By Troy Mauriello
Queens College freshman Sarafina Smith likely had the best year of her soccer career in 2016.
As a senior at Francis Lewis High School, Smith scored five goals on just 11 shots, had two assists, and was named the TimesLedger’s Queens Player of the Year at season’s end. Oh, and she also led her Patriots to an unexpected appearance in the PSAL ‘A’ Division Championship.
Now, playing down the block from where she made so many memories — not only from 2016, but from her entire high school career — one would expect Smith to feel a bit of pressure to notch an encore performance as she heads to college.
Well, not exactly. Pressure is something that never really crossed Smith’s mind at all as her first season with the Knights appraoched. In fact, something else was on the mind of the former Francis Lewis standout.
“I’ve never thought about that,” Smith said of the pressure of following up last season. “I’m just gonna work hard. I’m trying to get rookie of the year, so I have some work to do. That’s it.”
It’s not just Smith. The Knights will have some work to do as a team if they want to improve upon a lackluster 4-12-1 regular season record in 2016. However, after head coach Nicole Pacapelli recruited seven new freshman along with Smith, there is certainly a feeling of optimism going around Queens College as the season gets underway.
“Honestly, I think we’ve looked really good,” Smith said. “I’m happy from what I was hearing from the team last year, it looks like a really big improvement. There looks like a lot of talent coming in so I’m excited.”
With Smith and her fellow freshman class in the mix, the Knights have plenty to be excited about heading into 2017 and beyond. Smith, for example, already has aspirations to, at some point in her collegiate career, avenge a disappointing 5-1 loss to Beacon in last year’s city final.
When asked about her goals for the season, Smith was quick to bring up last year’s championship loss, and her desire to finally capture gold with Queens College.
“Actually winning a championship,” she noted as her biggest goal. “Leaving high school, [we went] all the way to the finals and didn’t win a championship, so hopefully I’ll be winning a championship in my college years.”
But in order to achieve that goal, Smith knows that she personally will have to face some challenges along the way. She noted that getting her fitness back on track as the season progresses is her toughest challenge, but was also quick to point out another obstacle that she might face.
“Trying to stand out more would also be a challenge. Most people are looking towards the seniors … (with) all the new girls coming in,” she said.
If Smith is able to replicate her play on the field from high school, she should become a household name for the Knights rather quickly. At Francis Lewis, she was a force on both offense and defense, something that she hopes will help her on the next level.
“Playing different positions [in high school] helped me a lot,” she said. “So when it’s time to defend, I’m able to defend. When it’s time to attack, I’m able to attack.”
Whether or not Smith achieves her goals for both her season and collegiate career remains to be seen. However, one thing remains absolutely certain: She won’t be feeling any of the pressure.