BOLINGBROOK – Nikia Smith has track-star speed. She just chooses to use it differently.
The Bolingbrook High School junior actually is a standout soccer player, though she did try her hand at track when she was younger.
“I did do track, but I didn’t like the pressure of it being just you,” Smith said. “I’m more of a team person.”
Smith has been playing soccer since third grade, and her career will extend for a few more years because she already has committed to play at Northwestern once she graduates.
With her combination of speed, talent and athleticism, she is one of the best girls soccer players to come out of Bolingbrook in the school’s history. One might not think coaching such a talent would present a challenge, but in a way it has for head coach Martin Uscila.
“How to utilize her, that’s the challenge,” Uscila said. “I’ve been putting her in the back where she’s comfortable, but at the high school level she could probably be a prolific scorer if I put her there all the time so she could constantly work at it.”
Having been decimated by injuries this season, especially on the offensive side of things, Uscila has at time used Smith as a forward and attacking midfielder. Ever the team player, she’s accepted any role for the Raiders (9-5-3 overall as of April 29), but she prefers playing defense, which where she has started the majority of games.
“I’ve been everywhere, but I like central defender the most,” Smith said. “I like the challenge. If someone beats you on a play, you have to go right back at them.”
Injuries to striker Rachel Schneider (ACL) and midfielders Jocellyne Padilla (back) and Sophia Sychowski (concussion) have not only sapped the Raiders offense but also put a dent in their depth. A roster that once went 18 or 19 deep is down to just a few subs.
Defensively, Smith is flanked by freshman Tyler Holmes, sophomore Corrin Bronersky and junior Dale Treitjen. All three are in their first season starting for Bolingbrook’s varsity team. The midfield also is relatively inexperienced with sophomore Amy Fetters and senior Andrea Sanchez playing key roles. With so many new faces on the field, Smith’s talent and experience is even more crucial.
“The one thing I’ve seen her doing without me even asking is she’s a lot more vocal on the field,” Uscila said. “You see her pointing things out and telling them where they need to be.”
Smith herself knows she’s stepped up as a leader this season, and she’s not satisfied stopping there.
“I just keep playing and trying to improve,” she said. “My speed is improved, but I still need to work on my foot skills.”
Humble and talented? It’s a good combination, one that Uscila has for another season after this one.
“People that have seen her understand that kick-and-run soccer that you sometimes see in high school is never going to work against us because any long ball played in our end, she’s going to track it down,” the coach said. “We’re in every game with her back there.”