Caroline Smith, Lincoln-Way West beat Stagg

Lincoln-Way West junior Caroline Smith is a volleyball player. And she tends to bring the power of that sport to the basketball court.

In other words, you probably don’t want to get in her way down low when she’s corralling a rebound or linger in the lane on a drive.

That’s probably not going to end well.

“She’s a stat stuffer,” Warriors coach Ryan White said of Smith. “When she’s playing well, we tend to play well. So we kind of come and go as Caroline goes.”

If you like statistics, the 6-foot forward doled out plenty of them Thursday night in a 58-56 SouthWest Suburban Red victory over Stagg in New Lenox.

Smith scored 22 points, virtually all of them in the lane or low post. She also added 11 rebounds, a pair of steals and four blocked shots for Lincoln-Way West (12-14, 5-2).

That’s harkens to her game in volleyball, which she’s planning on playing in college after a stellar career in both sports for the Warriors.

“I enjoy blocking, and I feel like my jumping for volleyball, it definitely helps here as well,” she said. “It’s kind of the same motions in some ways.”

Her volleyball performances left an impression on guard Peyton Madl and forward Kaylee Schultz, her teammates who enjoyed the memorable win on senior night.

“You should see her play volleyball … it’s crazy,” Schultz quipped. “If you think her blocks here are good you should see her spike the ball. You’d be scared out of your mind.”

Lincoln-Way West’s Caroline Smith (12) breaks up the court against Providence during the WJOL Tournament at Joliet Junior College on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. (Steve Johnston / Daily Southtown)

All that put a damper on a special evening for Stagg as senior guard Ameli Sanchez scored her 1,000th career point. Sanchez finished with 20 points and sophomore guard Abbey Hobart added 13 for the Chargers (16-11, 3-5).

White had known of Smith since she was a sixth grader because she played with his daughter in travel basketball for the Lincoln-Way Xplosion.

It was clear growing up that Smith was going to eventually be a major contributor for the Warriors. And here we are.

“I could tell at an early age, the way she moved and her length, she was someone who was going to be a freshman-to-varsity type of player,” White said. “Every year she’s just progressed, and now she’s just kind of a beast out there.”

But what she does on the court is just part of her game. As a junior, leadership is becoming more important to her. She gives a lot of credit of her acumen in that area to Schultz and Madl, who scored 14 points Thursday.

What has Smith learned from them?

“Definitely just to keep everyone calm, keep everyone collected,” she said. “When I was younger, even last year and the year before, they just kept me calm and collected and we just worked together like that.”

But the flip side is Schultz and Madl have seen her progress, which has been satisfying while knowing they played a role in her development.

“I’ve got to give it to her, she finishes for me every time,” Madl said. “I always look for her.”

Lincoln-Way West's Caroline Smith spikes the ball as Providence Catholic's Payton Mandac defends during a game in New Lenox on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2023. (Troy Stolt for the Daily Southtown)
Lincoln-Way West’s Caroline Smith spikes the ball as Providence Catholic’s Payton Mandac defends during a nonconference match in New Lenox on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2023. (Troy Stolt / Daily Southtown)

White said Smith’s leadership is much by example. She works hard in practice, always shows up on time, never complains about anything and generally comes in and does her job.

Her teammates feed off that.

While she’s not committed to a college yet for volleyball, Smith said the mere decision to go in that direction after high school wasn’t easy.

But at the end of the day, dropping AAU basketball after eighth grade to focus on volleyball with First Alliance in club is what tipped the scales.

“It was definitely a hard decision,” she said. “I was still indecisive probably up until this year because I play club volleyball, so that’s why I chose what to do.”

Gregg Voss is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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