In addition to an address change, a new uniform and the level of competition, not much has changed on the softball field for Hilary Smith.
She's still smacking the cover off the ball.
Smith moved 300 miles away from the friendly confines of Brainerd and Central Lakes College to play Division II softball for the Northern State University Wolves in Aberdeen, S.D., and hasn't lost her touch.
The former Brainerd Warrior standout has picked up where she left off last year when she helped the Raiders to the NJCAA Division III national tournament. Smith leads the Wolves in five offensive categories and is second in three others.
"It took a few games to settle down and do what I've been taught over years," Smith said. "Now I go up, take a deep breath and rely on my ability. The pitching is better and you can't be as picky because you're not always going to get that pitch down the middle of the plate."
Smith leads the Wolves in hitting with a .328 average, in slugging percentage at .448, has an on-base percentage of .371, has 19 hits and 26 total bases. She's second on the team in with six RBIs, four doubles and eight runs.
On March 18, Smith displayed the power she showcased last year with the Raiders when she drilled a two-run, walk-off home run in the ninth inning to give NSU (2-18 overall) a 6-4 victory over South Dakota.
"Hilary has worked very hard on her hitting and takes great pride in having quality at bats," Wolves coach Terri Holmes said. "She takes the ball where it is pitched and has showed great patience. She attacks early in the count and stays within her self."
While she won 23 games on the mound for CLC last year, Smith has found it a tougher go at NSU. She is 0-7 with a 6.57 ERA and figured out quickly that one mistake can be costly.
"You can't miss a pitch or the hitters will make it come back to haunt you," said Smith. "I've been working on being more consistent on the mound. You're not going to blow pitches by hitters so I work on location and focus more on hitting the right spots."
College: Northern State University, Aberdeen, S.D.
Sport: Fast-pitch softball
Major: Biology and secondary education
One of the most asked questions Smith gets is why she left CLC with one year of eligibility remaining and forego a chance at another national tournament appearance.
"I just wanted to see what else was out there and I wanted to play at a higher level," Smith said. "It was a very difficult decision. I have a lot of friends in Brainerd and I enjoyed playing at CLC. The team was great and we had lot of success and it would've been nice to try and repeat the national tournament.
"I just felt I wanted to get out of Brainerd and experience softball at a different level."
Smith said leaving Brainerd has forced her to look at her future more closely and what she wants to do after college. To make things easier Smith is receiving a little monetary help in the form of a scholarship from NSU.
"I just wasn't figuring out what I wanted to do last year," Smith said. "Coming to Northern State has opened a lot of new doors for me and now I have figured out what I want to do. Changing schools forced me to make up mind.
"At home I didn't have to make any decisions. As much as I loved Brainerd and playing at CLC I wanted a new experience and I'm very happy with my decision."
Smith is majoring in biology and secondary education. It's also not a surprise that Smith would like to coach softball someday.
"I want to coach softball and maybe hockey," she said. "I've been a part of those sports my whole life. It's always been sports and school for me and I want to be a part of that once again."
TROY GUNDERSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5865.
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