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600 Wins and Counting: Karl Smesko’s Milestone Victory With FGCU

Jessica Piland

As the only head coach that the FGCU women’s basketball program has ever had, Karl Smesko has achieved many milestones. On Jan. 31 in Louisville, Kentucky, the Eagles took down the Bellarmine Knights 72-55. This win was a special one as it allowed Smesko to record his 600th win at FGCU.

Being the program’s only head coach, Smesko has been in command of building the program from the ground up. He previously had coaching stints at Walsh University and Purdue University Fort Wayne, at the time known as IPFW. From the start, the Eagles were winning. In their first season in 2002-2003, FGCU went 30-1. That was just the beginning of the program’s success.

In the years that followed, the Eagles, under Smesko, have accomplished a lot. Two of these significant accomplishments include 14 regular season ASUN Conference championships and nine ASUN Conference tournament titles. Smesko had also achieved 600 overall wins before combining his victories from when he was the head coach at other schools.

Despite the monumental growth and now continuous success of the women’s basketball team over the years, Smesko remains focused on the present more so than the past and future.

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“I’m not somebody that looks back unless somebody asks me to look back. It’s always about whatever the next challenge in front of you is, and, you know, maybe you can use your experience from past years to help you make better decisions in the future,” Smesko said. “But, we don’t do a ton of talking about all the things we did in the past. We want to know what we can accomplish now.”

Redshirt freshman Cerina Rolle said the team celebrated in the locker room after the game to celebrate Smesko’s milestone victory.

“Coach Smesko, he’s very humble. He doesn’t really like to celebrate big things like that,” Rolle said. “We threw water on him. Yeah, just make him feel special about his crazy 600th freaking win. Like that’s awesome.”

Associate head coach Chelsea Lyles played under Smesko from 2008-2010. After her playing days were over and after she played one season on the volleyball team as a graduate student, Lyles rejoined the women’s basketball team as a student assistant. During the next season in 2011-2012, Lyles officially joined the basketball team as an assistant coach. She then moved on to become the recruiting coordinator and is now in her fifth season as the associate head coach.

Given her history in the program as both a player and coach, she knew what the expectation was from Smesko each and every game. 

“Well, we don’t feel like we played that well. So it wasn’t as exciting as you would think it would be. And obviously he just demands excellence,” Lyles said. “And so even if we win, he wanted to, you know, want to make a point that we made a lot of mental mistakes, and we didn’t play up to our capabilities. So, I tried to be the person that’s like, ‘hey, we’re gonna celebrate this in this moment and then we can go over it in film,’ but obviously he was grateful for the girls being excited for him, but we wish we would have played better.”

Jessica Piland

Both Rolle and Lyles gave Smesko recognition for what he has accomplished so far in his career at FGCU. They also each shared what they like most about him or what they have learned from him.

“The thing that I like most is that he’s smart. So, he’s gonna break down every detail to you, and even things that you didn’t even know that matter in basketball,” Rolle said. “It makes a dramatic difference when you change it.”

“Probably just the amount of detail and work he puts into his craft and the team,” Lyles said. “And just how much he pours into them and makes sure that they’re prepared for every game and how he prepares, how hard he works. And then obviously, how he treats people and his team, the staff. He’s just an all around really good coach and person.”

Up to this point in the season, the Eagles are 23-4 overall and 13-0 in conference play. Additionally, the team just won their seventh consecutive ASUN Conference regular season title. It’s been yet another successful season for the team but the job isn’t finished yet. As Smesko, Lyles and Rolle all reiterated, the goal is to win the ASUN Conference tournament, make the NCAA Tournament and win at least a few games in March Madness. That’s the standard of excellence that is expected at FGCU year in and year out.

Even though Smesko doesn’t like to look back and focus on the past, he’s enjoyed being the head coach at FGCU over the years and all the teams that he’s been able to coach. He said that he loves the sport of basketball and loves coaching.

“Well, this place is definitely special to me,” Smesko said. “I mean, we, and there’s other coaches in the same situation, where we started this program from scratch and we saw the university grow and go from NAIA to Division II to Division I and then have all the success that we’ve enjoyed at the Division I level, I mean, it definitely has a special place in a lot of our hearts.”

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About the Contributors
James Curtis
James Curtis, Eagle News Sports Editor
James Curtis is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in global studies. He is from Tampa, FL, and has known he wanted to be a journalist since taking a journalism class in seventh grade. He has been involved in sports for his whole life, including swimming competitively all the way through high school. His goal now is to be a sports journalist. When not covering sports games or writing stories, he's usually spending his free time with his friends or watching YouTube.
Jessica Piland
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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