Written by: George Rodecker, Women's Columnist for College ChalkTalk (Jan. 31, 2011)
To See the Column on College ChalkTalk's website click HERE
Florida Gulf Coast University has only been in existence since 1997, yet it is making its mark ever since the very first team suited up for play and turned in an unbelievable 30-1 season. In fact, they had seasons of 18-8, 21-9, 29-2, 34-1, 22-9, 26-5, 24-7 and 28-4. So far this season, their first year eligible for NCAA post-season play, they’re sitting at an impressive 19-2/11-0. The Emerald Green and Cobalt Blue Eagles are led by Head Coach Karl Smesko (Kent State 1993). His combined FGCU record sits at 251-48, and his teams seem to be the dominant alpha of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The only two losses they suffered this season was an opening game six point loss to BIG EAST’s Seton Hall and the ACC’s North Carolina State by five. They have signature wins against Michigan State, Richmond, and a 28 point pounding of the ACC’s Virginia Tech. Sophomore guard Sarah Hansen leads a parade of contributors with 13.1 points and 6.1 boards per game. Additionally she averages 2.2 thefts per game and shoots 48.5% from the floor.
Smesko was hired a full year before the Eagles began play. He had that full year to recruit and build from scratch – not a very easy task. But that first ever 2002-2003 team rattled off wins in its first nine games ever played and FGCU has never had to look back.
In reminiscing Smesko recalls: “I had one full year to recruit before we had to start playing. When we first started recruiting we didn’t even have an arena to show them. We just had some pictures of what the arena would look like. In the beginning our offices were trailers, we didn’t have real offices. We just had to tell them about the vision we had for the program. The excitement is being part of the first team ever, and I think we had players who were motivated to be pioneers and help start this program. When we started we had no affiliation and we thought we would go NAIA but then we opted for NCAA Division II. We then had to go through a transition period for D-II and then another transition period for D-I. Most of our existence we haven’t been eligible for NCAA tournaments."
Smesko seems to smile over the phone when he states, “Now we’ve been through every transition and are fully eligible to be in the post-season tournaments”.
About Hansen and her 20 point, 13 rebound performance against Michigan State, a 59-58 win, the affable head coach said: “She’s a very good basketball player who is very competitive and very bright. She’s team oriented and she picks up things and she’s a 5-9 player who is willing to battle kids who are 6-2 and taller and just outwork them. On offense she can do just about everything. She can take it to the basket, she can handle the ball, and she can shoot it. Sarah’s just a good all-around player and a very tough individual”.
Regarding a very deep roster where minutes are distributed among several key contributors – few with any significant size, Smesko added: “We developed a different style, a wide open style; we really spread out the floor and have good shooters everywhere”.
From his one season as an assistant at Maryland, he recalls: “I saw what basketball is like at the highest level. What they did, what strength and conditioning was like – and all the little things”.
Whatever Karl Smesko has learned, from his time at Walsh University, Indiana-Purdue/Forth Wayne and Maryland, the Ohio native has brought all that experience and learning to this 13,000 student University in Fort Myers Florida. And fans as well as students have profited the most. For more on FGCU and to track their progress this season, head to their website at: http://www.fgcuathletics.com/wbasketball/