After 11 years, Coach Smesko still hungry to win
For every ship, there is a captain. The captain is there to take that ship to any location it desires and make sure everything runs according to plan. For the FGCU women’s basketball team, that location is the Final Four, and the plan is an NCAA Championship under “captain” and head coach Karl Smesko.
The Kent State alum and offensive guru has coached his way to an impressive 349-83 career record in 13 seasons on the sideline. After joining FGCU in 2001, Smesko has been able to bring this team places unimaginable by a school that only opened its doors in the 1990s. During the 2001-02 season, Smesko worked to recruit players and develop a team that will be around for a long time.
The effort from Smesko didn’t slow when the team finally came together. Today, you can find him back in Alico Arena working to improve the team with no distractions. He is constantly working to find new ways to make not only the whole team better, but each individual player.
FGCU’s captain and last year’s Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, Sarah Hansen, discusses Smesko’s dedication, “He thinks about basketball and how our team can have the most success at all hours of the night. He has told us numerous times about how ideas will come to him as he’s getting ready to go to sleep.”
Beginning as a Division II school in 2002 was no problem for the FGCU women’s basketball players as Smesko brought them to an outstanding 30-1 record in the team’s first season of existence. Winning quickly became a tradition for Smesko and his Eagles. In 2007, FGCU Women’s Basketball had a 35-1 record, their only loss being in the NCAA Division II National Championship against South Connecticut State.
At the conclusion of the 2006-07 season, FGCU applied to become a Division I school, and has been in the Atlantic Sun Conference ever since. The following year, Smesko coached the team to the WNIT, making the FGCU women the first team to qualify for a tournament in their first season of Division I athletics. In addition, a win in the first round of the tournament made FGCU the first Atlantic Sun team to win a postseason game since the late 1990s (FIU).
Success rolled on for Karl Smesko and the Green and Blue in the following year finishing with an 18-0 record in conference play. The 2011-12 season was FGCU’s first year eligible to play in a post-season tournament, and Smesko took advantage of that, leading the team to their first Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship in addition to their second regular season conference championship. The 67-39 victory over Stetson and the tournament championship granted Smesko and the FGCU women’s basketball team their first NCAA Tournament bid, which ended in a first round loss to No. 5 ranked St. Bonaventure.
Entering his 14th year as an NCAA head coach, Smesko is coming off a fantastic year, winning a third Atlantic Sun Regular Season championship with an 18-0 record in conference play for the second consecutive year. The team’s success landed him College Sports Madness Mid-Major Coach of the Year, as well as the A-Sun Coach of the Year. Overall, the team ended the year with a 27-7 (.794) record and more victories than any other Florida school.
A season as good as last year’s is clearly not uncommon for Smesko and the FGCU women’s basketball team. As the 2013-14 basketball season approaches, the girls and Smesko prepare to defend their Atlantic Sun throne and make it back to the NCAA tournament.
According to Smesko, “This is a new team. We are working on developing winning habits. We want to play FGCU basketball.”