Former Hoosier field hockey great Kayla Bashore-Smedley is no stranger to building tradition from the ground up.
When she first arrived in Bloomington and donned a cream and crimson uniform nearly 11 years ago, the Hoosier program she was joining possessed no history of any kind — it was entering its second year.
Four years and a memorable college career later, she had not only picked up a degree in biology, she also became IU’s first — and still sole — recipient of First Team All-America honors and was a centerpiece of the Hoosiers’ first foray into the NCAA Tournament.
Bashore-Smedley, who has since borne the Stars and Stripes at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and brushed shoulders with Michael Phelps and LeBron James during the Parade of Nations, again has her sights set on glory.
Bashore-Smedley was one of 16 athletes named on June 11 to the roster for the women’s field hockey squad set to represent the U.S. later this summer at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She is also among seven players who will reprise their roles on the Olympic team that competed four years ago and finished eighth overall.
This year’s edition of Team USA will seek its first medal in more than a quarter century in women’s field hockey, which has been an Olympic sport since 1980.
Upon receiving the news she had made the cut, Bashore-Smedley said she entered a state of pure euphoria and began to soak in the surreal truth: She will be a two-time Olympian.
“When you hear the congratulations, there’s jitters and a feeling of excitement and adrenaline,” she said. “Once the initial emotions subside, though, you feel relieved. As an athlete, it’s the ultimate goal. What we’re always striving for is to make the Olympics. We’ve been training for the last four years, so knowing you’ve actually made the team is an incomparable feeling.”
In recent years, Bashore-Smedley has made a name for herself as a mainstay in midfield for Team USA, which, despite a slightly more elevated profile than her collegiate outfit, is still chasing not only recognition but also medals.
Despite a dry spell for the squad in previous olympics, Bashore-Smedley and her compatriots produced the most promising display in decades for the American squad in Beijing. By dropping only two matches of the six it played, the 2008 incarnation of Team USA created a potential springboard from which to pursue podium awards.
“To win a medal, we have to capitalize on times when we have momentum,” Bashore-Smedley said. “You’re always going to be up at some point, and you have to be aware and take advantage of those moments. We’ve got to say to ourselves, ‘We have to win this play, win this half, win this game,’ and keep in the moment.”
Whether or not Team USA returns from England with shiny medallions around the necks of its players, Bashore-Smedley said she believes this year’s squad is poised for greater success than the one that appeared in Beijing — a group comprised entirely of Olympic first-timers.
In retrospect, she admits the team might have been alternately wide-eyed and naïve.
“We were all rookies in Beijing and didn’t know what to expect,” Bashore-Smedley said. “When we walked into the opening ceremonies as one with all of Team USA, there was such a strong sense of pride. Everybody chanting before we went in was the best feeling. Then on the field, as we were getting ready to play Argentina and it was raining during the national anthem, everything became reality all of a sudden. I thought, ‘This is it, we’ve arrived.’”
Once the pomp and circumstance dissipated and gave way to the competition, Bashore-Smedley said she and her teammates quickly learned lessons that tested their mettle and will serve them well in London.
“Every minute, every goal really matters in how you finish and place,” she said. “You could compare it to the Final Four. You’re just happy to get there the first time, but the second time you go, you really want to win it. We lacked a little bit of experience in 2008, and I think we’re more ready this time around to capitalize on certain situations.”
Of the players on 2012’s more seasoned roster, nine of the 16 athletes named to Team USA hail from Pennsylvania. But unlike the geographical connections, the squad members’ ages vary.
“A lot of the girls on the team have taken a year off from college. I’ve known them for a year, maybe two,” said Bashore-Smedley, who turns 30 next February, of her relationship with Team USA’s younger members. “The other half I’ve known since 2008. There’s such a mix of ages. I think the difference in age makes it so each group learns from the other. We take the best of both worlds to help us develop.”
One of the key figures in Bashore-Smedley’s own development was current IU Head Coach Amy Robertson, whom Bashore-Smedley called “one of my favorite coaches of all time.”
“She takes time to care for each player individually, which I think sets her apart from most other coaches,” she said of Robertson. “I’ve always admired that in her.”
The culmination of Bashore-Smedley’s career in Bloomington under Robinson, a send-off in the form of an upset of highly ranked North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, came after the previous three years of losing seasons. The lesson imparted to her by her by a tough record is one the Hoosier star said she takes to heart.
“I would have done it all the same way again,” Bashore-Smedley said, after confessing that while the sheer volume of defeats took their toll, the end result was well worth the wait.
At IU, persistence, a strong work ethic and experience ultimately landed her and her teammates an Elite Eight appearance.
Across the pond, she and another batch of colleagues will look to the same qualities later this summer to realize her latest — and loftiest — goal: a spot on the podium among the finest in her sport.