Simply the Best

Athlete Profile

Brittney Smith is the kind of athlete who makes you forget the fragility of the human body.
A true physical specimen, Smith has made her excellence look easy, playing basketball with a seemingly effortless elegance that awed crowds throughout the Northeast and resulted in impressive numbers and a host of accolades.

Yet despite being in the self-described best shape of her career, Smith fell victim to an injury that has befallen even the strongest and fittest athletes, particularly female basketball players, when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.

On Dec. 1, as Dartmouth was en route to victory over a solid Northeastern squad, Smith made a trademark play, emphatically blocking an opponent’s three-point attempt and taking the ball the length of the court for a layup. Smith stopped to put up a shot and was fouled by a trailing Northeastern player. Sometime in that sequence, her knee buckled as the ACL tore and Smith crumpled to the ground as a stunned crowd and bench looked on.

She described the injury that ended her promising senior season as an out of body experience. “I don’t remember any contact I just remember hearing a pop and then cries and not even realizing it was me crying,” recalled Smith.

The days that followed were understandably overwhelming for Smith, who had to wait several days before confirming the severity of her injury as teammates and coaches struggled to know how to help and rumors swirled around campus and the entire town of Hanover. Once the diagnosis was made, Smith had a successful reconstructive surgery in January and is currently in the midst of the extensive rehabilitation process that generally takes six to eight months.

* * *

But that injury should not, and will not, define Smith’s tremendous career at Dartmouth.
To look back on Smith’s time at Dartmouth, it’s impossible not to acknowledge the role that older sister Margaret ’10 played in Brittney’s recruitment and decision to join the Big Green all the way from Fort Worth, Texas. After Margaret enrolled at Dartmouth in 2006, Brittney’s recruitment followed and though she was swayed by the chance to play and live with her sister again, she made sure to go on multiple official visits to explore her options. She ultimately turned down scholarship offers from the likes of New Mexico, Nevada, Denver and Washington State.

“In the end I couldn’t find any other school that had both great academics and athletics,” said Smith. “I came to Dartmouth during homecoming weekend and there was such a great sense of community that it felt like home to me.”

Smith certainly made herself at home when she joined Chris Wielgus’ team for the 2007-08 season, taking the Ivy League by storm and helping the Big Green win a share of her first Ivy League Championship. As a freshman, she averaged 10.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, was named Ivy Rookie of the Week seven times and eventually earned unanimous Ivy Rookie of the Year honors.

“Even as a freshman she knew she was not going to take a secondary role and she has wanted the ball in her hands to win the game since that season,” said Wielgus.

The accolades poured in during Smith’s sophomore year, when she led the Big Green won an outright Ivy Championship and earned an NCAA Tournament bid. She averaged a career-best 14.1 points per game along with 8.2 rebounds. Not surprisingly, she was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and a unanimous first team All-Ivy choice. She also won Dartmouth’s Class of 1976 Award for the top female athlete and has been named to the Wearers of the Green.

* * *

Though Smith clearly exuded confidence from a young age, it was a degree of humility that drove her to get better each season. “Brittney is extremely confident but also very coachable and she works on her game quietly and without fanfare,” said Wielgus. “There’s not a thing I’ve asked her to do that she has not done. Brittney doesn’t understand anybody’s second-best and I’ve clearly never seen hers.”

As a junior, the weight of the team was fully on Smith’s shoulders — not to mention the eyes of the entire conference. Though she averaged a double-double of 12.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, Smith was pushed in ways that did not always suit her game, leading Dartmouth in every other statistical category. Bearing such a load would be a burden on any athlete and as a team Dartmouth struggled to rebuild and went just 11-17, 7-7 in Ivy play.

Despite earning first team All-Ivy honors again as a junior, Smith was dissatisfied with the 2009-10 team’s performance and entered her senior season with a renewed resolve. Expectations were high for the Big Green as a team too. “Last summer I pushed myself even harder knowing that I would be a senior and a captain,” said Smith. “I wanted people to see me as an example for how to do things and be a real leader on the court.”

It paid off when she started her senior year averaging 13.1 points, 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting a career-best 49 percent from the field. With 1,172 career points (11th all-time) and 830 rebounds (fourth all-time), she did more in three years than most do in four. Her defense was often overshadowed by her offense, though she amassed 156 steals and 129 blocks in her career and Wielgus called her perhaps the best defender she’d ever coached.

Yet as we know, fate dealt a cruel blow and Smith was cut down after just seven games. Starting point guard Nicola Zimmer ’14 was also lost for the seasons and the shorthanded Big Green — down to just nine healthy players — has limped to a 7-20 record. Though the injury took away Smith’s chance at another player of the year award and clearly hurt the Big Green’s Ivy title dreams, she has not allowed it to soil her memory of Dartmouth basketball.

“I think this would have been one of my better years, but it hasn’t changed how I feel about this experience,” said Smith. “It’s been a great run and I’ll always look back on the good times with my teammates and how fortunate we were to win two Ivy titles.”

Watching the game from the sidelines has helped Smith see a different kind of future with basketball — coaching. After doing an internship with XMester, which exposes underprivileged youth to the college experience, Smith was inspired to work for Teach for America. With hopes to eventually go into education administration, Smith will first spend two years in Los Angeles teaching high school and likely serving as a basketball coach. Having watched Smith enhance her natural talent with hard work, Wielgus believes she could also excel in coaching.

“Brittney came in here and had to learn the teaching progressions so she has been through what she would ask her players to do and knows how to teach it,” said Wielgus. “She understands the game, has an incredible work ethic and is going out of here a beautiful, polished product on and off the court.”

* * *

Brittney Smith’s Dartmouth career can truly not be measured by statistics, games won and especially not a season lost. There’s no question of her place in Dartmouth history or the influence she has had on the program. On par with the greats in the Ivy League, her playing style literally changed the entire conference, setting a new recruiting standard across the board.

For those who truly know Smith, there’s no doubt she’ll set the standard wherever she goes, using her determination, passion and the game she loves to impact countless young lives.

So Much More Than Soccer

Athlete Profile

Everything was going Matt Carroll’s way on April 12, 2008. Fresh off an All-Ivy junior season in midfield for the Dartmouth men’s soccer team, he had returned to campus to enjoy the spring season with his team after a productive internship in New York City.

In one split second, it all changed.

That day, he was playing in the final 10 minutes of a game at New Hampshire when a UNH defender turned and fired the ball in an attempt to clear it. At close range, Carroll tried to duck but the ball hit him square in the right temple, sending him to the ground. Known for his toughness, it was little surprise that he got up and finished the game.

But those 10 minutes – and the months leading up to them – would soon become a blur for Carroll.

“I came off the field and saw [teammate] Daniel Keat and, so he tells me, I was asking him ‘What season is it? Where are we? Who are we playing?” said Carroll.

Head coach Jeff Cook recalls the moment as well: “He was asking me where we were and he was very disoriented. It was frightening and disturbing to have someone you know so well standing there healthy physically, but unable to remember one moment to the next.”

Carroll has no recollection of the events himself. UNH athletic trainers cleared Carroll to make the trip back to Hanover and Cook accompanied him during a night’s stay at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Wracked with memory loss and blinding headaches, Carroll spent the next week and a half at Dartmouth’s infirmary, Dick’s House, while doctors kept a close watch over him. His coaches and teammates were concerned as well, and Cook recalls the team making constant visits, since Carroll would forget they had been there as soon as they left.

Following the stay at Dick’s House, he took a few days at home in North Andover, Mass., before returning to school. He only lasted two days before the headaches became too much and he went back home for another two-week period. Despite his pain, amnesia and four weeks of missed classes, Carroll chose to return to Dartmouth to finish out the term.

“At first I wanted to just take incompletes,” admitted Carroll. “But after talking to Professor Dave Kang [a Dartmouth volunteer coach] and my other two professors, I decided to try. They were all extremely helpful and kind to me and gave me until the last possible minute to get my work done.”

It was no walk in the park for the government major, who had to study for exams on material he could not remember learning. “The first couple of weeks were difficult,” said Carroll. “I used a lot of notecards and things to study but it was just hard getting over it all.” The efforts paid off, however, keeping him on track academically and on pace to
graduate with his class.

* * *

Diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, Carroll also had to make a critical decision about his soccer career.

“At an appointment in the spring, my doctor told us that he didn’t know of any doctor, including himself, that would allow me to play again under his authority,” he explained.

There were significant risk factors for severe brain damage should he take another impact to the head. His parents did not recommend a return to the field but allowed the 21-year-old to make his own decision, as did Cook. Given the severity of his accident and other concussions in the past, Carroll decided to give up the game.

Hanging up the cleats in the spring might have been a lot easier for the senior co-captain at that time than it is now. Even with the recurring light sensitivity, headaches and memory loss – he’s a Giants fan who can’t remember their Super Bowl victory – he longs to be back on the field with his teammates. The five-foot-seven fireplug had played in all but one game for Dartmouth in his first three seasons, participating in 52 matches with 33 starts.

Though he has been relegated to the sidelines, Carroll is as valuable to the Big Green now as he was on the field. As a player-coach, Carroll serves as an intuitive link between the coaching staff and the Dartmouth players. He attends every practice, game and team event, biding his time working with the goalkeepers, setting up drills at practice and even giving tips to Coach Cook.

“Coach will call me over during the game to ask me how I think things are going and if I see anything different or if we should make any changes,” said Carroll. “But I get pretty animated on the sideline so most of the time he is also telling me to keep my cool.”

For Carroll, it’s an opportunity to stay involved with his team while giving back to a program and coach that have done so much for him. He cites Cook among one of his greatest teachers and supporters throughout his recovery.

Cook feels fortunate to still have “Coach Carroll” on the sidelines and in the locker room with his team. “He’s a buzz of energy, so much personality and so much life,” said Cook. “It’s a reminder to all of us how special it is to compete in intercollegiate athletics and be part of a team. He has lost the playing side but has held onto the team aspect and done a brilliant job of being a captain and leader.”

One of the most popular players on the team and around campus, Carroll’s efforts are not lost on his teammates either. “Matt would never admit it but it has got to be extremely hard for him to sit on the side and watch,” said roommate and co-captain Sean Milligan ’09. “His attitude and participation have been remarkable, but I honestly didn’t expect anything less because that’s just the type of person he is.”

As the Big Green hunts for an Ivy Championship and NCAA Tournament bid, the outcome of this season is as important to Carroll as it is to any of the Dartmouth players. “I remember as a freshman I didn’t really understand the seniors being so desperate to win, but now I feel that sense of urgency,” said Carroll. “The way we are playing though and with everyone having fun ... I think everything’s going to be all right.”

He is just five months removed from the head trauma that left him in a hospital bed. Back with his team and on track to earn an Ivy League degree, it looks like everything’s going to be more than just all right for Matt Carroll.

Persistence, Perseverance, Panache

Athlete Profile

"The player might get past you and the ball might get past you ... but the player and the ball aren't getting past you together."

You've just picked up a pass and are breaking towards the goal, looking for an angle and ready strike - then in a flash, you're down and the ball is gone. You've just been the victim of the Dartmouth women's soccer defense. Any one of the Big Green's primary backs could have caught you with a slide tackle, but if you've been left wondering which way is up, it was probably Thea Sutton '10.

Watch number 21 on the soccer field and you'll see your share of slick tackles and shoves from a player who took that fatherly advice, instilled in her as a youngster by dad, Jamie, to heart. That determination and hard-nosed - but not dirty - play is what got Sutton, now a senior, to Dartmouth and eventually into a starting role.

"I love being that last line of defense," said Sutton of her on-field trade. "I love winning headers and tackling forwards - I'm a very physical player and I'm not particularly fast, so defense works well for me."

The tools of the defensive trade seem perfectly natural for a player who has made a living roughing up opposing strikers before they even get a look at the goal. However, prior to a chance happening at a Dartmouth soccer camp in 2005, Sutton had not played the position since she was on an under-13 team. With her camp team short on defenders, Sutton volunteered to play center back in a game, viewing it as a chance to get on the field.

Call it recruiting instinct or just fate, but head coach Angie Hind liked what she saw that week. "She was a solid central defender: strong athlete, comfortable at the back, good at the ball and very vocal, which turned out very much to be the case," said Hind of her loquacious senior.

For Sutton, stepping up at that moment would prove life changing, as Hind informed her right then and there that Dartmouth wanted to recruit her. Though she took official visits at Middlebury and Williams, there was no contest in Sutton's mind, and Dartmouth was the clear choice.

* * *

Ultimately, Sutton would need every ounce of her innate tenacity both prior to and after her arrival at Dartmouth. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral meniscus in her right knee in May of 2004, when she was 15. She channeled her energy into an aggressive rehab with trainers at Dominican College, near her home in San
Rafael, California and returned to the game in just seven months, impressive by all standards. Fate would test her toughness again in June of 2006, when she tore the lateral meniscus in her right knee, just two months before reporting for preseason at Dartmouth.

Though cleared to play by doctors in late August 2006, Sutton was not quite game-ready and joined a veteran team that was heavy with defenders. As the team rose to a number one ranking in the Northeast and a national ranking of 13th, Sutton spent the entire season watching her team from the sidelines.

"Coming into college I didn't expect to play a lot, but maybe some," she joked. "There were 10 seniors and a lot of really good people on that team. It made me glad I had the experience with my ACL though, because it taught me that there's something bigger than just playing time - there's being on a team, being part of a family and representing
Dartmouth."

A summer of training at home paid off when Sutton earned her first career start her sophomore year as the Big Green opened the season at #5 Texas A&M in front of 5,000 raucous fans on the Aggies’ home field. Sutton’s effort did not disappoint despite the cruel fate that saw her play a role in both Texas A&M goals — an own goal and a
penalty kick off a handball — and she remembers the game fondly. Maintaining her dogged determination, Sutton started 12 of 23 games played during her sophomore and junior seasons. Ups and downs saw her playing time and starting role change throughout those two years, but her prior experiences kept her grounded.

It all came together for Sutton as a senior. This fall, she started all 15 games she played, sitting two to get rest. Her efforts helped the Big Green sport a goals against average of just 1.15, while allowing an average of just 8.8 opponent shots per game. And the striker turned stopper, who still relishes firing on goal in practice, finally got her first collegiate goal with the game-winner over Columbia on Oct. 25.

"In my experience, often the kids who gradually increase their playing time make the most of it and become the better players," said Hind. "The good thing for Thea was that once we got her out there and she got that experience, she just grew. She has a natural ability to be positive and I just thank her for that."

"These past three seasons have been built off a hard work ethic and the attitude to keep going and keep pushing," said Sutton. "In the end, you're here for the team, to win and have fun. This year I've been able to do all these things because before, I'd gone through everything."

* * *

Now, in fairness to our fearless center back, Sutton is much more than her gritty on-field persona - she plays the game with integrity and as a teammate, is loyal and accepting. Gregarious by nature, she's been gifted with a kindness nurtured by her mother, Lynnette, and is driven by a strong desire to help others. In addition to her time on the soccer field, Sutton's Dartmouth experience has been shaped by relationships with her teammates. Part of an exceptionally close senior class -six women who are rarely apart - Sutton has enjoyed her classmates' diverse experience and the ease of their friendship.

"We're a tight team and the upperclassmen foster a love of Dartmouth women's soccer in the younger players," said Sutton. "It's about instilling a sense of responsibility and respect for the program and knowing that it's a privilege to be on this team. We are recognizable, which is great, but there's pressure to be at the top of your game at all times."

When she did have to be separated from her teammates for off terms, Sutton took full advantage of Dartmouth's quarter system. She spent a term in Australia during her sophomore winter, exploring that country as well as New Zealand, backpacking solo for six weeks. In 2008, the environmental sciences/biology major, interned for Global
Footprint Network, an environmental consulting firm based in Oakland, which allowed her to live at home. A participant in various community service efforts on campus, Sutton also volunteered with MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere), for a week in Ecuador in the summer of 2009. Her group of medical professionals and students provided medical care, education and performed surgeries in rural, underprivileged areas of the country. While medicine is not her calling, she has an interest in both public health and working outdoors. She is particularly interested in care for indigenous communities and the disparities between rural and urban populations even within the United States.

Sutton's perseverance and the passion with which she approaches life allowed her to shine amidst a group of bright stars on the Dartmouth women's soccer team. With the example she leaves to her teammates and the enthusiasm she harbors for the future, Thea Sutton is only just beginning to make her mark on the world.

Whatever it Takes: Margaret Smith

Athlete Profile

It would be perfectly understandable if Margaret Smith ’10 found herself having an identity crisis. You see, she's a guard. Make that a forward. Nope, definitely a guard. Well, maybe a forward again ...

Confused yet? The rest of the Ivy League sure has been.

A senior for Dartmouth, Smith’s graduation will equal a sigh of relief for Ivy League women’s basketball coaches. Switching from forward to guard and even back again, Smith has spent the last four years as one of the league's most challenging match-up problems. Offensively, she might drive to draw a foul, backdoor cut for a layup, or spot up for three. Defensively, her 6’1” frame and even longer wingspan have terrorized point and shooting guards all over the East coast.

Paving the way for younger sister, Brittney Smith ’11, 2009 Ivy Player of the Year, to follow her to Hanover didn't boost her popularity around the league much either.

But Margaret Smith doesn't mean to be such a problem — she's just doing her job.

"Margaret is perfectly comfortable not being the center of attention, just to quietly do her job and move on," said head coach Chris Wielgus. "She doesn't need praise because she is very comfortable with herself. I can't think of another athlete whose gotten as much out of herself as she has."

* * *

Smith's journey to Hanover started back in Fort Worth, Texas, where Team Ichiban AAU coach Eugene Watts encouraged her to look at the Ivy League school where another one of his products, Fatima Kamara '07, was excelling. Ultimately, Dartmouth was the only East coast school that Smith would visit, turning down offers from the likes of New Mexico to join the Big Green.

Margaret arrived at Dartmouth in 2006 and immediately found her place on the court, coming off the bench as a forward, earning Ivy All-Rookie team accolades. After a smooth transition to college basketball as a freshman, Smith found herself facing some big tests as a sophomore. With sister Brittney, a power forward, joining Margaret in Hanover, Wielgus concocted a plan that would allow her to keep both of the Smiths and All-Ivy forward Sydney Scott '08 on the court together.

Margaret would become a guard.

"I was getting hints at the beginning of sophomore year," said Smith, "But the announcement was made - and I found out - in front of everyone on the team before we played Iowa [in the 2007-08 season opener]."

"Honestly, Margaret was taking a beating inside and we decided she should face the basket," said Wielgus. "We needed her on the court so we decided to move her and it made a big impact defensively and with her rebounding."

During the past two years, Dartmouth has gone a combined 24-4 in Ivy play en route to back-to-back Ivy League Championships in 2008 and 2009 and was the league's top defensive team. Smith's workmanlike play was the steadying force for the Big Green; she was comfortable in the guard and had even developed a keen outside shot. Margaret's presence on the perimeter helped open things up inside for Brittney to pick up Ivy League Rookie and Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons (2008, 2009) and she is certainly her sister’s biggest supporter. Off the court, the two are inseparable, living together last season and still sharing each other's closets and, often, thoughts.

"They are soul mates," said Wielgus. "They're in each other's souls and they're almost like twins. They keep each other grounded."

* * *

Poised for her senior year, another twist was thrown at Smith this fall when junior forward Cassie Cooper '11 was lost to injury after just two games. You guessed it — Margaret would become a forward, again. Fortunately, the emergence of Sasha Dosenko '12 inside has ultimately allowed Margaret to stay on the perimeter more, but she's also had to adapt to changing on the fly, often switching into the post to spell Dartmouth's few forwards.

"I don't have a problem with it," said Smith of her somewhat dubious forward-guard-forward label. "I like different aspects of each. As a guard you have more control over what shots you take, but as a post you're closer to the basket, so you get better shots. But you do get banged up a lot more in there."

Getting banged up in the post might come with the territory, but for Smith, with an agonizing knee injury, jockeying for position can be downright brutal. She had dealt with intermittent pain and swelling in her right knee since having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in high school. Before her sophomore year at Dartmouth, she had a second surgery to relieve some of the pain that stems from severe cartilage degeneration, causing the bones in the knee joint to rub directly against each other. The respite was short-lived.

"It's bone on bone ... but when I'm playing it doesn't really hurt unless I tweak it, the adrenaline takes over," says Smith. "I don't have pain when I'm not playing on it, but after a game, I can't believe how badly it hurts."

"She does no complaining, the only time I'll sit her is if I say, 'Margaret, you're limping,' and she usually doesn't even realize it," said Wielgus. "She has learned to deal with the pain and done it with enormous dignity. I have never once heard her use her knee as an excuse."

Smith has never once missed a game because of her knee, is on pace to stand second all-time in career games played (currently at 111) and ranks in Dartmouth's top-10 all-time in rebounding. This season, Smith has found a new identity as Dartmouth's go-to player at the end of games, hitting game-winning or lead-preserving free throws against Harvard and twice against Cornell. The senior co-captain has shown no fear of injury either, routinely putting herself in harm's way in order to get to the free throw line, where she shoots an Ivy League-leading 90.2 percent. She's having her best season to date at Dartmouth, averaging 7.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game in Ivy contests.

"I'm really proud of her, at the beginning of the season we talked a lot about how it was her year to step up," said sister Brittney. "She's always in pain but gives 100 percent every game and I respect that."

"When the game is on the line, Margaret wants the ball," said Wielgus. "Regardless of the obstacles put in her way, she knows that we are relying on her and she won't let us down. She's playing because she has a passion for the game, enormous dignity and pride and cares greatly for this program."

* * *

Receiving her diploma in June carries much larger significance as Smith will become the first person in her immediate family to graduate from college, though some aunts and cousins on her father's side have done so.

"Knowing that I would be the first person on my mom's side to graduate from college was a big motivating factor to pursue this and finish successfully," said Smith.

Though the rest of the Ivy League will be happy to have the number 10 Smith off their scouting reports, with three games left she's not yet done working for the league's most storied program.

"It was upsetting to realize that we couldn't win a title this year, but at the end of the day, knowing that this is the last time I'll be able to play, I'm motivated," said Smith. "It's starting to hit me how I was able to have an impact and what a great opportunity I had to be part of this program. It's something that's going to stay with me for a long time."

For four years, Margaret Smith has been whatever Dartmouth basketball needed her to be, yet never sacrificed her own identity or integrity. Playing through adversity and pain, her resilience and commitment were just part of a job well done.

And there's nothing uncertain about that.