As Boston College lacrosse took over the field in Towson, Md., After winning its first national championship, the women who met in the middle were visual reminders of how far the program had traveled to reach that moment.
Cara Urbank, a veteran of three previous unsuccessful national championships, was one of the first to join the jubilant squad. Jillian Reilly, the team’s other player to compete in all four national championship races, was on her heels. The streak placed the two players in an elite group of varsity athletes that includes former UConn basketball star Breanna Stewart and former Alabama running back Damien Harris.
Six of the other Eagles in the hugging mass had played three consecutive national championships. Those who celebrated on the sidelines represented an even longer part of the program’s upward trajectory. Head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein beamed as she hugged her assistant coaches. One of them was Sam Apuzzo, who joined the coaching staff after leading the Eagles to three national championship appearances as a player.
Yet the story of the Eagles’ ultimately successful quest for glory was not just one of continuity. After all, their first three fights ended in defeat. The expression they wore off the pitch as they moved forward into the summer wasn’t the only thing different about this team from their previous iterations.
Flying from the arc she had held in as seconds ticked by, Belle Smith was not bragging about any of her teammates’ previous national championship experiences.
Although she hasn’t played a lacrosse game in over a year and a half and missed three weeks of critical training in the fall, Smith was a revelation in her freshman year on Heights.
The rookie scored 47 goals and added 18 assists in a spectacular season marked by a four-point performance in his first-ever varsity game and a five-goal performance to give the Eagles hope for loss. in the semi-finals of the ACC tournament against Syracuse.
Her dominance made her the CCA Rookie of the Year, a feat accomplished only once in BC history. Now she can add the 2020-21 Heights The female escape athlete pays homage to what quickly became a crowded trophy crate.
Regardless of Smith and the Eagles’ ultimate success, the year has not been without challenges.
“I humbly didn’t play my best in the fall,” said Smith. “And I think that sort of thing came to my mind a little bit and I didn’t play a game for a year and a half, I was really struggling.”
While British Columbia was one of the country’s most successful programs to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks this season, there were a few minor spikes in the fall, and all off-season sports were suspended from mid-September.
Smith was one of the affected athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 on the very first day of training in the fall. She ended up missing the first three weeks of practice.
“I was having a really hard time, and honestly, it really pissed me off because, I mean, I’m not used to being super, super bad compared to everyone,” Smith said.
But “being bad” isn’t something Smith could ever be accused of throughout his athletic career. She was a three-sport prodigy at Westhampton Beach High School, setting the school’s record for career points with 1735, breaking the volleyball mark with 2,046 digs and totaling 231 lacrosse field goals.
She has been selected 13 times across all counties in all three sports and was ranked best midfielder in her class by Inside the butt.
Although his success in the field was similar between high school and middle school, the landscape surrounding the turf was not.
A quiet seaside town that becomes a hotbed during the summer with the influx of second home owners from New York City, Westhampton Beach is a long way from Boston, and Smith scoffs at the differences between the two locations.
“You have the city of Boston, then you have Westhampton Beach, which is just water, like 90% water, 10% land,” Smith said.
Despite the contrast, Smith said the transition was easy because of the people around him.
“I still have the same feeling because I was surrounded by the right people in both places,” Smith said of his teammates, coaches and friends. “I’m a great family person, and honestly, I felt like family.”
It’s easy to see why Walker-Weinstein, along with several of his peer coaches at other top schools, drilled a pipeline between his program and the high school lacrosse link that is Long Island.
Thirteen players on the Eagles roster are from the region and meet regularly during the offseason to train together. This closeness was especially important for the team last summer as players worked to stay in shape and return to the pitch after a shortened 2020 season. Apuzzo even traveled to Long Island several times to help with training.
While the tight-knit nature of the lacrosse world has paid off for the Eagles on the court, Smith said it can add an extra element that she doesn’t always appreciate.
“People always ask me, ‘Oh my God you’re playing your friend, are you horny? And I say ‘No!’ Smith said with a laugh. “I really don’t like playing against people I know because I feel like it becomes more of a personal thing.”
Thankfully, her closest connection to the Long Island lacrosse community, her best friend and cousin Hollie Schleicher, lines up right next to her in the Eagles midfield.
“We’ve been best friends since we were so young,” Schleicher said. “We’re pretty much sisters at this point, being so close in age, and our families are so close.”
The two started playing lacrosse together in sophomore when Smith’s parents coached the team, and they have played together in a series of school and travel teams since. Schleicher’s hometown of Sag Harbor is 30 miles east of Westhampton Beach, and she attended her local high school in her freshman year before transferring to Westhampton Beach when Smith enrolled.
The pair’s prolific decade-long partnership has paid off and Westhampton Beach has reached its first-ever county championship. Even before they dominated in high school together, the fact that their athletic careers would remain entwined for college was already a certainty.
Schleicher enlisted in British Columbia while in college and Smith announced her decision shortly thereafter. Despite Schleicher’s previous announcement, she says it was really following Smith, as she knew Smith wanted to go to BC.
This decision has been easy for Smith since she and Schleicher visited British Columbia for camp.
“The second I walked onto campus I felt right at home and it hasn’t really happened at any other school for me,” Smith said. “I loved the whole BC atmosphere, the whole atmosphere around Boston itself and the hype around BC athletics.”
Twelve years after the pair started playing lacrosse together, Schleicher is still excited when she talks about Smith’s abilities.
“She is the most humble but most confident player I have ever met in my life,” she said. “I think that’s my favorite quality about Belle.”
Featured Image By Ikram Ali / Height Editor
Other images by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor and Jess Rivilis / Heights Senior Staff