Karissa Smedley

School: Council Rock South

Soccer, Basketball, Lacrosse



Favorite athlete: Zach Ertz

Favorite team:  Eagles

Favorite memory competing in sports: The bus rides with my team after a win.

Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: I was a freshman at field hockey practice and tried cashews for the first time, and it turned out I was allergic, so I had to leave practice to go to the ER.

Music on playlist: Country

Future plans: Attend Georgian Court to play basketball.

Words to live by: “Everything happens for a reason.”

One goal before turning 30: Find a career that I enjoy.

One thing people don’t know about me: I have two blind brothers.

By Mary Jane Souder

Karissa Smedley is a gamer. Plain and simple.

The Council Rock South senior will without hesitation put her body in harm’s way if it will benefit her team. Late in the first half of her team’s recent District 1 6A opener against Upper Dublin, Smedley, after coming up with a steal on the defensive end, landed hard at the end of a fastbreak. She picked herself back up and, moments later, was on the floor yet again after being fouled shooting a 3-pointer.

This is routine stuff for Smedley.

“My athletic trainer makes jokes about it,” she said. “After the game against Upper Dublin (a season-ending loss), I’m crying going into his room to get some ice, and he said, ‘Girl, I think you hit the floor more times than the ball did.’”

That wasn’t far from the truth. Ask Smedley to describe herself as a player, and her answer tells you all you need to know about the Rock North senior who is captain of three - yes, all three - of her varsity sports teams.

“I put as much effort as I possibly can into it,” she said. “I don’t really think about the individual goals and stats. While I’m playing, I’m just in it as a team, and I want to win, I play to win.”

And that’s not just lip service. It’s a mindset Smedley takes onto the court or playing field in practices as well as games.

“She is someone from the first day she stepped foot in the gym as a freshman gave maximum effort,” Rock South basketball coach Blair Klumpp said. “She sacrificed her body over and over again diving for loose balls, taking charges, running into water coolers, ball carts, scorer’s tables – it didn’t matter. If it was going to get her team an extra possession, she was going to put her body on the line.

“Her ‘toughness’ trait is impressive because her mental toughness is as admirable as her physical toughness. Everyone sees the physical pounding she takes in games, but her mental toughness is one of the many things that separates her as a player. What no one outside of our program knows is that she wasn’t physically healthy for one day of our season - she got banged up in soccer and that led to subsequent physical issues.”

Smedley’s all-out style of play and unwillingness to give in to the bumps and bruises she’s received along the way can be attributed at least in part to the fact that she views sports – and the world - through a different lens than most. A lens that gives her the kind of clarity most never have.

An extraordinary family

Smedley’s story sounds like many of her peers. She grew up in a sports family. Both of her parents played multiple sports growing up, but that’s where the similarities end.

“I have two older brothers – they’re both blind,” she said matter-of-factly.

Both Michael – five years Karissa’s senior – and Mitchell, 13 months older that Karissa, were born blind with a rare condition known as CRB1-Degenerative Retinal Disease.

“They loved sports, they had more vision when they were younger, but it deteriorated, and now it’s gone,” she said. “For a while, until about middle school, they were able to play some sports. Our house – we would play with each other outside, we would watch all these sports – I’d narrate sports games to them.

“Sports has always been an important thing, and then each of them when they hit seventh grade had to stop playing just about all their sports besides wrestling. It honestly opened my eyes, and it made me feel really lucky. It went from three athletes in the house to just me at that point.”

It certainly could have been an awkward situation on all sides. It wasn’t.

“It’s definitely been an interesting experience growing up with them,” Smedley said. “They could easily be jealous that I have the vision and all, but they’re not.”

From her brothers, Smedley learned early on some valuable lessons she has never forgotten.

“My older brother, watching him stop playing sports – he found his music career,” she said. “The next brother stopped, and he loves radio stuff, and he was on YouTube, so I was like, ‘He’s found something new.’

“I was glad they had other things, so anything they had – they had shows, concerts and stuff with their bands, and I would go to as many things as I could for them because they would always still come to my sporting events.”

The bond Smedley shares with her brothers is unmistakable.

“My brother flew from Florida for my Senior Night,” she said. “He flew in for less than 24 hours to surprise me and come to my game.

“My other brother couldn’t get back from college, but they did both surprise me for my soccer Senior Night in the fall.”

Michael and Mitchell have not allowed their disability to define them. Michael graduated from Penn State University and is employed at Disney World, and Mitchell is a sophomore at Kutztown University.

“I know they will spend time with my mom or whoever they can before everything starts,” said Karissa, whose mother Kristin is an advocate for the blind. “They learn every path around.

“Growing up, they knew all the train routes, they knew how to get everywhere, and I was clueless. It was the opposite of what you would think. They know every route.

“My mom moved (Michael) down to Florida, and they went through everything. Going to a big campus like Penn State and doing that – I think it really prepared him for this job at Disney. He does sound design for the parks and shows because he grew up always doing sound boards for the plays and sound for his band concerts and stuff.”

It takes no time at all to recognize just how important family is to Karissa.

“My brother, my parents – they’re always going to be my biggest supporters,” she said. “My brothers have taught me so many lessons. I know they’re always going to be there for me.”

A passion for basketball

The scene was a dramatic study in contrasts.

Rock South’s Katie Purpura had just buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was Upper Dublin’s players that were celebrating. The Flying Cardinals had just edged the Golden Hawks in the win-or-go-home opening round contest of the District 1 6A Tournament.

In the midst of the Cardinals’ jubilant celebration, Smedley slumped over her knees on the court.

“I heard the buzzer sound, I was exhausted, I dropped my head, put my hands on my knees,” Smedley said. “It was an awful feeling knowing that I’m done playing for coach Klumpp and those girls around me weren’t my teammates anymore.

“I felt all of their hands on my back, picking up me. They’re always going to be my teammates. They all reminded me I’ve got college, it’s not over, and I’m glad I have them to pick me up like that.”

Listening to Klumpp tell it, Smedley played some of her best basketball during the last third of her senior year.

“We had a lot of team goals this year that we hit some and missed others, but it wasn’t from a lack of production or leadership from her,” he said. “She emptied her tank until her last possession wearing a South uniform.”

It was appropriate Smedley’s teammates picked up a player who was a three-year captain and was the very definition of a team player. Her coach described her as selfless.

“She took her role as a captain very seriously,” Klumpp said. “It wasn’t just a title for her- it was a role, it was an expectation, it was a duty. She always put the team and her teammates above herself and individual accolades.

“That’s so rare in today’s sports, a culture in which it is all about exposure and recognition. She doesn’t focus on that and never has. Even in her 11th hour with us, I had to beg her to be more aggressive offensively. She set the bar for what it is like to be the ultimate teammate and leader. She set a strong example of what a student-athlete should be.”

Basketball has been at the top of Smedley’s list of passions for a long time. She is a veteran of the AAU circuit and most recently played for Heat Hoops.

As a freshman, Smedley – who missed fall workouts since she was playing field hockey - made an impression on Klumpp the first day of tryouts.

“My assistant at the time was leading them through Dynamic stretches after a brief warmup, and Smed was still kind of growing into her body and maybe was even slightly uncoordinated,” the Golden Hawks’ coach said. “My assistant was like – she won’t play for you this year.

“But I always saw something special in her – not from that, but very early on she had a competitive drive that was unmatched at the time. She has a will to compete and win that really elevated us, and that started to drive our culture. She was a linchpin to us establishing a culture.”

As a freshman, Smedley came off the bench for the varsity.

“She put her trust in me pretty early on,” Klumpp said. “When she got here, I had an eight- and seven-win season under my belt. Very little reason for a freshman to trust me when I laid out a grand vision of the program by her senior year. She was first sub for me as freshman in all games but one.  She easily could have been disgruntled that she wasn’t starting, but she wasn’t - she trusted the process behind it. She continued to grow as a player and person.

“We had a long conversation in her end-of-year meeting of what I thought she could be. I threw a lot at her- potential college player, so much untapped potential, and the biggest piece that probably could’ve scared her was I thought she had major leadership qualities. I challenged her to grow in the offseason and set a goal of being a captain as a sophomore.

“She could have easily looked at me like I was crazy because then she was still a really shy kid, but she didn’t shy away from that challenge. She answered the bell. That year I started to see some major steps as a player and leader. She was and has always remained so coachable, but she was truly like an extension of myself and the staff in the floor. By the end of her sophomore season was when she really came into her own. She always touched all areas of the game, but that year she became elite in multiple areas.”

Smedley always knew she didn’t want high school to be the final chapter in her athletic career.

“People would always ask me – what do you want to play in college, and I’d say – basketball is my favorite,” she said. “Sophomore year, at the end of the season, we had our individual meetings, and coach Klumpp was like – is basketball the sport you want to play in college? I said, ‘Yes.’”

Klumpp began reaching out to some college coaches.

“Together, we discussed some criteria - location, major, size of school etc.” he said. “She had a lot of D3 interest. I think she was a little frustrated because she had a really strong high school junior season and had strong play in AAU and in the summer for us. She watched other girls get interest and offers and she just kept working.

“The easiest thing I could do in my pitch to these schools was discuss her as a person, leader, and teammate. She checks every single character/intangible/teammate quality box a college coach could want. You can’t push every single kid to college coaches because then they don’t take you at your word, it could hurt future recruits. It’s a tough road to navigate, but going all in on my sell for her cause was easy. Georgian Court coach, Jasmina (Jazz) Perazic responded within five hours. I think I got the email at like 4:30 am, and our communication took off from there. Once they talked to her, she took a visit, she got an offer in a couple weeks.”

Georgian Court felt like the perfect fit, and Smedley is committed to continue athletic and academic career at the New Jersey school. She counts Klumpp as her biggest supporter behind only her family.

“I came in freshman year with zero confidence, terrified, and he’s worked with me since I came in day one,” she said. “He gave me all the confidence that I have, and he’s always had my back.”

Then there’s soccer

Soccer has been part of Smedley’s life – except for two-year break from the sport – for as long as she can remember.

“My mom was a huge soccer player growing up, so I very early on started soccer,” Smedley said. “I fell in love with it, played it all through elementary school.

“In elementary school – third or fourth grade, I started playing basketball because all my friends were. It was a lot of fun, so I kept playing and playing again. I was on a basketball team with an amazing coach and a team that was great, and I fell in love with basketball in seventh grade.”

Field hockey entered the picture in middle school.

“In high school, I had to choose between hockey and soccer,” Smedley said. “I just didn’t really love soccer anymore, and I wanted to get away from it, so I chose field hockey freshman year.

“It was really just to play a sport in the fall. Basketball was my favorite in the winter, and I also played lacrosse in spring. Going into junior year, I was really missing soccer.”

Smedley reached out to Rock South soccer coach Nick Heim. It turned out to be perfect timing.

“I knew Karissa from her ninth and 10th grade years when I was still an assistant for Blair with the basketball team,” Heim said. “It was immediately clear that she was insanely athletic and an absolute competitor. I had heard she had played soccer for years but knew she was on the field hockey team.

“Long story short, one day the summer before her junior year she contacted me and told me she wanted to play soccer again. She hadn't played in at least five years but knowing her competitive drive, it didn't matter.”

Smedley grew up a goal-scoring forward but in middle school opted to try a new position.

“I remember when we would do rotations for goalie - there were no specific positions then,” Smedley said of her early soccer days. “There were a few times where I would be in goal. I would be good at it, and making saves was so much fun.

“I realized I enjoyed making the saves rather than scoring the goals. I quit club in sixth grade, but I played in middle school, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to be the goalie.’ Then I quit completely, but the high school team really needed a goalie, and I decided to go back, and it went really well.”

So well that Smedley earned second team All-SOL Patriot honors as a senior.

“Karissa immediately fit into the team- you would have never known she hadn't been a part of the program her first two years,” Heim said. “Her junior season was incredible- I honestly think we would have had five or six less wins if it wasn't for the big plays she made for us. She was named team MVP in her first year. The girls immediately connected with her, and she was voted captain as a senior.

“Despite having the least expectations - due to her not playing in so long and her offseason being devoted to basketball - she saw to it herself to have this responsibility for everything that occurred during a game. If we won a big game 2-1, she'd be critical of the one she let in, and not the five big saves she made.”

The Golden Hawks’ coach recalled his team’s game against perennial state power Pennridge.

“She had double digit saves and she was furious at how she played at the end,” Heim said. “She just has a different level competitive drive no matter what the sport is, which is why she will be playing college basketball.

“I told her ‘I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't tell you that you're a D1 goalie,’ fully knowing basketball is where her heart is. She smiled and said thank you. I said, ‘You have no interest, do you?" and she laughed and simply said, ‘No.’”

Smedley’s contributions to the soccer team went beyond her talent between the pipes.

“She's as serious as they come when we need to be, but she has such a light, goofy spirit that reminds everyone that we are here to have fun,” Heim said. “From her funny handshakes to jumping around making noises during PK practice, it was just refreshing to have her in the program. It's a rare combination in an athlete. Combine that with her being mature beyond her years, and you have a kid who is going to be successful no matter what she does.

“She comes from a supportive family, and Karissa is equally as supportive of every person in our program. She definitely will leave big shoes for us to fill, but we are beyond excited to see her following her heart and chasing her dream of playing college basketball.”

There’s even more

In the spring, Smedley can be found on the lacrosse field where she is a stalwart defender and a natural leader.

“Karissa is an incredible athlete, leader, teammate, and person,” Rock South coach Madison Hurwitz said. “She picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time ever her freshmen year and is now a two-time senior captain playing what is arguably our toughest position - our ‘backer’ in our defensive scheme. She is relied heavily upon every game. Each time the ball is down on our defensive end, Karissa is involved in the play."

Smedley may find herself in a new position this spring, according to the Rock South coach, who was recently informed by a veteran midfielder that she only wanted to play attack.

“She said she had no interest in playing midfield,” Hurwitz recalled. “I said to Karissa, ‘You’re our star on defense, but we might need you to run the midfield,’ and she looked at me and my dad (assistant coach Dave Hurwitz) and said, ‘Whatever you need, coaches.’ You can’t even make up how awesome she is. After a rough day, to be able to coach her, I was like, ‘This is why I do what I do’ for kids like her. This kid is a rock star, she truly is.

"She is tough as nails - playing through injuries – and she’s consistent. She is inclusive and present- always going out of her way to involve the younger girls and always attending our events and fundraisers outside of practice/games - when she’s not playing soccer and/or basketball, of course. Karissa has been an integral addition to our team the past three seasons, and we’re so thankful we get one more with her. We know she’s going to do amazing things on and off the basketball court at Georgian Court University and we miss her already.”

An excellent student who carries a rigorous course load, Smedley - who is undecided on a major - is a member of the National Honors Society and the National English Honors Society.

“She was a captain in three sports and all-league in three sports - all of this was while maintaining a strong GPA,” Klumpp said. “She’s been a terrific representative of our program on the floor but, as importantly, off the floor and in the community. She’s organized benefits in the community for great causes. She is so efficient at handling things on and off the court.

“I can say with certainty she left our program better than she found it, but her impact on the day-to-day and the offseason and the off-the-court stuff is where it’s long lasting. You hope the other girls were taking mental notes and will follow her lead to keep it sustainable. I cannot speak highly enough about her.

“Her future is bright because she’s so well rounded and gets it. She handles adversity, she is mentally tough, and she has so many gifts and tools in her toolbox to deal with life’s curveballs and crush it. I’m thankful I was blessed enough to coach her for four years.”