Soccer X-Women striker on the pitch in San Antonio
By Corey LeBlanc
Countless hours spent in the front yard – when dreams of a career in professional soccer were born – are times from her childhood that Amanda Smith remembers fondly.
"We had so much fun," the StFX X-Women striker says.
In the beginning, that 'we' included Smith and her brother, Justin, who shares her passion for the sport.
Those sibling sessions – kicking the ball around – soon included friends from their tight-knit Ottawa neighborhood.
"I really, really started enjoying it," Smith says.
She also started sharpening her skills as a member of the West Ottawa Soccer Club, where Smith and her friends had to the opportunity to play at a high level.
Early on, she made a difficult decision.
"I guess I put all my eggs in one basket," Smith says – with a laugh – in describing her choice to focus on soccer and stop playing hockey.
With one of the key decisions on her soccer journey on the horizon – where she would take the pitch at the university level – she tapped into a hometown connection. One of the frequent participants in those childhood pick-up games – Oliver Hewish, a former X-Men soccer student-athlete and now X-Women associate coach – encouraged her to consider donning the White and Blue.
"I just loved the campus and the people," Smith says of her first time at StFX – the traditional visit made by high school recruits.
Now, a couple years later, she describes her decision to become a Xaverian as the "perfect choice."
"It has been an amazing experience," Smith says, crediting her coaches and teammates for helping make it so memorable.
Smith praises the "great environment and culture" fostered by the X-Women soccer program as part of StFX Athletics.
Once she arrived on the Antigonish campus, Smith didn't take her long to make an impression as a student-athlete in Atlantic University Sport (AUS), establishing herself as one of the most feared strikers in the conference. In her sophomore season, the offensive dynamo garnered a first-team all-star collection.
Although what would have been her junior campaign was wiped out last fall by the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic, Smith continued to sharpen her soccer skills while also focusing on her studies. She is studying in the human kinetics program, while minoring in nutrition.
In early March – as she was finishing up her third academic year – opportunity came knocking.
"[X-Women head coach] Graham [Kennedy] thought it was a viable option – something that I should pursue," she says of an offer to play semi-professional soccer in the U.S.
By mid-April, Smith was in Texas for training camp with the San Antonio Athenians of the United Soccer League (USL).
"I am really enjoying it," Smith says of early impressions of her south-of-the-border experience.
Kennedy credits her for taking on this athletic challenge.
"I am very pleased with Amanda's decision to play for the Athenians because it shows her ambition as a player. She is walking her talk, sticking her neck out and taking a brave step forward," the veteran X-Women mentor says.
"I am really proud of her and the player she is becoming. She wants to be a pro, and she's taking the right steps to make it happen."
When asked about the level of play in San Antonio, Smith says it is "highly competitive."
"I am really pushing myself," she adds.
Smith notes the goal of the experience is to continue on her journey to reaching the "next level."
When it comes to the strengths of her game, she mentions her "good vision on the field."
"I am quite comfortable with using my technical abilities to take on players – 1-v-1 – to create opportunities for myself and others. I also believe that I am able to shoot effectively and accurately," Smith adds.
As far as where she has room for improvement, she says she needs to become "more comfortable with using my left foot, when it comes to shooting."
"I also believe that I can improve on my decision-making – when it comes to moving forward on the field – whether it is passing, through balls, knowing when to take on opponents and when to shoot. I believe the more I am able to complete a wide variety of attacking options – the more effective I will become as an attacker," Smith adds.
Although her focus is on making the best of her time as an Athenian, she notes she is looking forward to returning to the X-Women for the fall semester and completing her degree.
Given how the global pandemic has affected so many sport seasons, she points out she is "grateful to have the opportunity to continue playing soccer at a competitive level."
"I hope in the fall there will be an AUS season for myself and all other athletes in the league to compete again," Smith says.
As for her professional soccer aspiration, she will continue to explore prospects – particularly in Europe – after graduation.
"I want to go as far as I can," Smith says.
No matter what happens – as far as playing at that level – she notes she "would always like soccer to be a part of my life."
"I would love to coach the game. I am also interested in teaching and nutrition, so any career that can incorporate those interests would be ideal," Smith says.