Lehigh senior goalkeeper Will Smith makes a save during a game. The Mountain Hawks are 2019 Patriot League Champions after defeating Lafayette 1-0 on Sat. Nov. 16, 2019, at Ulrich Sports Complex. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Goalkeeper Will Smith values team success, along with personal accolade

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Newly-crowned Patriot League champion Will Smith does not have to worry about finishing his last season as a Mountain Hawk without Patriot League recognition.

Smith has played a key role in the team’s success since earning the starting goalkeeper spot during the second semester of his freshman year, and he was named Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Week that same season. He has since received the honor eight more times.

This season, Smith was named 2019 Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year and led the Patriot League in save percentage (86.2), total saves (87) and shutouts (10), although teammates and coaches have been impressed by more than Smith’s physical abilities.

Assistant coach Ryan Hess said he has been consistently impressed by Smith’s keen interest in the game and describes Smith as someone who is always asking questions and wanting to learn more. 

“He absorbs information really quickly, which I think is why, not only has he earned the starting position as a freshman, but to be able to keep it all four years and continue to get better, is a lot of credit to him,” Hess said. 

Smith not only pushes himself on the field, but also excels academically and contributes to several organizations on campus. He was one of 30 student athletes selected as candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, a prestigious honor celebrating success in athletics, academics, community and character. 

Smith is also a member of the Student-Athlete Council, a leadership program that works to enhance student athlete well-being on campus. 

According to his teammates, Smith works to improve his own abilities and makes sure to help the team develop its game. 

“He sets a great example, on and off the field,” junior defender Tyler Dressman said. “He leads by example and he’s really good at communicating.”

Smith credits a lot of the team’s success this season to its chemistry and rigorous preseason preparations.

The returning Mountain Hawks came into the preseason very fit, and the freshmen also came in good condition, which Smith said is unusual. Everyone was immediately ready to work.

With an overall record of 13-4-3 and 6-0-3 league record, the Mountain Hawks finished the regular season ranked first in the Patriot League and claimed a first Patriot League title since 2015 against rival Lafayette on Saturday, Nov. 16.

“Each year, we’ve done better and better as a team, like record-wise, and how far we’ve gone in postseason,” Smith said. “Each one of those memories has made me and the team better.”

Smith also finds opportunities to improve in the off-season by training with professional players and teams to push himself to be better. 

“This year is the pinnacle for my play really, because I’ve gotten a lot of good training throughout the years and a lot of good experience,” Smith said. “Individually, I’m at a good spot where I want to be going forward.”

Despite Smith’s intense focus on improving his own play, he never loses sight of his commitments to help better the team.

He encourages his teammates by giving pregame talks to begin the team’s mental preparations, which he credits as one of the most important aspects of team success. 

“He hasn’t been complacent,” Hess said. “He’s been someone that’s always asking how he can get better, pushing himself in practice, asking his teammates to improve and finding opportunities and trying to learn in different ways. He’s always been very open and receptive to the learning process. I do think at this stage at the end of his senior year, he’s playing the best soccer of his career.”

Smith will look to carry his team’s Patriot League success to the 2019 NCAA Division I tournament when it begins on Nov. 21, following the match-up draw on Nov. 18.

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