ABOVE: Ellie Smith has been focused on improving her game ever since she started playing. // VINCE TROIA
By VINCE TROIA
Ellie Smith, who seemingly began kicking a soccer ball before she could walk, has accepted a scholarship to continue her playing days at Maryville College, an NCAA
Division III soccer program that earned a bid to its league title game last season.
Smith, a four-year starter at Hillwood High School, will play soccer this fall at the private liberal arts college in Maryville, Tenn., Metro Nashville Public Schools announced in a recent newsletter. The college was founded in 1819 and is situated between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville.
The Hillwood senior began playing soccer at age five on the Harpeth Youth Soccer Association fields in Bellevue. She continued to improve with travel teams and in her years at Bellevue Middle Prep, never wavering in her love for the sport.
“I am not surprised that she is still playing. She has only ever wanted to play soccer even when I tried to get her to try other sports,” said her mom, Diana Briley. “Ellie is the type of player that is always disappointed if practice is cancelled. Even after all these years and the intense commitment, she just wants to play.”
Smith has been a regular on the soccer field at Hillwood since she was a freshman, earning a spot as team captain. She was last season’s Defensive Most Valuable Player in the district, one year after being named district Offensive Most Valuable Player. The awards are voted on by district soccer coaches.
“Over the course of my soccer career, there have always been players at a level above me,” Ellie said. “This has kept me motivated by always pushing me to improve to get to their level of play.”
She said that throughout her high school years her motivation to elevate her play on the soccer field was her attempt to reach “my goal of playing in college.”
Her high school coach, Margaret Shuff, called Ellie “one of the best female soccer players to come through Hillwood.” She has been equally impressed with Smith’s efforts off the soccer field.
“Ellie epitomizes the total package as a student-athlete and has the most kind, compassionate and caring nature,” said Shuff. “She is not only top caliber on the field, she is also one of our top performing seniors academically.”
Smith sports a 4.3 grade point average and is a member of the National Honor Society. She also serves as a school ambassador at Hillwood. Educating herself in the game of soccer was important too, according to her mother, who said Ellie developed into an intensely competitive player focused on bettering her own performance.
“It is not that winning isn’t very important — it is,” Briley said. “However, Ellie’s desire to improve her own play and grow into the best soccer player she can be is what drives her each time she takes the field.”
Ellie says family members are her biggest supporters, and she knows they will still be rooting for her in Nashville while she’s playing in an Eastern time zone come fall.
“Maryville is not too far away and I’m hoping for games close to home,” she said.
Smith will take her love of the game to Maryville and a squad that finished the 2018 campaign with a tough 1-0 loss in the championship game of the USA South Conference tournament. The Scots were a perfect 8-0 in conference play, earning the USA Southwestern division regular season title.
“It has been great playing for Hillwood. I hope that I can do just as well when I play in college,” she said. “Since I always focus on what I can do better, I feel like I never get tired of the sport.”