People: Alumni

Top shot

By Adam Grybowski

This summer, Chenel Harris-Smith ’19 was named the new head coach of women’s basketball at Colby College in Maine. The appointment came seven years after she first became a professional coach, at Robert Morris University in Pennsylvania. What she learned in that role shocked her.

“The basketball element is only about 5% of your job,” she says — meaning the overwhelming amount of her time and energy was taken up by other duties, mainly administrative.

Coaches are teachers and counselors. They manage budgets and ensure compliance with NCAA rules and regulations and institutional policies. They use Synergy technology to review film and understand scouting reports. They are recruiters and marketers.

“A lot of people who aren’t as knowledgeable about collegiate athletics don’t understand the time commitment that goes into coaching,” Harris-Smith says. “It’s not just showing up to practice and games.”

While serving as an assistant coach to the women’s basketball team at Binghamton University in New York, Harris-Smith enrolled in Rider’s athletic leadership online graduate program. Although she had held similar positions at five institutions, her ultimate ambition was to become a head coach. Harris-Smith knew a master’s would make her a more attractive candidate in the job market.

“Coaches have to be educated,” she says. “Especially at the levels of many Division II and III schools, coaches aren’t just coaches. They have to serve in whatever capacity is necessary, in addition to being a coach. I had to be prepared.”

For someone who has made a career in the sport, Harris-Smith came to the game late. She only began playing organized basketball in eighth grade after she shot up to 5'8'' — too tall to continue as a member of the gymnastics team. By the end of her growth spurt, she was 5'11" and playing forward for her high school team in her hometown of Mississauga, Ontario. She was recruited to continue playing on the college level at Kent State University in Ohio.

At Kent, Harris-Smith earned all-conference accolades and was team captain during her senior year. She majored in business management and was planning on becoming an entrepreneur.

“There was some indecision about what I should do professionally,” she says. “I initially didn’t want to coach, but reflecting on my experience as a student-athlete, I decided I wanted to have the same impact on others as my coaches had on me.”

Now, she’s embracing her first shot to be a head coach. She recently moved to Maine with her husband, Sean Smith, who was an assistant women's basketball coach at Rider, and their newborn twins, Elijah and Emmanuel, and the family is settling into their new existence.

"It’s a special place and a perfect fit," Harris-Smith says. "I love the culture within the athletic department and it's different than anywhere I've been. The degree I received from Rider was helpful in getting me here and is directly applicable to what I'm doing."

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