Out of all of the incredible women's lacrosse players Northwestern has developed over the past decade, a select few can be called legendary. Then there's Shannon Smith.
Among all of the Wildcat greats of the past 10 years, Smith (Comm. '12) arguably stands alone. While leading Northwestern to its seventh national title in eight years in 2012, Smith set the school's all-time scoring record (254 goals). She ranks second in career points at Northwestern (362), third in assists (108) and is the eighth-best goal-scorer and ninth-best point-tallier in NCAA Division I women's lacrosse history.
In 2011, she won the Tewaaraton Award, the Lacrosse Honda Sports Award and the Big Ten Suzy Favor Female Athlete of the Year. In her four years at Northwestern, Smith was named a first-team Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association All-American.
It's that pedigree that helped her land her first job after graduation just a month and a half after leaving Northwestern. In summer 2012, Smith became the new head coach of the Hofstra University Pride in East Hempstead, N.Y., just 18 miles away from her hometown of West Babylon.
With the Pride's season underway, North by Northwestern talked to Smith about life after NU, how coaching has been going and what we can expect from both Northwestern and Hofstra this season.
How's life been since graduation?
Life has been great. I've really hit a grand slam with what I'm doing now and where I am in my life. I absolutely love it and couldn't have asked for anything better. My team makes me want to be a better person and a better coach everyday and it's been really great. It's been a roller coaster and it's been a lot of fun.
When you got the [Hofstra] job, you were barely out of undergrad. Can you talk to me a little about what it's been like to go from player to head coach in such a short amount of time?
It was good. I love coaching. I've coached a long time in the club circle and coming from Northwestern and learning from the best, coach Kelly [Amonte Hiller], you learned a lot [about] the characteristics and the mentality they teach you out at Northwestern, and how Northwestern prepares you from anything you want to do in life to be successful. When this all happened, it happened quickly and I...kind of just took it and ran with it. I love coaching, I love teaching the girls and giving back to them and making them better. Education-wise and dealing with budgets and the other aspects of this job are the easy parts for me.
The age difference between you and your players is really not that noticeable. Has that been weird at all to you?
No, not at all. I've had [the team's] respect since I gotten here and it's not weird at all. They respect me and my successful career as a player has definitely helped, but as soon as I got here we made a difference and the girls liked it and respected what's going on. So if anything, me being close to them in age makes it easier for me to understand what they're going through and it's easier for me to relate to them and talk to them. It works out extremely well and I wouldn't want it any other way.
How much of what you do with your girls at Hofstra comes from what Coach Kelly did with you are your teammates at Northwestern?
You definitely learn things, you pick up on things you like and things you want to change, so it's mixture of who I was and was raised and what type of person I am. [It's all about] instilling that mentality into my players and what type of culture we want to set here and you definitely learn a lot about games, practices and stuff like that. But you make it into your own because this is now Hofstra University and I am the coach of it, so you make it into your own thing. But yeah, you learn a lot and Kelly is the best at what she does. There's a lot of people out there who have come from Northwestern who are now head coaches and it's a testament to how much Kelly prepares you and what she offers us while we were playing there.
At Northwestern you've got a few coaches like Coach Kelly and Coach Pat Fitzgerald who have put their definitive stamps on the program. What do you want the "Shannon Smith stamp" on Hofstra to be?
It's open book right now. It's an open story. We're building a culture, a tradition, a mentality here and in the long end as long as we become a better program and as we build a culture here, we want to win CAA championships. We want to get into the NCAA tournament and we want to build a national championship program here and we want to win a national championship. That's the future and that's the direction we're going to and that's definitely our end goal.
Speaking of which, how's the team looking right now?
We're looking good. We're getting better every day, so that's all I can ask for. They're stepping up to the challenges we throw at them and we'll see what happens when we have our first game. It's fun to work with them and and watch them each grow not only as a person but a player.
As far as Northwestern goes, what do you think us Wildcats are going to see out of the team this year?
I think you're going to see a very tough defense, you're going to see Alyssa Leonard demolish the draw. Taylor [Thornton] and Gabby [Flibotte] are phenomenal athletes and they're going to be up there with Alyssa on the draw circle, I'm sure, and you're going to see a very disciplined, hard-working, competitive team that really sticks to the game plan Kelly gives and it's going to be fun to watch them grow as a team as the year goes on. I'm really excited to see what happens. I'm sure Taylor will have a phenomenal year and I'm looking forward to watching Erin Fitzgerald on that attacking end and how she's going to lead the team."
You said before it's been a little bit of a roller coaster since you've been head coach. Can you talk to me about some of the challenges you've faced since taking the job?
As far as being a roller coaster, it's a fun roller-coaster ride, you know? And everyday is a new challenge. The challenge can be on the practice field just figuring out what we need to do, what mixes are going to work well for us and the direction that we're going in, but it's just making sure that the student athletes on the team have everything they need...so I think the challenges are just everyday challenges that every other coach faces and it's fun. I love it and the challenges are what make your job even better because you know you have fun helping the kids and working the issues out and stuff. Other than that I think the roller coaster ride has been exciting and fun and I love it.
Can you think of basic goals you'd like to see your team accomplish this year or is it just a matter of taking continual steps forward?
I think it's continual steps forward and getting better everyday. I mean, yeah, you want to win the CAA championship, of course we do and that's one of our goals. But right now it's so early in the season, [our goal is] just getting better everyday at practice and waiting to see what happens.