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Now in a league of her own

Willmar Cardinals senior Hannah Smith has concentrated on volleyball and basketball, but may add track or softball for the first time this spring. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

Growing up under a large shadow cast by an older brother isn't all bad.

It seems as though Hannah Smith would have it no other way.

It was by playing games with Jordan -- older by two years -- and his friends that she learned quickly to compete or get crushed.

In her senior year at Willmar High School, Hannah has emerged fully into a spotlight of her own making.

"I think what really sets her apart is her tenacity," said her basketball coach, Brad Atchison. "It's so evident when you watch her play. She rebounds like no other 5-foot-7 player I've coached. She is simply fearless on the boards."

Willmar volleyball coach Terrin DeBoer noticed Hannah at a scrimmage several years ago at Ridgewater College.

"She just stands out in the gym," said DeBoer. "Honestly, she is a coach's dream. She doesn't let anything fall without an effort."

Atchison has had the same experience. "So many coaches, players and fans have commented the past couple of years on her tough, hard-nosed style of play."

Defensively, in volleyball, she made eye-popping saves in the back row, enough to break the Cardinals single-season (491) and career record for digs (1,042). When she rotated to the front, she would lead the team this fall in kills (371).

Jordan is 6-4, a former standout in three sports at Willmar and now on the Huskies baseball team in his first year at St. Cloud State. There's another Smith in the pipeline. Little sister, Sarah, plays sixth-grade traveling basketball and already equals her big sister in height.

Hannah enjoyed Jordan's extended stay in the limelight while earning 10 varsity letters and All-Area honors in three sports.

"I'm proud of him," she said this week. "He works so hard and he takes nothing for granted."

Jordan gets to see her play when the team is in the St. Cloud area. He saw her score 27 points in a 70-64 win over St. Michael-Albertville on Dec. 5 and five nights later when she got only three free throws in a 63-37 victory over Sauk Rapids, a win that lifted the Cardinal record to 4-0.

"After that game, he said we'd work on a couple of things when he's home at Christmas," said Hannah.

Like volleyball, there's no drop off on defense.

"She loves a challenge," commented Atchison. "She relishes lining up against the opponent's best player and shutting her down."

In the Cardinals' season-opening victory over Hutchinson, she held the Tigers' leading returning scorer, 5-11 Angela Tauer, to five points,

"I learned to play hard all the time at an early age," she said. "I had to work hard to get the ball playing with the boys whether it was basketball or tackle football."

So is that what drives her still?

"I guess," she said. "I don't want to be average, whether its volleyball or basketball. I want to be somebody different."

She plans to play volleyball in college, probably joining her brother at SCSU.

The Smith children come from athletic parents. Fran Smith played three sports (football, basketball and baseball) at Willmar, graduating in 1979. Rachel (Hedstrom) Smith, who grew up among five brothers, is a 1977 graduate of Detroit Lakes High School where she was all-conference in volleyball, ran track and was a hockey cheerleader.

The Cardinals are on a "bye week" due to a postponement and will resume play on Tuesday, meeting Sartell in the team's home opener.

Tops in the CLC

Senior center Ali Sing is the Central Lakes Conference Performer of the Week in girls hockey. She helped the Cardinals win three games with four assists against River Lakes, the game-tying goal in an overtime win vs. Hutchinson and two goals at St. Peter.

In girls nordic skiing, Willmar senior Danielle Erickson earned the CLC spotlight for turning a time of 3:44 in the 1k skate at the St. Cloud Tech Invitational.

On the fly

n The Tri4EVR Triathlon team will donate $3,500 to the Willmar Cancer Center in a ceremony on Saturday. The 19-member team was formed this spring after Kris Kolstad of Willmar and William Lorenz of Benson originated the idea. The team raised money through projects and selling t-shirts while competing in races as far away as California.

n The girls hockey win streak of six games that ended Tuesday is the longest since the 2002-03 season When the Cardinals, then coached by Ross Dahl, put together seven straight starting Dec. 5 over River Lakes. It ended Dec. 28, 2002, in a 2-1 loss to Burnsville at the Schwan's Holiday Tournament. After that loss, the team fashioned a 12-game unbeaten streak on the way to the state tournament.

n Freshman Kelsey Evans is averaging 7.0 ppg and 3.4 rebounds playing 16 minutes for the Briar Cliff Chargers (9-2). Senior Sam Sussenguth is averaging 4.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg with nine blocks in 16 minutes per game for North Dakota State (4-6).

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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