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South Elgin graduate Becca Smith had a little coming out party recently.
Smith, now a 5-foot-8 sophomore guard on the Division I Loyola University-Chicago women's basketball team, exploded for a career-best 25 points in the Ramblers' 63-61 Missouri Valley Conference victory over Missouri State on Sunday.
"We've had a lot of injuries this year, losing two better players to ACL injuries," said Smith. "That means more opportunities to take the ball to the basket. I'm using that opportunity and being aggressive and it's been working out."
In the Missouri State victory, Smith shot 9-for-16 from the field, including a 4-for-6 effort from the 3-point line. She added 7 rebounds and 3 assists in 39 minutes of play.
That output came on the heels of two other strong performances. She had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes of play in the team's 77-63 victory over Chicago State. She shot 7-for-11 from the field and also had 6 assists and 2 steals.
Smith also had 7 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds in 28 minutes of action in a 60-48 win over Southern Illinois.
To start the week, Smith was averaging 9.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. She had played in all 16 of the team's games (9 starts) and was averaging 26.4 minutes per game. Smith was shooting .426 from the field and .256 from the 3-point line (11-for-43), along with .651 from the free-throw line. She also had 29 assists and 21 steals.
"My shot wasn't falling earlier in the season," said Smith. "I was in a slump with my shot. I got into the gym and corrected what I could and my shot started to fall. Hopefully it will continue to do so."
Smith said she's also become more of a leader this year.
"We lost some people from last year's team and I took more of a leadership role this season," she said. "I'm only a sophomore, but I'm more of a vocal leader this year. Now I'm playing better and I'm being a better leader and things have started to fall into place."
With the injuries that have befallen Loyola, Smith has helped out where she's been needed and has been more than happy to do so.
"With the injuries and adversity we've faced this year, I'll do whatever the team needs me to do," said Smith. "I've played the 4, the 3 and the 2 and had a couple plays at the point. I'll do whatever I need to do. I think of myself as a versatile player. I enjoy playing any and everything. It's been a lot of fun."
That versatility hasn't been lost on Loyola coach and women's basketball legend Sheryl Swoopes.
"Becca is really becoming a leader for this team," said Swoopes. "She is a competitor, hard worker and leaves everything on the floor. She has played several positions for us this year due to injury. She was a key factor in our wins at Chicago State, Southern Illinois and Missouri State. Becca continues to work hard and get better every day and will be counted on as a part of our future."
Smith noted there was a big adjustment period going from the high-school game to Division I women's college basketball last season. She was the 2011-12 honorary co-captain of the Daily Herald's all-area team and scored 2,038 career points in high school, the second best in Fox Valley history.
"Coming from high school to college was a challenge," she said. "The game is so much faster and everybody is very talented. I came in last year and it was a shock. It definitely was nice to get a year under my belt and get bigger and stronger. I've improved my game in many different ways. I'm taking things I built on last year and am putting them into action this season."
Smith said she's having a ball with her academic and athletic experience at Loyola.
"It's been amazing here," she said. "I love the team and first and foremost I love the school academically. I'm getting a great education. It doesn't get much better than getting a degree from Loyola. I love coach Swoopes. She's an amazing motivator who has brought the team closer together. We follow her advice. A lot of teams that have been through the adversity we have would have quit. We didn't and we have coach Swoopes to thank for that. She makes you want to compete and play hard. She's an amazing woman."
Smith, who is studying psychology, also is a fan of being able to play home games in front of her family.
"It's awesome to have my mom and dad in the stands and see them all the time," she said. "It's great to be close to home but still be a little far away."
Smith feels the best is yet to come for Loyola this season.
"We're 2-2 in conference right now," she said. "We made a little noise beating Missouri State and we competed hard against Wichita State. People are starting to take notice that we can play with the best. All we have to do is play hard and compete every game and we can make some more noise in the conference. I think we can be a contender in the league. We're all focused and excited to see what we can do here the rest of the season."
Vietinghoff at Iowa Wesleyan: Hampshire graduate Karla Vietinghoff is now a junior on the Iowa Wesleyan women's basketball team.
Vietinghoff recently scored a career-high 35 points in the team's 76-36 win over Viterbo. She also tied the school record with seven 3-pointers. She was 2 points shy of the school's single-game scoring record. Vietinghoff also had 11 rebounds in the game.
Earlier, Vietinghoff had 15 points and 8 rebounds in a 69-50 win over Principia. She also had 22 points and 5 rebounds in an 86-81 victory over Buena Vista. She shot 4-for-6 from the 3-point line in the win over Buena Vista.
Off at College wants your help: Send information and/or information on Fox Valley area athletes playing collegiately to Mike Miazga at email@example.com.