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Taking it to the next level

by Matthew Ondesko, Owner/Publisher

Photos: Canisius College Athletics

It has been quite a start to the season for Canisius College lacrosse player Katie Smolensky. Besides leading the team in scoring, Smolensky has become some kind of celebrity as she made the SportsCenter Top 10 plays when she scored an amazing behind the back goal in their recent win over Siena College.

It’s all in a days work for the senior who came to the Main Street campus with a lot of expectations four years ago. Her freshman year, Smolensky earned an unanimous selection to the MAAC All-Rookie Team. From there her star has just continued to get brighter.

This season Smolensky has just been on an absolute tear. She leads the team in both assists (19) and points (39) and is fourth on the team in goals (20). It just seems like everything has clicked for the senior from Rochester, NY.

“Our team as a whole has done really well so far this season. I would not have any of my success without my teammates. They make it easy for me and open up all the opportunities,” stated Smolensky. “We have such a great group this year and everyone plays a huge role on this team. Something special about this team is the talent that each person holds. From the bench to the field, I am confident in every one of our players that they can step up and make a difference on the field. We got off to a great start in our non-conference play and we have been able to carry that momentum into the start of our conference season.”

If they name Smolensky sounds familiar to those following the Canisius lacrosse team it’s because he sister spent four years at the school as well. The younger Smolensky wasn’t afraid to take on the challenge of following in her sister’s footsteps.

Not only in her footsteps at Canisius, but the exact same position. Smolensky could have easily gone somewhere else for lacrosse, but she wanted the pressure - and to make her own mark on the school - and the program.

“Coming to Canisius, I was excited to follow in my sister’s footsteps and take over her position after she graduated,” stated Smolensky. “I never really set expectations for myself, but I did set goals for myself that I had hoped to accomplish. I try not to put pressure on myself and just focus on what I can do to better myself and the team. I really try to have a team first mentality and just let lacrosse take over! I have so much fun playing, which has helped me stay out of my head.”

Her time at Canisius has sure been different. Smolensky went through the pandemic where her, and her teammates, didn’t have a season. To last year where they only played league games. To say that part of the college experience was stressful was a bit of an understatement.

Athletes are used to a routine, and the last two years that routine has been disrupted. Through it all, Smolensky made sure to take care of her mental health. Part of that was by making sure she stuck to the same routine that she has always head, whether there were games or not.

“The last two years were hard especially because my sophomore year we only got to play six games before our season was canceled and there was so much uncertainty,” stated Smolensky. “I am grateful we got games in, but it was hard getting our season canceled and not knowing when we would compete again. I tried my best to keep working hard even though we were not sure if/when we were going back. One thing I focused on was keeping a routine. I am the type of person who needs a routine in order to stay motivated and productive, so I did my best to create a schedule that would set me up for success when I headed back to school.”

On the field Smolensky is not the easiest player to play against. You can’t really double team her because she will find her open teammates for the goal. She can’t rally leave her one on one, because then she will score herself.

She is the prototypical all-around player. She can do it all on the field, which gives opposing teams, and coaches, headaches.

“Something that I have really been working on as a player is being a dual-threat. Being able to drive to net while also having my head up in the middle looking for feeds is something that I have been focusing on this year,” stated Smolensky. “I credit that to my teammates for doing all the hard work getting open. It makes it difficult to scout us because we have so many threats. I am just lucky to be able to have the vision to find them in the middle and they can finish and put it in the back of the net.”

In her time at Canisius, Smolensky has grown into the leader that all the younger players look up to. She was the timid freshman her first year, soaking in everything they upperclassmen would tell her.

Now it’s her time to do the same things. She knows the legacy of the lacrosse program is only as good as they next person on the team. There are no ego’s, but young women helping each other out.

Smolensky takes her role as a leader very seriously, and was excited when she was named one of the four captains this season.

“I was fortunate enough to be named one of the four captains this year. My teammates have shaped me into the leader I am today. They are a really easy group to lead and I am forever grateful for the lessons I have learned along the way,” stated Smolensky. “I have also learned from some of the best. Our Assistant Coach, Jourdan Roemer, was a captain on the team my freshman year and our Graduate Assistant, Riley Lucarelli, was a captain my freshman-junior year. Both of them were amazing leaders and taught me so much about leadership and embodying what it means to be a Griff. The passion they have for this sport and this school is something I will always look up to. I really couldn't have done it without them.

Sports have always been a part of Smolensky’s life. One day she will hang up the lacrosse stick, and she knows that day is coming soon. It has been a great ride for her just not on the field, but off it as well.

Sports allow people to make friends they may have never been friends with before. It allows for people to grow into the person they are today. Smolensky is excited for the future. She is soaking everything in this spring - as this will be her last as Griff.

“I have made some lifelong friends here which will make it difficult to leave. I have also made so many memories here and I am very grateful for the time I have spent at Canisius. It will be weird to not come back next fall, but I am excited and hopeful for what the future holds,” stated Smolensky. “Sports are such an amazing thing and they teach us so much. I have learned some amazing life lessons that I will take with me throughout my life. Lacrosse has helped me grow as a person and a teammate. There is something so special about being a part of a team and learning how to work with others that has set me up for success.”

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