AMSA’s Smalls excels in soccer and basketball
By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Marlborough — That Marlborough’s Advanced Math & Science Academy (AMSA) is held in the highest esteem for their academic achievement is patently indisputable. For years the school has consistently scored in the highest percentile among Massachusetts schools in English, Math and Science MCAS exams. In 2015, U.S. News & World Report ranked the school the fourth highest academically in all of Massachusetts.
But sports accomplishments have never risen to equally lofty heights despite a commitment to a strong and well-guided program. Just not enough sizzle, the school will admit, to gather the kind of headlines that have seemingly been reserved for others. Until now, that is.
When standout student-athlete Arin Smalls put pen to paper earlier this month in a signing ceremony witnessed by friends, faculty and family, it became a treasured moment that would become a part of the school’s history. Smalls’ signing of a letter-of-intent to compete in women’s soccer for Bryant University marked the first time since the school’s creation in 2005, that an AMSA student-athlete has been chosen to compete for a Division 1 school. It’s a breakthrough that will likely open doors for others down the road, school officials believe.
“This is very special,” acknowledged AMSA Athletic Director Peter Jones. “It’s quite an accomplishment for Arin. The kids at our school are proud of the athletic department even though we’re young and relatively unaccomplished in some ways. There’s a lot of school spirit and the kids are proud of what their sports teams do.
“Our soccer teams have been the first to reach success at the District level and Arin has certainly been part of that. She’s a really nice kid who comes from a great family. She represents AMSA very well.”
“AMSA’s not really known for sports so when we’re successful it feels great because we’re showing people outside the school that we are a force to be reckoned with,” said Smalls. “Our program is still growing which is amazing.”
Smalls’ list of accomplishments in both soccer and basketball, where she has been a team captain in her junior and senior years have been nearly off the charts. In soccer, she has been a starter and a Colonial Conference All-Star in each of her four years. She was named team MVP in three of those years while leading the team in goals the last two seasons. She was recognized as a Central Mass All-Star in 2014 and 2016 and also competed on her club team, NEFC-Breakers, that became Massachusetts State Cup Champions, National Premier League Champions and National Cup Finalists in 2015 and 2016.
“Arin’s ability is infectious. She works extremely hard in practice just as in games,” said AMSA girls’ varsity soccer head coach Ben Okaroh. “She allows her play to do all her talking for her as a leader, but will let you know when she needs more from you as a player.
“Off the field, she jokes around and blends in well with the group. There is never any sign of superiority from her and the program will miss her and I will miss her too.”
Her basketball career has been no less successful. Named to the varsity roster as an eighth-grader, a highly rare occurrence in any sport, Smalls has gone on to average 11.5 points per game as AMSA point guard and is set to lead her team into District playoffs after a difficult 9-11 record one year prior. But even more telling is her race against time to become AMSA’s first 1,000 point scorer, proving that, at just 5’2”, height can be quite overrated. At Community Advocate press time, she was shy by less than fifty points.
“There’s definitely pressure that comes with being so close to getting 1,000 points,” Smalls admits. “I really want this because it would be the first time that the school has had someone do this so I really want to set that bar. I really don’t know how I’ll feel if I don’t get that. I’ve come close and to come up shy by 20 points or 10 points would really hurt.
“But I’d rather win a game with my team than score a bunch of points. I want to win and do what’s best for my team. I don’t want to be selfish and take a bunch of shots not knowing if they’ll go in. I’ll gladly put my accomplishments on the back burner for a title.”
Smalls, from Marlborough, began her sports career at age six in various youth leagues and credits her dad, Harry, as a major influence in basketball along with youth soccer coach Tom Moore. From there it was a nearly tireless regimen of hard work and commitment while at the same time keeping up with the rigorous academic standards set by AMSA. Smalls has done much more than simply keeping up as evidenced by her impressive 3.6 GPA.
In her later high school years she was chosen as a team captain in soccer and basketball but despite her success, she looks back with humble reflections on her leadership role.
“I don’t really show a lot of emotion and that’s what I was worried about being a captain. I was afraid I wouldn’t be encouraging enough and that I wouldn’t be a good role model. But I feel like I’ve grown but I still feel like I could have been a better captain. I’m not the type to be really verbal. I wouldn’t like a captain to be too aggressive with me so I try not to be like that.”
In the next several months she will prepare for her new life as a Bulldog competing for the successful Bryant University women’s soccer program. With her schedule at full capacity, she has had little opportunity to absorb what it all means, but that will come sooner than later, she realizes.
“I’m really very excited but nervous at the same time being an incoming freshman,” said Smalls who plans to major in international business. “It’s like a whole new experience playing with different girls from different states all playing together on the same team. In Division 1 sports you have to earn your spot so I’m nervous about how I’m going to do and how much playing time I’m going to get.”
“It’s surreal. It really hasn’t hit me that this is happening and that it’s a first for the school so I’m waiting for that to sink in but for now I feel blessed for all this. I really do appreciate what’s happening but it hasn’t really sunk in quite yet.”
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