No luck needed

In sports, winning and losing can come down to something as trivial as the bounce of a ball. The act is so simple — ball hits object, ball reflects somewhere else — it's barely considered a skill. The act is so fundamental it lacks definition: it just is what it is. The ball bounced. Sometimes it's in and sometimes it's out.

For the Ashland High girls soccer team, a missed shot here, a missed shot there and even, yes, a ball bouncing off the crossbar couldn't overcome a 0-2 deficit to Crater in Central Point on Tuesday afternoon.

Circled up in the shade of a tree on an uncharacteristically hot September afternoon, the Grizzlies asked themselves what had happened. The answer was, everything they had hoped. They controlled the clock, attacked the net and kept the pressure on the Comets.

But how do you account for the bounce of a ball? Simple, you don't.

"I wouldn't say we were out-performed today," says head coach Eric Wolff. "They got a couple goals today, where any other day they don't go in."

And that, in a nutshell, is what the bounce of a ball is about.

But success in athletics is not about the ball going in and going out — not always at least. Success in sports often boils down to preparation and execution. The more you prepare the better you can execute. Put yourself in that situation enough times, and eventually you come out on top.

There are certain things the bounce of the ball has no bearing on whatsoever. What team works harder, which players want to win more, who has really prepared themselves the most and is executing that.

Ashland standout Riley Smith has never let the bounce of a ball determine where her career has taken her.

Smith came to the Ashland team as an "average" soccer player, according to Wolff. But, her desire to improve and play at a varsity level sparked the beginning of her career.

"I always wanted to play soccer at the highest level," says Smith.

Her introduction to more competitive soccer began around her sophomore year. That season, Riley played soccer with Wolff's son on a traveling competitive squad. Did you know that team played in the male competitive league?

Being constantly pushed by bigger, stronger and faster players forced Smith into action. She could be content to play soccer, or she could work harder and rise to the level of her competition.

"She had a tough start," admits Wolff. "But she improved tremendously after that season."

The winter competitive league ended right when the Olympic Development Program season started. ODP creates regional teams they can scout for future Olympic-level talent. Two constant grinds sharpened Riley's skills over the winter and spring of 2008 and 2009.

"I try to travel as much as I can and play on different teams," explains Smith. The exposure to other levels of competition helped gauge her progress. After the tough offseason, Smith knew she wanted to play soccer at a Division 1 school.

Smith took matters into her own hands and began the rigorous preparation needed to play at the highest collegiate level. Commitment to traveling squads, extra practice time and having a soccer ball present at all times were in. Leaving things to chance, waiting to see what was out there were out.

This summer Smith went to a University of Oregon soccer camp and found her next home.

"I came to summer camp and they liked what they saw," says Smith. Before then, Smith wasn't really on the recruiting radar for major programs. After getting to see her in action, the coaches came away impressed.

Smith was invited back for a campus visit where they introduced plans to continue the program's growth. She saw the facilities and athletic equipment. It was everything she wanted, and more. Smith committed to the program on the spot.

"The atmosphere is really cool," she says. "The team is growing and committed to winning."

Smith will play as a recruited walk-on, meaning she will not be on scholarship for the first year. But the Ducks expect her to contribute and she can eventually earn a full athletic ride, Smith said.

Playing time the first year is not guaranteed. It rarely is for 18-year-olds stepping up to compete with 23- and 24-year-olds who have four seasons of refinement under their belts, so Smith must keep working like she has. Leave nothing to chance.

For Wolff, watching Riley has been a blessing but, as he's quick to point out, the credit is due to Smith herself.

"This is something she is doing," he says. "She was very driven right off the bat ... she pushed herself all along and took every opportunity to make herself better. She's done everything she can to get better and is rewarding herself for it."

She's not leaving anything to the bounce of the ball.

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