By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – There were only two real choices when trying to decide who would earn the Bristol Observer Female Athlete of the Year for the 2012-13 scholastic season.
And with all due respect to all the other athletes around the Bristol area, who has the credentials, the resume and the athletic ability that Bristol Eastern senior Karissa Smith brought to the table every day?
It’s not even close with the exception of one other choice and that’s Central’s three-sport sensation Chandler Walker.
Walker, a junior for the Rams that played soccer (goalie), basketball and softball, did it all for Central and is one of the best at what she does.
And don’t be surprised next season if this honor belongs to her.
Ask any one of her coaches from Central and you’ll get a glowing report of exactly what Walker is all about on and off the field.
“Chandler Walker is a fantastic athlete and more importantly, she’s a fantastic kid,” said Central softball coach Nicole Shook. “She’s going to give 110 percent anytime, anywhere and I expect great things from her (in the future).”
In softball, Walker played in 23 of 24 games and batted a neat .403 with 31 hits, three home runs, 20 RBI while scoring 19 runs and stealing four bases.
In soccer, she helped her team win seven games and played the tough goalie position while in hoop, she averaged around 11 points and 11 rebounds-per-game as the rams were back in the state tournament picture.
Again, with credentials like that – and other like Bristol Central jumping Lauren Bossi – it would be difficult to bypass that duo.
But this year’s award winner is also a three-sport star was one of the best at what she does in multiple venues for Bristol Eastern.
Smith isn’t just a great athlete but she excels in everything she does on the field or court.
“For four years, she’s been a great competitor,” said Eastern girls basketball coach Tony Floyd. “She has all the physical attributes you look for in a kid. She’s competitive, she’s a hard worker, and she’s willing to learn. That’s where she picked up the game so quickly.”
“She goes hard on everything she does, she gives it 100 percent not just athletics, but in her school work.”
Over the years, she earned varsity letters in volleyball, basketball, softball and girls track but her biggest accomplishment came in the fall of 2012 when Bristol Eastern’s volleyball team went 23-1 and won the Class L championship.
Eastern defeated Old Lyme 3-0 to claim the state’s top prize.
Smith played in 76 of 78 sets and racked up 282 kills with a kill rate of nearly 50 percent.
She just wasn’t a good hitter but she could serve with the best of them with 68 aces, 182 digs, and 11 total blocks.
Back-line, front-line, outside of the line…she played every position with poise, understand and a willingness to do whatever her team needed her to do.
On Nov. 15 of last year in a semifinal showdown with RHAM, she smashed the squad for 24 kills in Eastern’s biggest win of the campaign outside of the championship tilt.
She also rang up 10 aces against Bulkeley while blocking two shots in four games this past year.
Against Farmington on Sept. 27, Smith turned in 20 digs but it wasn’t always about stats.
Every single intangible that a player could bring to the court – leadership, intelligence and guile – was ever-present each and every game by the clever Smith.
She was easily not only the MVP of the Class L championship game, but one of the best players in the state.
Four years of volleyball for Smith, four CCC South championships.
Smith is a two time All-State pick and she ended her career with a CCC Championship, a Class L title, and was a three time CCC South selection.
Then, she was a standout on the basketball court and a defensive wizard from game one.
Even when her teammates were beaten in defensive sets, Smith was there to block shots, clog the lane or just cause general havoc to disrupt the offensive flow.
On the campaign, she averaged just a hair under 17 points and 11 rebounds-per-game and easily was the top player in the Mum City as the Lancers went 15-7 this past fall.
Again, all those intangibles traits is something she displayed on the court on a nightly basis.
“She was a great leader,” said Floyd. “She led by example. She just worked so hard, she always supported her teammates and that’s one thing that was key for us.”
“You don’t find those kids that have those characteristics anymore as players, as leaders.”
In a seven game stretch from Dec. 7 to January 2, she zipped in 22.4 points-per-game as Eastern went 5-2.
On Thursday, Dec. 27, she played her best game ever as she dumped a career high 32 points and scooped in 22 rebounds in a 50-42 victory over Daniel Hand in its own tournament.
A typical game this past season, such as Eastern’s 53-36 win at Hall, saw the senior collect 24 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, and five steals.
Smith was recognized for her work by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association and the power forward/center was named Academic All-State.
Like Mallory Kloss and Kadijah Shoultz the season before, Smith played in a CHSCA Class LL-L senior girls all-star game at North Branford High School and handled herself very well against some of the state’s top players.
“She’s done such a great job over the last couple of years,” said Floyd. “She carried us inside. And she was all league for three years. I thought she should have been All-State with her stats. I think if we could have gotten one more game farther in the state tournament, she probably would have been.”
Then in the spring, her work with the javelin on the girls track and field team was just as impressive.
In the CCC South championships, Smith took first in the shot put (34’4”) and second in the javelin.
But it was her abilities in the javelin that earned her a spot in the State Open.
In the Class L championship, Smith took third in the event with a toss of 113’ 11.” In the shotput, she just missed the State Open mark but still placed third (34’2.5”).
That success led her to the Open event where she nabbed 17th place, throwing the javelin in a distance of 102-07.
With all the abilities she has in hand, picking the right college to get her education and being able to play her favorite sport was something Smith wanted to do at the next level.
But Smith made a very good local choice in which she can continue to pursue her volleyball career and she found such a place in Danbury.
Smith will attend Western Connecticut State University this fall and will play volleyball.
“She got a scholarship to Western Connecticut for academics,” said Floyd. “So that shows a lot about her.”
She ended the season so strongly in basketball that playing hoop in college was also a possibility.
Too say the least, Western is getting a gem of an athlete to join the women’s volleyball program.
And she’s a super kid with plenty of support from her family and you can see what all that nurturing and all the positive vibes have done for the incredible Smith.
“She’s a rare find,” said Floyd. “She’s very coachable…we’ll miss her next year.”