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Grace Smrke: A soon-to-be Saint with a tilted halo

Grace Smrke ain't no saint in the paint.

By her own admission, the 17 year-old soon-to-be graduate of the Lo-Ellen Park Prep basketball program takes a great deal of pride with the ruggedness of her inside game, occasionally prone to letting her emotions get the best of her.

"I've always been pretty tough," she said recently. "And if I get angry when I'm playing, that definitely amplifies it. But if I start seeing myself getting frustrated or angry, I have to stop and take a couple of breaths."

"I don't want to be taking stupid fouls and stuff," Smrke added. "I have to keep myself in check, throughout the game."

That is exactly what the St Clair Saints hope to see from their new recruit, as Smrke announced this week her commitment to the OCAA (Ontario Colleges Athletic Association) team in Windsor.

It was a very rewarding feeling for the 5'11" forward who did not take the her early ventures into dance and gymnastics, but was captivated from the time that she first picked up a basketball at the age of seven.

"I really loved being part of a team, that was a big thing for me," said Smrke. "And I was always one of the tallest in my class, but sometimes only in the middle with my team. Then my friends all stopped growing and I was just starting."

It didn't take long for Smrke to show signs of potential. In her first year at Lo-Ellen, the young woman who is preparing to enter the firefighting program at college was front and center with the Knights' junior team.

"I had a big role on that team, kind of a leader with a lot of responsibility, which really developed me as a player," stated Smrke. "I've always wanted to play where I would develop the most of get the best competition."

"When I played with the older girls, I would always push myself to work harder and stay with them. That was always important to me, going to wherever I felt I could get better."

Part of that development was a constant push for versatility, an approach that has served her well. "I've pretty much gone through every position," she said. "When I first started playing, I was a point guard."

"As I got taller, I moved down to a shooting guard and a small forward. Now, I'm more of a forward."

The move to southwestern Ontario was not necessarily one that Smrke and her family would see coming. All things being equal, she was more than happy to stay at home.

"At the beginning of the process, I really didn't look at going anywhere other than Laurentian," she admitted. "I think that part of the reason that I didn't want to leave Sudbury is that I am a pretty comfortable person - I like to feel comfortable."

"But I think I need to get out of my bubble and become a little uncomfortable to grow as a person."

And where basketball may have initially been the driving force behind her choice of post-secondary institutions, Smrke would come to the realization that her career aspirations really needed to top the list of priorities.

"I didn't really want to leave Sudbury, but then I got thinking more about what I wanted to do for a career, and I have always been interested in firefighting - so I started thinking about schools that offer firefighting programs."

As luck might have it, St Clair had already expressed an interest in the Sudbury talent, an athlete with a skill-set that complemented a current lineup that favours a bit of an outside game.

"I've watched some of their games on-line - they don't have very many forwards," said Smrke. "They have some nice guards and they have a perimeter game, but they struggle inside."

"The coach would like me to be a presence there. He thinks I will have an important role on his team."

And if that means battling to give herself a little more space in the key, the coaches are just fine with that. Grace Smrke can be the Saint with the tilted halo.

Orendorff and Associates