Smith finds niche on women’s basketball team

Kaitlin Cordes, Women's Basketball Reporter

The Eastern women’s basketball team has a rare Wednesday night game this week.

The Panthers take on Southern Illinois – Edwardsville on the road. For a majority of the season, Eastern has had Thursday and Saturday games.

At 1-11 in conference games and last place in the OVC, a trip to the tournament is tough, but it has not stopped from believing they can get back in the win column.

The Panthers have had to rely on a number of different players this season with senior Grace Lennox redshirting as she deals with a knee injury.

Junior forward Jalisha Smith is one of three upperclassmen that have stepped up since the team lost Lennox in December, and Smith has found her place on the team.

Smith said her biggest contribution to her team has been her ability to pull down rebounds in games.

“On the court, my role has always been to rebound. That’s an area where I give the team the biggest lift, so I work to get as many boards as I can every chance I get,” Smith said.

Smith has the fourth-most rebounds on the team at 94 total. She averages four a game and sees the most action on defensive rebounds as she currently has 56 on the season.

Smith earned a season-high seven rebounds in a game in the Panthers’ 51-67 loss to Eastern Kentucky in early January. She came close to that season high most recently against Jacksonville State when she pulled down five rebounds.

Another important role Smith said she plays on the team is being a leader.

“Being an upperclassmen, to me, just means being a leader. Being that I’m older, my teammates look up to not only me but also Halle (Stull), Carmen (Tellez) and Grace (Lennox) as well for guidance,” Smith said. “Knowing that, I try my best to be a good role model for my younger teammates.”

She nearly gave the Panthers the push they needed in the team’s most recent game to Tennessee Tech, but the Panthers still came up short, 60-57. She pulled down four rebounds, had two steals and one assist.

Smith gave the Panthers their first lead of the game against the Golden Eagles with a little over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. This lead change held until the remaining minutes of the game when Tennessee Tech’s Yaktavia Hickson dropped in two free throws, igniting a back-to-back bucket battle between the teams.

Smith said that her team’s greatest struggle this season has been delivering in each quarter equally. She said that there is a hump in each game that the team just cannot get over.

“I think the greatest challenge our team has faced this season is to play all four quarters. There has always been one quarter where we don’t play quite as well as the others,” Smith explained.

She added that losing Lennox has a lot to do with the team’s struggles as she was the “go to” person when shots were not landing like they should be.

Smith said that it is important that her team keeps up the energy they had before losing Lennox. She said younger players like freshman guard Karle Pace and sophomore guard Danielle Berry have helped to keep that pace alive for the Panthers.

Despite the struggles the team has faced, she said she is determined to see the team get through it together as a unit.

“Everyone has a bit of adjusting to do, but we’re getting through it,” Smith said. 

Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]