Carroll County Times

Women's Lacrosse: Smith finds 'appreciation' in lacrosse after scary injury

Notre Dame senior Margaret Smith, a Westminster native, earned midseason All-America status a few weeks ago as one of the nation's top defensive midfielders.

Margaret Smith's lacrosse career is coming to an end, and the Notre Dame senior said she's ready to try her hand at coaching the sport she loves after graduation.

The program that attains Smith will be inheriting a former four-year Division I starter. A player with a nationally-decorated resume. And someone with an immense appreciation for her playing days, because they almost never happened.

Smith, a Westminster native, is a midfielder for the Fighting Irish, leading the team in ground balls, draw controls, and caused turnovers. She's one of the reasons why Notre Dame is 8-4 and trying to be competitive in its first Atlantic Coast Conference season.

But Smith knows from where she came, a budding three-sport star at McDonogh School who had lacrosse nearly taken from her after a scary injury playing soccer her freshman year.

Smith said she suffered a tear in her intestines when she collided with the opposing team's goalkeeper during a regular-season game. The goalie's knee hit Smith in the stomach, she said, and the impact pushed part of her bowels against her spine.

Smith needed surgery to remove a piece of her intestinal tract and put things back in working order.

Dreams of playing varsity lacrosse at McDonogh, one of the country's top high school teams, seemed far-fetched at the time.

"I wasn't sure for a while if I was going to be able to play again," Smith said. "It makes you really appreciate the opportunity you do have to play, and I think that's one of my biggest motivators. I definitely contemplated during that time, 'Is this worth it? Is this something I really want to do?'"

Smith's surgery kept her out of soccer that fall, but she returned in the winter and played basketball to get ready for lacrosse. But her first spring was a disappointing one - Smith's hopes of making varsity had to wait a year.

Only then did Smith feel well enough to get back on the field.

And by the end of her high school career, after moving up from McDonogh's freshman/sophomore team to varsity and shining as a defensive midfielder, Smith earned a scholarship to Notre Dame.

Helping McDonogh win conference and regional championships will do that, and Smith wound up a first-team All-American as a senior. She came to South Bend as the seventh-best freshman in the country, according to Inside Lacrosse.

"I definitely didn't think that when it happened, and being on the fresh/soph team, that I would ever end up at a place like Notre Dame," Smith said. "There's an appreciation there, and I think that's something I do try pass down to the younger kids."

Smith became a starter as a freshman with the Irish, then earned all-Big East honors as a sophomore after leading the squad with 47 draw controls. Smith was one of the nation's best at caused turnovers (1.92 per game) last season, with her name added to the Tewaaraton Award preseason watch list.

She garnered midseason All-America status a few weeks ago as Notre Dame's lone senior starter, and she's excelling in her team's new conference.

Smith led the ACC in ground balls (3.08) and caused turnovers (2.0) per game going into Saturday's matchup with Virginia.

Plus, she's already among the top five in Notre Dame history in draws, grounders, and caused turnovers.

"Margaret Smith's All-America caliber play is absolutely keeping us in games," ND coach Christine Halfpenny said earlier this season. "While it takes a total team effort, the effort and leadership she's bringing as the only starting senior is tremendous. ... That gives us momentum. It allows our younger kids to follow suit."

Smith said she and Halfpenny have been working to get her name circulated among college coaches for the next phase of Smith's lacrosse career. There are some playing days remaining, however, with the ACC tournament beginning April 24 and the chance for an NCAA tourney spot in May.

Smith isn't ready to let go of her sport just yet, not after once more playing at a high level among the nation's best.

"I still have a little bit of trouble from time to time, but nothing that's affecting my play," Smith said. "It was a scary and long experience, and a tough road back, but it's something I use as a motivator going forward."