Ex-Geneva star Stephanie Hart, former Burlington Central standout Kathryn Schmidt excelling in new roles for young Lewis team

When more than half of your team is out of commission, it’s time to improvise.

So Sam Quigley Smith laced up her own high-tops.

She asked her assistant coaches to do the same.

With a few extra bodies, albeit slightly older and perhaps slightly rustier bodies in the mix, the Lewis University women’s basketball team could actually have somewhat of a normal practice.

“We had no choice. We were down to seven players in practice and we had a game in five days,” said Smith, the head coach at Lewis and a former star guard at DePaul, laughing about the coaches dusting off their games.

“We had to get some 5-on-5 in. I was about to go grab the assistant coaches from the men’s basketball team, too.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a monkey-wrench into almost everything we do, and trying to field a healthy basketball team that can function normally is no exception.

The Lewis women were all quarantined as a precaution, and to establish a baseline, for 14 days in the beginning of October. Shortly after they came out of that quarantine, nine of the 16 players on the roster contracted COVID-19 and had to go back into quarantine for another 14 days.

Locals step up

That left the Flyers woefully short-handed with the beginning of the season right around the corner. So while coaches were filling in the open spots in practice, players like Stephanie Hart from Geneva and Kathryn Schmidt from Burlington Central were being asked to step up in ways that were somewhat unexpected.

Hart, a junior who started her college career playing point guard, was moved to a completely different position, the post, because the quarantine left the Flyers with low numbers inside.

Schmidt, a true freshman, was thrust into the starting lineup just weeks after first stepping onto campus, along with two other true freshmen and a sophomore.

The young, improvising Flyers, who are finally fully healthy and wear masks not only in practices but also in games as added precaution, have started the season 3-2, with two wins over Quincy and a win over Indianapolis. The players also do daily screenings and test for COVID weekly, sometimes more.

“We have a lot of guards and we lost a lot of bigs, so I figured, I needed to do whatever I needed to do to play and help the team,” said Hart, who hit buzzer-beating shots not once but twice as Geneva won back-to-back state championships in 2017 and 2018, her junior and senior years. “I joke because I haven’t played in the post since feeder when I was the tallest kid on the team. Since then, I’ve always been a guard, and I miss being the person who gets to set our plays up and get people in order as a point guard.

“But I kind of like playing different positions. And I like being able to rebound and focus on something that is really important to our team. As a point guard, I wasn’t rebounding as much. I like rebounding.”

Hart, who started the first four games but is temporarily sidelined while recovering from an elbow injury, has been holding her own on the boards. She is just 5-foot-8 but says that she plays taller and her long arms give her some deceptive length that helps in the paint with rebounding and interior defense. In addition to averaging 8.8 points per game, she’s getting 3.3 rebounds per game and has 2 blocks on the season.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot Schmidt leads the team in rebounding at 7.8 rebounds per game. The freshman is, to her pleasant surprise, also second on the team in scoring at 12 points per game.

“Obviously, this is very different from high school, it’s faster and way more aggressive and you’re playing tougher competition,” Schmidt said. “But Coach and the older players like Steph (Hart) have made it easier to adjust, even with the (COVID) circumstances. There’s been a lot to learn and they’ve helped a lot. I’m focused on rebounding and just doing the little things to help us win.”

A bright future

And both Hart and Schmidt are convinced that Lewis has a lot more wins coming in the future.

“We are so young that I think we are capable of more than we even know,” Hart said. “I think we have the chance to make it far.”

The freshman class could be the strongest recruiting class thus far of Smith’s three-year tenure at Lewis.

Freshman guard Jenna Badali of Mother McAuley leads the team in scoring at 12.4 points per game while Taylor Gugliuzza, another freshman from Lincoln-Way West, has started every game and is third in scoring at 11.4 points per game.

Smith says that she believes Lewis has the potential to contend for a Division II national championship someday and that this group sets a good foundation.

“I’m so excited,” Schmidt said. “We have so much talent on our roster and we are improving so much from game to game. I think we do have the potential to go far.”