Abby Smucker is in the midst of a memorable week.
On Monday, the junior captain and central defender helped No. 8 C. Milton Wright beat Harford County rival Fallston to move one step closer to reaching the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship game. And she also made one of the biggest decisions of her life.
The three-sport standout, who also plays basketball and lacrosse, made her college choice. Planning to play lacrosse at the next level, she went back and forth between North Carolina and Penn State. North Carolina was her childhood favorite — the school that soccer star Mia Hamm attended. Penn State has strong family ties, as both of Smucker's parents are alumnus and her brother is a freshman there now.
In the end, family won out as Smucker chose Happy Valley.
Maintaining a 4.12 grade point average, Smucker plans to major in physical therapy. Her interest in that field was sparked this spring when she learned she had a stress fracture in her back. It kept her away from sports for four months, but she's healthy now and playing a major role in the soccer team's 9-3 season.
With a 5-0 mark in the conference, the Mustangs need a win against No. 15 Bel Air (9-2-1, 4-0-1) in Thursday's regular-season finale to reach next week's UCBAC championship game. Last year, they won the conference crown and went on to reach the state semfinals.
How did you decide on Penn State over North Carolina?
I think what it came down to is, I looked at the school aspect of it, where if I took lacrosse away and wasn't playing a sport, where would I feel most comfortable. So in the end, Penn State edged it out. I think it's just the whole atmosphere there. Also, my brother is there and it's only 3 1/2 hours away, so my parents can come to all my games. North Carolina is a beautiful place, but Penn State just had a step up.
How happy are your parents about your decision to go to Penn State?
They totally left it up to me. My mom has been to Chapel Hill with me and she absolutely loved it there, too. But, of course, now that I'm a Penn Stater, they're all really happy about it. A lot of my relatives on my dad's side also went to Penn State, so they're all excited about it and looking forward to seeing me play there.
What's it feel like to get the college decision out of the way?
It's awesome. Now that I've made my decision, there's no turning back, I'm just so happy I got it done and over with. It was a great process to go through. I enjoyed visiting all the different colleges. But it was just such a stressful time for me, espcecially choosing from North Carolina, which I've always loved, and Penn State, where my family has gone. Definitely, it's an exciting time, but I'm glad it's over and now I can enjoy [the rest of high school].
How hard was it being away from sports when you were recovering from the back injury?
It was definitely one of the hardest things I've had to do, because I've never been out for so long before. I've had minor injuries like twisted ankles and stuff like that, but nothing this big. I missed my entire lacrosse recruiting season in the summer. But I still came to all the games and practices and cheered on my team. It was really hard just to watch, but I got a different feel for the game being on the sideline with the coaches and saw how hard their jobs are. Now, it's great to be back on the field, but I can tell my stamina is still not up to par as it used to be. So, slowly but surely, I've been working my way back and I feel pretty good right now.
What will be the key to making another strong playoff push in soccer this fall and how can last year's experience help?
Last year, we made it to the state semifinals and it was disappointing because we lost 1-0 in the last five minutes of the game. We had a really great season, though, and we had a big core group of seniors that left us. So this year, we've been trying to rebuild on the offensive end [and] we luckily didn't lose any defenders. I think last year's momentum reaching the state semifinals has carried over. [On Monday,] when we played Fallston, I think the leadership from the juniors stepped up and we had Megan Frailer step up big on the offensive end with two goals for us.
What's it like being a three-sport athlete?
I definitely love playing all three sports and wouldn't want to have it any other way. I think one sport leads into the next and each gives me something a little different. Basketball obviously dribbling with your hands; lacrosse with the stick and soccer with my feet. Each sport is unique to me, and I like all three of them.
What is it about lacrosse that makes that sport your favorite?
I started out playing soccer and then I went to basketball, and lacrosse was actually the last sport I picked up. But I love the pace and the flow of the game, and all the cool stick tricks you can do and the atmosphere on the field.
How have sports impacted your life?
Sports has really made me a better person in general. They teach you leadership, respect, discipline. And also I think with sports, it's made me become a better student because I have to keep a strict time limit on everything. I have to manage my time. What I do on the field carries over to what I do in the classroom — working hard, always being aggressive and always going at it and staying with it. If I don't understand something in the classroom, I'm going to work hard to try to understand it better. Getting a good grade on a paper is just as rewarding as making a good play in a game or getting a win.