that Doucette was "the fastest girl on the team and used her speed to her advantage every time she set foot on the field."
"That was my position in high school too, so that was really nice to just be able to play that position that I already knew how to play," said Doucette.
She started in all 17 games and tallied five goals and three assists, while she was fifth on the team in goals scored, tied for fourth in assists and tied for third in overall points (13). She also plans to play lacrosse for Maxwell in the spring.
Smith also was happy to be a part of the Sharks' success this season, through she waffled throughout the summer as to whether she would join the team. As it turned out, it appears she made the right choice.
"It made my transition from high school to college way easier and way better than people that didn't play a sport," said Smith. "From the second I stepped onto campus at Simmons College I had 20 automatic friends, most of which were upperclassmen and had already been to Simmons for one or two years. I had a coach, an assistant coach, an athletic director and an athletic trainer that I could go to if I needed something. So there was that support system that I already had that a lot of girls didn't already have."
Smith would soon enough realize she would be in need of that support, as her transition to collegiate field hockey took a much bumpier road than that of Doucette's.
Smith played center back last season for Belfast and was likely to fill a similar role this season for Simmons, before a preseason injury forced the freshman Shark into unchartered waters.
"During preseason our goalie got injured," recalled Doucette. "She fractured her wrist [in three places] and coached asked Renna to step up as a first-year and try it. She said that Renna really had the defensive mindset for it, and [she] wasn't going to say no."
"What do you say?" said Smith. "There's one answer and it's 'Yes coach.' "
And just like that, in the blink of an eye, Smith, who had never played goalie before, was the starting goalie for the Sharks of Simmons College.
Smith allowed 56 goals this season, but turned away 95 of the 242 shots she faced for a save percentage of .629. Not too shabby for someone who had never been in front of the cage a day in her life.
"For a first-year student to come into a new school, new team, and then be asked to play a new position and do it all without question or hesitation is great," said Maxwell of Smith. "She has learned and continues to learn how to be an effective goalie. She has really taken on a huge responsibility for the team and is doing a great job with it."
Coincidentally, coach Maxwell had talked to Smith roughly a week before the injury to the team's starting goalie, asking her how she would feel about possibly switching positions.
"She said, 'We're looking for another goalie because having just one goalie is never a good thing,' " recalled Smith's talk with her coach. " 'We just want to have options and you can push her and she can push you and I feel like you have the best potential on the team.' "
"It was kind of fun because I had less pressure on me because I was new, and I could kind of learn this new position with a lot of support from my coach and my teammates, who knew it was new to me. So I ended up actually loving it."
Now, Smith plans to stay in goal and hopes the growing pains she endured this year will help her thrive over her next three years for the Sharks.
"I love being where I am now," she said. "It's like this is my space and I control my space. It's a lot of pressure being a goalie, but, I don't know, maybe I just play better under pressure."
"She sat down in my office [after the season] and said, 'Coach, I've just realized that I'm no longer a defender playing goalie, I am now a goalie,' " said Maxwell. "This was such a huge turning point for her and I know that with this attitude she will continue to learn and do her best in goal."
Both Smith and Doucette had a great deal of respect for each other during their many appearances on the field against each other in high school, with Doucette as the team's top scorer and Smith her team's top defender. They also were teammates in the past on different winter indoor leagues.
"Playing against her in high school, coach [Jan Holmes-Jackson] would always say before we played Belfast, 'Keep the ball away from Renna,' " said Doucette. "It was just a really good opportunity [to play against her]. I was really looking forward to playing with her after playing against her for so long."
Neither young woman knew the other was attending Simmons until mid-summer, when Smith found out about Doucette going to Simmons through Facebook.
"I knew her through playing Camden [Hills] and she was also in the same futures program that I was for a couple years," said Smith. "I knew her, but I wasn't close to her. So we came to school and we just had the connection already being from the same area."
And that spawned into a close-knit friendship between the two, who now spend plenty of time together. Not just at practice, but the two also live on the same floor in the same dormitory.
"She's like my best friend at school now," said Smith.
Of course, the two have talked at length about their former schools, with lots of banter about which team is better. But the conversations would often end in a stalemate, as the two schools were fairly even on the field over their high school years.
"We would always joke about that," said Doucette. "Renna and I we're friendly and whenever we played each other in high school we knew each other. It was kind of a friendly rivalry."
"We kind of refer to ourselves as 'sister schools,'" said Smith. "Kind of because of our coaches' relationship [Belfast coach Allen Holmes is the father of Camden Hills coach Jan Holmes-Jackson], and there was never fierce, hostile, angry competition between Belfast and Camden [Hills]. It was always nice, friendly and competitive."
Another significant difference when making the jump from high school to collegiate field hockey is athletes are not required to wear protective eyewear as they are in the Maine high school ranks. It took getting used to, but Doucette, as a field player, was happy to have her complete vision back on the field.
"It was different," she said of not being required to use protective eyewear. "I was kind of nervous at first because when the ball gets near your face it's kind of scary. But on turf I think it's a little easier to control the ball, so once I got used to playing on turf, it was better."
All in all, it was a trying year for the Sharks, a young team which grew together. Going forward, they hope to continue to grow and blossom into one of the top squads in the conference.
"We expect to be better," said Doucette. "Throughout the season this year we got better once we got used to playing with each other and we've already had a few recruits come for overnights for next year's team. We're hoping to get even more. I think the first-year players this year made the team that much stronger and I think we're hoping for the same thing for next year."
"We have no seniors graduating and I'm pretty sure everyone is coming back next season," said Smith. "And then we'll have our freshmen, and coach is already working really hard at recruiting good players. I think we'll go really far in these next couple of years."
Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at email@example.com.