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Heavy heart, perfect touch
The Delta girls basketball team made its third appearance in the state final four this past season, capturing third place.
Junior guard Shea Smith was the offensive catalyst for the team, leading the Bobcats in scoring at 16.2 points a game while shooting better than 60 percent from the floor.
Smith played the final month and a half of the season with a heavy heart after her grandmother, whom Smith said never missed a home game, passed away in early February. As the season wound down, though, Smith used the memory of her grandmother to help inspire her play in the state tournament.
When the Bobcats needed her most, Smith was there. For that, Smith earned the Southeast Missourian Player of the Year honors in girls basketball.
"Dealing with something like that is tough on anybody," Delta coach Randy White said. "I knew she really wanted to perform well. That was one of her incentives."
The night after Smith's grandmother died, the Bobcats played Scott City. Smith scored 17 points in the win, taking the court as she knew her grandmother would have wanted.
"Everyone was like 'Shea are you going to play?' but I knew she'd definitely would want me to play," Smith said. "Whenever she died, that's when I really stepped up my game."
Smith's game has been evident since her freshman year. Smith averaged close to 14 points as a freshman, and she has continued to improve as her high school career has progressed.
In addition to being one of the area's top scorers this season, Smith pulled down five rebounds per game and shot nearly 80 percent from the free throw line.
Smith has noticed the improvements in her game.
"My free throw percentage has definitely gotten better," she said. "I've gotten used to playing [varsity]; I'm not so nervous any more. I've learned to see the floor better, and my defense has improved."
Smith's athleticism has made her one of the top dribble-penetrators in the area. Her ability to drive to the basket helped the 5-foot-7 guard hit 60 percent of her shots, a high percentage for her position.
"When the defense is playing back, you know you can do it, so you go for it," Smith said.
Added White: "We run a little perimeter game at times where we try to give them an opportunity to create and go to the basket. She does a good job of that."
Smith's ability to create her own shot came in handy in several tight playoff games. She saved some of her best moments for the end of the season, scoring game highs of 26 points in a sectional win and 20 points in a quarterfinal win against defending state champion Chadwick.
Delta's sectional win against Scott County Central showcased Smith's attacking style. Smith scored 17 of her 26 points in the fourth quarter of the 53-41 victory. Smith was sent to the free throw line 14 times in the fourth quarter, and she made 13.
"I recall that one," White said, "and when we played Chadwick, we had some kids in foul trouble early, and particularly the first half she took the ball game over and kept us in it."
A three-year starter, Smith has been a main cog for Delta's highly successful program. The Bobcats have won 68 games the past three seasons. This season, the Bobcats were able to get over the quarterfinal hump for the first time in that stretch, posting their first trip to the state final four since 2003.
"This year our goal was we wanted to do just as good or better than the 2003 team [which finished third]," Smith said. "We wanted to get first, but hopefully next year is our year."
Delta did not have a senior on its roster this past season and will add to its varsity roster with players from a strong junior varsity lineup.
"We're looking forward to next year," White said. "All of our kids have things we need to work on. We think by having those varsity kids back next year it should help us. It makes us competitive by having more competition in practice, and that should help all of our kids."
Smith has wracked up the accolades this season, earning first-team all-state, all-conference and all-region honors. This is also Smith's third straight year on the all-Southeast Missourian team.
"As a coach that's one of the things that makes coaching fun," White said. "You see kids get better. You see their confidence soar as they get better. To see them receive some kind of reward for it, not just being a good ball club, but for them to be rewarded for the hard work be it all-conference or all-state, that's a reward, too."
During the spring, Smith will suit up with Delta's softball team, but her true passion is basketball. And if Smith has her way, she will continue that passion once her high school days are over.
"I would love to play for coach [B.J.] Smith at SEMO," said Smith.