Florence's Lexi Smith sets national field hockey record

Posted: October 13, 2012

Lexi Smith called it one of the best moments of her life.

Not the goal. Not the record-setting shot that Smith, a senior at Florence High School, sent rocketing into the cage early in Friday's field hockey game against Riverside.

Smith, 17, has scored a lot of goals. She has scored more goals than any player in the history of high school field hockey in the United States.

Smith's goal 8 minutes and 41 seconds into Friday's game was the 175th of her career. It broke the national record set in 1985 by Sharon Berney, a Philadelphia resident who was known as Sharon Landau when she played for Rye Neck High School in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Smith said she felt like "1,000 pounds were off my back" after the goal. But she said that what happened next was the most special aspect of her accomplishment.

She ran to the side of the field and embraced her mother and coach, Gina Smith.

"To me, that was everything," Lexi Smith said. "To be able to run over to my mom, to see her tearing up, it was the best feeling.

"I cherish that. I cherish being able to do this with the people around me who have supported me."

On the record-setting goal, Smith took an insert on a penalty-corner play from teammate Devin Vogel, a senior. Smith corralled the orange ball, eluded one defender, and unleashed a hard shot that banged off the wood in the back of the cage.

Smith was mobbed by her teammates and cheered by the couple of hundred fans who ringed Florence's grass field on a cool, overcast afternoon. She scored three more goals in the game, a 6-0 victory.

"I'm so proud of her I'm speechless," said Gina Smith, who will retire from coaching after 15 years at the end of this season. "She worked so hard for this. She's made a name for herself through her hard work."

Gina Smith, who was a star field hockey player at Florence and a star field hockey and lacrosse player at the College of New Jersey, said her daughter's first field hockey stick was a pen-sized toy in her crib.

But Gina Smith wasn't sure she wanted her daughter to play the sport.

"I was afraid that she would feel like she had to follow in my shoes," Gina Smith said. "I didn't want her to live in my shadow."

Lexi Smith said she played some soccer when she was little. But field hockey was in her blood, and she persuaded her mom to start a recreation field hockey program in Florence about eight years ago.

"Now you can go over there on a Sunday afternoon and see hundreds of little girls playing field hockey," Gina Smith said.

Lexi Smith's scoring prowess is the result of years of practice, honing and strengthening her skills and her powerful shot. She has a regulation-size cage in her side yard, built by her father, Jeff.

"This is a kid who plays field hockey seven days a week," Gina Smith said.

Lexi Smith tied Berney's record with two goals on Oct. 5 against Palmyra. She went scoreless in a 5-2 loss to Maple Shade on Tuesday, and again in a 3-1 win over Holy Cross on Wednesday - building the tension and suspense, at least outside the Smith household.

"We have a rule - no field hockey talk at home," Gina Smith said. "But she did talk to Jeff and I a little bit. We said, 'Honey, don't worry. It's going to come.' "

Lexi Smith, who plans to attend the College of New Jersey and play field hockey for the Lions, has 178 goals. She likely will play around 10 more games in her career, including the state tournament, so it's possible she will finish with more than 200 goals.

Her stay at the top of the record book is likely to be short compared to Berney's 27-year run. Smith's record is likely to be eclipsed late next season or early in 2014 by Eastern Regional sophomore Austyn Cuneo, who recently scored her 100th career goal.

"We all know who's coming," Gina Smith said of Cuneo. "But at least she'll have it for a little while."

Berney, who lives and works in Center City, attended a Florence game for the third time in a week on Friday. She embraced Lexi Smith after the game.

"I'm so proud of her," Berney said.

Lexi Smith said her record-setting goal, like all her goals, was a family affair. She said her time in the national spotlight has heightened her appreciation of her teammates, assistant coaches, and family.

She said both of her grandmothers as well as her great-grandmother and brother Jeff, who is 14, have been regulars at most of her games, both for Florence and for her club team, Jersey Intensity. She said her mom and dad are always there, too.

Lexi Smith said that's why it was so special for her to be able to share the record with her mom, whom she regards as her coach, her mentor, and her inspiration.

"It's the most amazing feeling to make your parents proud," Lexi Smith said.

Contact Phil Anastasia at panastasia@phillynews.com or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.

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