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Saugus' Serena Smith-Banas: Who needs a box score?

Saugus defender Serena Smith-Banas contributes by leaving opponents disappointed

Posted: January 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 26, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Saugus senior defender Serena Smith-Banas is having another standout season for the Centurions after being selected to the All-Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley first teams in 2011. She has led Saugus to an undefeated league mark thus far in 2012.

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Serena Smith-Banas doesn’t generally appear in the box score for the Saugus girls soccer team.

She has three goals and five assists through 19 games.

But the box score isn’t the place to look for her true contributions. They show up across the field.

The frustrated expressions on the faces of opposing forwards tell how difficult it is to get behind the 17-year-old sweeper.

And the scoreboard — which has displayed a zero next to the opponent’s name 13 times this season — proves it.

She is regarded by many as the best player in the Foothill League, and she’s without a doubt its best defender, according to many opposing coaches.

Smith-Banas is the key cog in a Saugus defense that has allowed an average of 0.3 goals per game and hasn’t allowed any of its opponents to score more than once.

“I’ve always played defense,” she says. “It’s hard sometimes because you don’t get recognition. But I still like it. I like being able to keep them out rather than having to go and score. Before every game that’s your goal: Don’t let them score and (they) can’t win.”

At 5 feet, 11 inches tall, her height allows her to out-jump opponents. And combined with her soccer intelligence, she finds a way to consistently be in the right place to make a play on the ball.

“She’s a really big stopper for us,” says friend and teammate Angie Weiner, who has played soccer with Smith-Banas since the age of eight. “I don’t have any worries that she’ll get the ball. She’s very relaxed and she knows what she’s doing.”

That dominance on the Saugus back line led to a scholarship offer from Texas Christian University, which Smith-Banas will attend next season.

And while she has certainly benefited from her height and athletic ability throughout the years, don’t be fooled — the Saugus star has worked hard to get to this point.

“People need to understand that we’re not in the age where there’s 11 full scholarships to give out every year, especially from Division I schools,” says Saugus head coach Natalie Helgeson. “Soccer is such a people sport and a lot of people have access to high levels of coaches and training. And you’re fighting for one of three spots at a university and she’s been able to dedicate herself and stay healthy and do the extra (work) to get to that school. It’s amazing, and it’s something the girls can be proud of. Getting to a school, to a D-I school, is not easy. There’s a misconception that a lot of girls (get there).”

That training started at a young age.

At four years old, she was heading to practices at the Santa Clarita Soccer Center before moving on to American Youth Soccer Organization play the next year.

Three years later, she began playing club soccer in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Now, she plays for one of the premier club teams in the nation in Real So Cal. The club was ranked the No. 16 girls club program in the nation by Soccer America for 2011.

But playing at such a high level requires its sacrifices.

“In the beginning it was (hard) trying to balance homework, and during junior year, too, because that’s the hardest academic year trying to figure out if that’s what you wanted to being doing,” she says. “It’s hard to stay up that late and trying to finish homework and worrying about what your coaches are saying to you.”

She also tried modeling. She says she signed with a few agencies and walked in a runway show last year.

“I (modeled) for the end of sophomore year and then last year,” Smith-Banas says. “And then it got too crazy with soccer. I may wait until after college and do more stuff.”

But the difficulties have always been worth it.

“You just have to make sure you love it,” she says. “Otherwise you would never last. (I) always want to check with myself, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ And the answer has never been no.”

That attitude has weaved itself through the rest of the Saugus squad, a team that is in search of its third straight Foothill League title. The Centurions are off to a 5-0-0 start to the league season, halfway to their second straight unbeaten league championship.

“She has high expectations of everyone, but she does a pretty good job of balancing it out,” Weiner says. “I think (the rest of the team) sees how hard she’s working and where she’s getting to and it’s an inspiration.”

And that respect has allowed her to run the Saugus back line like a seasoned veteran.

“She sees the whole field. She’s not afraid to direct people and give them assignments on the field, and the team respects her and listens to her,” Helgeson says. “It always seems like our defense is really well-organized.”

But what really sets Smith-Banas apart from her opponents on the pitch is her ability to give everything she can from whistle to whistle.

“You never know, you could go into one tackle and it could end your career,” Smith-Banas says. “And when you play like that — with it in the back of your mind — it helps you leave everything back on the field, and I hope everyone has that mentality on the field.”

Maybe that’s the real place to find Smith-Banas’ contributions to the Saugus girls soccer team. Not in the box score, but what’s left on the field.

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