It’s probably a good thing they don’t allow cots in the Virden Collegiate gymnasium, otherwise Heidi Smith might never go home.
"Yeah, I like the gym," said the 5-foot-7 guard with a wry smile.
And all that time in the gym — the hard work and sacrifice — has shown up on the scoresheet this year, as Smith has helped lead her Golden Bears varsity girls’ high school basketball team to one of its most successful seasons ever. Led by Smith’s 27-point MVP performance, Virden beat Winnipeg’s John Taylor Pipers 82-61 to win the Forbidden Flavours Java Jam tournament in Brandon on the weekend, the latest impressive showing for Smith and the Golden Bears this season.
While Smith is at the fore — often leading the team in individual stat categories — she understands that it’s the collective strength of the team that is responsible for the success.
"We’re always pushing each other, trying to make each other better," the Oak Lake native said. "Every one knows it’s a team thing, if we get better as a team then we’ll get better as individual players."
While she is only in Grade 11, the 16-year-old Smith is already dictating the tempo of the game. Playing against the other team’s best defender, she breaks teams down off the dribble, slashing her way through the paint before kicking out to one of the team’s wings for an open look.
"I’ve always been told that I can control the pace of the game," Smith said. "It’s not necessarily about how many points I score, but getting our team out running. That’s what our team does, because we’re not big, so we run and run and run."
Last fall, Smith ran her way onto Manitoba’s 17-and-under team that went to the Canadian championship, the lone player outside of Winnipeg to crack the provincial squad. The experience has only fuelled her passion for the game and now she’s set her sights on another goal, playing for Manitoba at the Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Quebec in August.
"I’ve been working really hard and getting better and hopefully I can play with Team Manitoba again because it was a lot of fun," Smith said.
Coming from a strong rodeo family, Smith credits Crocus Plains head coach and former Brandon Bobcat Adam Hartman — who coached her in Oak Lake — for lighting the hardwood fire in her belly. While roping and rodeo will always be a part of her life, Smith said right now she is focused on using basketball as a tool to get to the next level.
"I’d like to play college or university ball, hopefully get a scholarship and see how far I can take it," she said.
The Golden Bears practise six days a week, according to head coach Steven Densmore, and if they could they’d practise even more.
"This group pushes me to be in the gym more," he said. "They’re always texting and asking if they can get more gym time."
And leading that push is Smith, Densmore said, adding that she’s a special player who takes pride in playing a team game.
"Heidi does everything for us — she can shoot, ball handle, she’s a great leader on the court," Densmore said. "And the big thing is we have a solid group of players and she’s stepped up to become the leader of the crew."