Junior keeper does it all for school and nation

Daniel Clay

Most goalies are relegated to preventing goals, but keeper Abby Smith is asked to score them.   

In last weekend’s contest against Arizona State, the junior rocketed a 45-yard free kick into the back of the net for her second career goal and then returned to her own side of the field and proceeded to record three saves in a double overtime draw. 

“Her ability to be a weapon on the offensive side of things is something that 99 percent of the other coaches in the country don’t have,” head coach Angela Kelly said. “As teams are trying to prepare for her ability in-goal, they are also trying to prepare for her as an offensive threat.” 

Smith’s goals make for stylish highlights, but it’s her talent as a shot stopper that makes her an essential asset in Texas’ quest for an NCAA Tournament appearance. Last weekend, Smith notched 12 saves over the two-game homestand and held No. 22 Arkansas scoreless in a 120-minute draw. 

The strong performance earned Smith a spot on Top Drawer Soccer’s National Team of the Week. 

Smith is used to national recognition by now. In 2009, she caught the attention of the US Women’s National Team coaches, who named her to the national under-17 squad. 

Since then, she has been a fixture in the USA system and earned a spot on the 2012 U-20 Women’s World Cup team. She currently represents her country in the U-23 circuit, and the addition of Women’s World Cup champion and former USWNT star Kristine Lilly to the Texas coaching staff should help Smith in her climb to the senior team. 

Despite these different commitments, the star goalkeeper is not held back by conflicting interests or caught between two coaches playing tug-of-war for her focus. 

“[The national team] is really understanding,” Smith said. “UT has been great with working with it and helping me out.”

Kelly views national team exposure as an invaluable experience for her veteran keeper. 

“Nothing conflicts with representing your country,” Kelly said. “That’s why you prepare. Any time that Abby is selected, we are going to be so excited to support her.” 

Smith’s collegiate and international experience has earned the attention and respect of the underclassmen and thrust new leadership responsibilities onto the junior. 

“[My role] changed a little bit just because the underclassmen look up to the upperclassmen,” Smith said. “If something’s going wrong, they ask [me] or they ask the leaders on the team.” 

It is hard to find an area that Smith needs to improve upon now that veteran leadership has been added to her resume that already includes elite goal-keeping skills and the ability to contribute to the offense. But Smith looks forward to her years ahead.

“The only thing that Abby could do for herself is expedite time,” Kelly said. “The best days in a goalkeeper’s career are [ages] 28,29 [and] 30. We’re just excited that we get to spend four years with her, and she’s representing Texas.”