23 Jan Smith holds Lady Red Hawks together
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by Levi Gilbert
After a challenging junior season, Morgan Smith and the Nemo Vista Lady Red Hawks are enjoying the benefits of perseverance.
“Morgan led this team last year as the only upperclassmen on the team,” said Kyle Payne, Nemo Vista’s girls’ basketball coach. “She ended up being the only junior who was keeping a team full of sophomores held together. She averaged over 10 points a game even though she was being double teamed most nights. She even went for 30-plus a couple games.
“Morgan is born leader. She has been a player that others have looked up to since she was in seventh grade and I first began coaching her. She leads by example. Her work ethic and dedication have really rubbed off onto some of our other players at Nemo Vista this year.”
Fighting through a tough 2017-18 season and growing as a team has paid off this season. The Lady Hawks have improved with a 10-12 (7-4 2A 5 North) record heading into the final stretch of conference play.
“I feel like in the last year I have become more focused on being a team player instead of just an individual,” Smith said. “It was difficult for us last year with only seven people, so with a 13-player team we have had new experiences. I have bonded really well with my team this year, and they are like my family.”
Smith, a senior guard for Nemo Vista, was selected to this year’s 501 Basketball Team — 34 players representing the best the 501 has to offer both on and off the court. The team is sponsored by Conway Ortho and Sports Medicine Center, Conway Regional Health System and First Security Bank. Smith was nominated by Payne. She is a two-time honoree.
“Morgan is a dual threat offensively,” Payne wrote in his nomination. “She is a great outside shooter and penetrator as well. She is our motor both offensively and defensively. Off the court, Morgan is an excellent student and role model for the younger kids in school. She pushes others to be the best they can be in the classroom. She helps tutor other students when needed and also leads several study groups for various classes.”
Smith has overcome two wrist surgeries during her high school career, which forced her to “start over” both times and re-learn how to shoot.
“I think that my competitive nature and love of the game is what makes me unique,” Smith said. “I take the sport to heart and put everything I have into the game. Having these qualities has also affected many of my teammates. We are playing with more passion for the game and taking the game more personally. It has really showed in the last few weeks for us, and we have been on a good winning streak.”
After basketball wraps up in the next few months, Smith will soon find herself lacing up for softball and track. Through it all, she makes sure she gives priority to her studies.
“I have taken on a full course load for my senior year, and I am very excited to be moving closer to my future career, but balancing those is very tricky,” Smith said. “I plan to major in nursing at Arkansas Tech University. They have a very good nursing program, and the professors there are very kind. I am lucky to be going into such an amazing environment at Arkansas Tech.”
Smith and the Lady Hawks play at Quitman at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.