Superstition between the sticks

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Superstition between the sticks

FILE PHOTO

FILE PHOTO

FILE PHOTO

Colton Prince, Assistant Sports Editor

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Since the beginning of 2016, South Dakota State’s women’s soccer program has won a Summit League-best 42 games, and a big reason why is the 5-foot-11 presence in goal.

Maggie Smither, a senior from Sioux Falls, has put together one of the most dominant careers by a goalkeeper in Summit League history, breaking conference records and threatening to break more. But she claims her success is due, at least in part, to superstition.

According to Smither, part of her ability comes from her pre-game routines, thinking they affect the outcome of the game.

“I have a different song I listen to every season that I listen to and do my mental imagery to in the locker room,” Smither said. “I have to give my necklace to my assistant coach Caylee, or I think we are gonna lose. I have to bring my water bottle with me to my goal, or I think we are gonna lose. I am just very stitious.”

But none of these things are more important to Smither than the two hair bands she has had on her wrist for the past three years.

“I wore them my first year when we went to the NCAA tournament to play Nebraska and went into all of those penalty kicks,” Smither said. “I had these two on my wrist during that tournament and I just correlate that with giving your best effort and having that memory.”

In that NCAA tournament contest, Smither saved six shots on goal and stopped one of the penalty kicks in a Jackrabbit loss.

But that was just the beginning of what has become an exceptional college career between the posts for Smither.

“Maggie is a goalkeeper who cannot just win you games but keep you in games,” said SDSU coach Brock Thompson. “But what she does more so than anything else is give our team confidence as the deepest player on the team.”

Smither, who redshirted her first season but has started the last four years for the Jacks, has been vital to the team’s 9-3 start to this season, recording 54 saves and shutting out the opponent eight times.

For her career, she has held opponents to less than two-thirds of a goal across all competition, the best mark in school history for keepers with more than 2,000 minutes defending the net. Her 254 career saves are third-most in program history, and  she’ll top that list with 14 more.

With her sixth shutout this season, Smither became the all-time shutout queen of the Summit League. Her career clean sheet total sits at 27, with more likely to come with a minimum of seven games left in the Jacks’ season.

A big part of Smither’s ability to set records like this comes from her relationship with her backline and their ability to adapt on the fly.

“I learn from them and I think we grow together,” Smither said. “Every play in the game, if there was a close opportunity for the other team, we will look back and forth from each other and learn from it. I think we learn from all the goals that happen. I don’t think we have been scored on the same way.”

Smither has been playing soccer since the age of five, making it one of the most impactful things on her life. However, despite starting soccer at a young age, Smither didn’t find her position until later in her youth.

“I didn’t start playing keeper until about 13,” Smither said. “I started playing there because I was the tallest and I could kick it the furthest. I can’t do what my teammates do. I could only see myself being a goalkeeper.”

In the nine years since becoming a goalkeeper, Smither has developed a love for saving shots on goal.

“I wait for those moments every game,” she said. “I love them — the build-up of the pressure and the intensity. That feeling when you just know you are going to save it. The other team thinks they are going to score and the defense or I were able to take that away. It is the best feeling because you are just like: ‘We just did that.’”

Before Smither played for the Jacks, she was the goalkeeper for the Sioux Falls Lincoln Patriots and helped lead the team to four straight state title games, finally winning the coveted title in her last year.

When her final season in yellow and blue comes to a close, it might not be the end for Smither, who has aspirations to play professionally.

“If I am able to take those steps that are necessary to make that happen, I think that would be a super cool thing,” Smither said. “I know I would be prepared enough if that were to happen.”

No matter what happens in her future, Smither and her “stitious”-ness has left a lasting legacy for the soccer program at SDSU.

“It has been great to watch what Maggie has done with her game and the dreams that she has,” Thompson said. “She is an incredible person and an incredible athlete, and we have enjoyed every minute we get with her.”