North's Smith quick to learn on the lacrosse field

In a sense, Erica Smith was born to play lacrosse.

With her father Erich and brother Erich Jr. having played the game in college, the North Gwinnett attacker/midfielder grew up with the game even if she didn't start playing it until her freshman season.

Now a senior, Smith has undergone an even bigger growth spurt in lacrosse as the first player in the history of the North girls program to sign a scholarship.

And she's hoping to help the Bulldogs (6-4, 4-1) undergo similar growth as they continue their challenge for the Area 4-AAAAA title.

Smith actually began her athletic career in North's volleyball program, but took the game her father played at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a family tradition continued by her brother, who recently graduated after finishing his career at Manhattan College in New York when the school began a club program during her freshman year.

"It was a family thing," said Smith. "I guess as soon as (North) started lacrosse, I jumped at (the chance)."

Smith's role has jumped significantly since her debut, as she has become one of the Bulldogs' leaders in every sense of the word.

"She's one of those special girls that has a passion about life and sports," North girls coach Diane Adams said. "She's so dedicated and energetic to everybody. She was an excellent volleyball player, but she moved all her leadership skills and effervescence over when she started playing lacrosse. It was an easy transition for her."

Perhaps, but even as she became a team leader in North's fledgling program, she wasn't done learning.

And her learning curve took a dramatic upturn during a season away from the Bulldogs, as she spent last year attending Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Grove, Mo., near St. Louis and playing for one of Missouri's top girls programs.

"They were ridiculously good," Smith said of her experience playing at Nerinx Hall. "They won a state championship the year before. They just had phenomenal stickwork and ball movement. I played defense last year, which was new to me. So, I learned a lot."

Upon her return this year, Smith has applied what she's learned to become one of the Bulldogs' most key all-around players with North coming out of spring break as part of a four-way tie for second, just a half-game behind area leader Peachtree Ridge.

But while her 13 goals with a .520 shooting percentage, three assists, 11 draw controls, seven groundballs and three caused turnovers make her one of the team's most valuable assets, Smith's worth goes beyond the number, Adam says.

"Even though she could be our leader statistically, she realizes it's a team sport," Adams said. "She's OK with passing the ball off and taking a (secondary) role when we need her to."

That kind of maturity and continued growth is something Smith hopes to take with her to the next level when she heads off to Rome at Shorter University's Division II program next year.

And as North's first college scholarship player, she hopes to continue to set a good example for younger Bulldogs to someday follow.

"I love that it's something I've accomplished and become a part of North Gwinnett history," Smith said. "Hopefully, I can show other girls they can get somewhere in the sport if they work hard enough."