Another Smith leads Delaware into NCAAs

Boys' Latin grad transferred from Ohio State, has excelled for Blue Hens

May 13, 2011|Mike Preston

Three years ago, attackman Eric Smith chose Ohio State over the University of Delaware because he wanted a university much bigger than the high school he attended, Boys' Latin.

Delaware head lacrosse coach Bob Shillinglaw thought there might have been another reason. Smith's older brother, Alex, played for the Blue Hens and became one of the top face-off specialists in the history of the college game from 2004-2008.

Maybe the younger Smith wanted to escape his brother's shadow.

In a sense, he has. But Delaware is back in the postseason, and leading the way is a player named Smith.

Again.

Eric Smith transferred to Delaware after Ohio State coach Joe Breschi left for North Carolina.

"That's a very good family," said Shillinglaw of the Smiths, from Lutherville. "Eric is a lot like Alex. He is mature, polite and a pleasure to be around. You root for a kid like him because he is such a good kid and a first class individual."

He's a pretty good lacrosse player, too.

When unseeded Delaware (12-6) travels to No. 5 Duke (12-5) today, it will be a run-and-gun affair because both teams love the transition game, and both teams will shoot from anywhere, from any angle.

But the Blue Devils have to contain Smith. He leads the Blue Hens in scoring with 23 goals and 18 assists. Shooting is his specialty.

"You have to start with him being a finisher," Shillinglaw said. "He is as good as they come. Where he really has improved is moving without the ball, getting himself open. Once he gets his hands free, he is very, very accurate."

Last season at Delaware, his first for the Blue Hens, Smith played on the extra man offense. But he basically was a second option behind such outstanding offensive players as attackman Curtis Dickson (62 goals, 15 assists) and midfielder Martin Cahill (34, 3).

That has changed since Dickson and Cahill left. Smith has filled in nicely after gaining about 10 more pounds during the off season.

"Those two guys, Dickson and Cahill, were lethal from last year," Smith said. "Coach told me that my role would be on the EMO, but once they graduated and if I worked hard, I could become a regular starter. I worked really, really hard during the off season just on the fundamentals, like pitching and catching."

But Smith just isn't a shooter. He has an extremely high lacrosse IQ. He can find creases and crevices to get off his shot. His 23 goals are impressive, but so are his 18 assists which shows his unselfishness.

Smith isn't the quarterback of the offense as far as distributing the ball, but he aligns the offense and gets everyone into place.

"He's a complete, well-rounded player," Shillinglaw said. "We're not just talking about his play, but his communication and leadership abilities."

Twice this season Delaware lost two games in arow, and at one time had lost three of four. Smith helped the team endure.

"Every year is a long, long season," Smith said. "There were times when we kind of lost our identity and we encouraged each other, especially in the middle of the field. We started to hold possessions longer to give our defense a rest and we started dominating face-offs again. Once those things happen, it can change the complexion of a game."

The Blue Hens enter the game against Duke as big underdogs. The Blue Devils traditionally have some of the finest athletes in the game, and they are averaging 12.82 goals and 38.1 shots. The are paced by attackmen Zach Howell (38, 15) and Jordan Wolf (27, 18).

But Delaware is averaging 9.06 and 35.5 goals a game. Attackman Grant Kaleikau, Sean Finegan and Smith have a good chemistry with Kaleikau doing most of the feeding and Smith as the finisher.

But against Duke, Delaware can't be as reckless on offense, and the Blue Hens will have to value the ball. Duke, though, has to find a way to stop Smith and that isn't always easy.

"He excels in unsettled situations, on extra man offense and when he gets his hands free," sBoys' Latin coach Bobby Shriver said. "Eric is a crafty, skilled left-handed sniper."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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