In order to be a successful college basketball player, Meghan Smith knew her game had to evolve. A 5-foot-11 forward, Smith wasn’t going to be able to plant herself in the low post and dominate like she did in high school at Boothbay.

“When I first got here, I was a straight post player,” Smith, now a senior captain for the University of Maine at Farmington’s women’s basketball team, said.

Now, Smith is comfortable playing inside the paint or on the perimeter, and her skill set at both has made her one of the top players in the North Atlantic Conference. Smith’s play this season is one of the reasons the Beavers have won seven of their last eight games. UMF is 8-5, 6-1 in conference games, heading into this weekend’s NAC games against New England College and Colby-Sawyer.

“She’s really committed herself to changing her game and improving her game,” UMF head coach Jamie Beaudoin said of Smith. “Every year, she’s gotten better at every aspect of her game.”

Currently, Smith is second in the NAC in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (10.9 boards per game), and field goal percentage (52.9 percent). All are career highs for Smith, who has started every game since the start of her sophomore season. This season, Smith has been selected conference player of the week twice, most recently for the week ending Jan. 10, in which she averaged 15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 61.5 percent from the floor in three UMF wins.

“It’s just putting in the work,” Smith said. “It’s learning how to drive and find open players.”

Expanding Smith’s game has been a four-year process, Beaudoin said.

“We started to see things her sophomore year, and it started on the defensive end of the floor when we saw we could play her on a guard,” Beaudoin said. “Last year, we changed some things offensively to get her involved.”

As a junior, Smith averaged 9.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. She recorded six double-doubles on the season and was named second team all-NAC. So far this season, Smith has eight double-double games, including an 18-point, 13-rebound effort in a recent win over Thomas. On Dec. 4, Smith scored 19 points and grabbed 11 boards in an important conference win over Castleton, which currently sits a half-game ahead of the Beavers for second place in the NAC standings.

“Last season, we tinkered with it,” Smith said of her playing on the wing rather than inside. “I’m not much of an outside shooter. I’m more of a driver.”

With Smith on the wing, Beaudoin thinks UMF’s offense becomes much more diverse. If Smith is being defended by another big player, she has the green light to drive to the hoop. If she’s being covered by a guard, Smith can dish the ball to a teammate and get to the low post, where the Beavers can try to exploit the mismatch. The Beavers are shooting just under 30 percent from 3-point range this season, fourth-best in the conference. The more the threes fall, the more UMF can do with Smith, Beaudoin said.

“When we’re shooting a higher three percentage,teams really have to respect our inside game,” Beaudoin said. “We can put (Smith) into more pick and rolls, slide to the perimeter, run false motion to get her to attack. When we can run different sets, it makes it tough to scout us.”

As a captain, along with Winslow’s Elizabeth Ferry, Smith tries to be an encouraging leader to her teammates.

“I like being vocal on the bench, firing everybody up,” Smith said.

Added Beaudoin: “Meghan is really special in how much she’s grown. She sets the tone in practice. Players kind of have to learn how to compete, and she’s done that.”

With the exception of a game at Colby next Tuesday, UMF’s remaining schedule is all NAC games. With Smith playing well, the Beavers have a chance to be a contender when the conference tournament begins Feb. 23.

“We’re constantly thinking of a NAC championship,” Smith said. “We just keep playing competitive basketball.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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