By Hannah Newman
First year finished, first goal scored and 12 games started, freshman center back Olivia Smith has become a leading player for Rider women’s soccer in their 2022 season.
Smith has been taking on the field for 13 years. When she was young, she began playing for her town team in Kearney, New Jersey, growing as a player there for nearly four years. When she was 10, her father signed her up for club soccer where her love for the game began to flourish.
“At first the change of pace really challenged me, but as the years went by, I really started to develop and truly understand that soccer was much more than trying to get the ball in the back of the net,” said Smith. “Once I started grasping soccer in that way, I grew a big bond with the sport and realized I wanted to continue playing after high school.”
With 46 goals scored in her scholastic career, Smith was selected for the State Top 20 (New Jersey) and All-Region team (East region), for soccer her junior and senior year of high school.
Smith chose Rider not only for their soccer program, but for the academics and school environment. Although Smith was able to meet some of the expectations she had for herself coming into college as an athlete, she has exceeded the expectations of her teammates and coach.
“Olivia is extremely composed on the ball and when the ball is at her feet, she plays like an upperclassman. That gives us even more confidence as a back line. Her style of play and poise also gives us a lot of positive momentum,” junior goalkeeper Ellie Sciancalepore said.
Women’s soccer Head Coach Drayson Hounsome echoed Sciancalepore’s sentiment with how good Smith was in her freshman season, and how happy the team is to see how she’s grown since arriving on campus.
“We are very excited to see how Olivia has developed in such a short period of time. She is better now than she was in September and in September was better than August,” said Hounsome.
Smith’s growth into one of the team’s best defenders showed throughout the season. Her freshman season saw her play 15 games, while starting 12 of them. She played more than 90 minutes 10 times throughout the year, highlighted by playing the entirety of the 110 minute Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) quarterfinal battle against Canisius on Oct. 30.
“She is making better decisions and quicker decisions, so her possession and passing have improved. We will continue to encourage her to work on some of the defensive decisions that occur in the game and I am sure she will continue to develop,” said Hounsome.
Alongside her extended playing time, Smith scored the first goal of her young collegiate career against St. Francis Brooklyn on Sept. 11.
“Honestly the goal felt unreal,” Smith said after the Sept. 11 game.
With her freshman season now over, Smith says she was able to achieve many of the goals she had for herself going into college; however, she continues to leave room for improvement.
“I would say my greatest achievements so far as an athlete are my adjustment to the speed of play, getting significant playing time, and having my first collegiate goal,” said Smith. “I have achieved some of my goals like getting significant playing time but I still feel like I’m not the best player I can be. I want to become more consistent with how I play and I think fixing the little things can really enhance how I play.”
Sciancalepore also believes that Smith will continue to improve on her impressive play next year.
“It’s been fun playing alongside Olivia and she has been an awesome addition to the team. I think as we move forward, her decision making will only get better and quicker. With time, I think she will certainly be one of the best backs in the league,” said Sciancalepore.
On top of wanting to be a better player next year, Smith’s eyes are on the present moment that has brought her some incredible memories already.
“Contrary to the competitive environment, all the laughs and jokes on and off the field have really made my first season something I will never forget,” said Smith.