By Kaleb Carter
Angelina Smith’s emergence has been a steadying force for the Bolingbrook Raiders.
Things could have gone awry given injuries to two of the Raiders’ stars. All-state senior guard Kennedi Perkins — who has had Division I offers since 2017 — has missed games since late November. Sophomore transfer forward Tahj-Monet Bloom suffered a season-ending ACL tear after reeling in her own Division I offers since freshman year.
Instead of floundering, Smith has helped take command of the Raiders. She showed her leadership qualities in a 49-44 win over Joliet West in the Coach Kipp Hoopsfest at Benet on Monday.
“As a point guard I had the feeling, okay, this is our game, we got this,” Smith said. “I was so confident in my team, I was so confident in myself, my shots were falling, my teammates’ (shots) were falling and we were playing with confidence.”
Smith has taken that attitude into Bolingbrook’s daunting schedule, one that has the Raiders and coach Chris Smith asking more of her, especially since the injuries.
“She’s really controlling our offense, trying to make sure everyone is in the right place right now, getting everybody set up and really [being] our primary ball-handler,” Chris Smith said. “That’s the biggest thing is just being a primary ball-handler, getting everybody involved and creating that team atmosphere back and forth.”
Against the Tigers on Monday, the Raiders went up big in the first half, taking a 28-14 halftime break on the back of their defense and transition offense. Angelina Smith scored 12 of her game-high 15 points in the first half. She scored off the bounce, on jumpers and with a nifty post-move on the block toward the end of the first half. Bolingbrook overwhelmed Joliet West and Lisa Thompson, the Class of 2023’s top prospect per Prep Hoops Illinois, and kept the Tigers out of a rhythm in their half-court offense in the first half.
“When we are aggressive in the passing lanes and we have good on-ball defense and rotation, we’ve got to rotate well and rebound the basketball,” Chris Smith said. “We’re athletic enough we can get in the passing lane, create some havoc and create turnovers and look to get out in transition. We hang our hat on trying to be better defensively. That’s the key.”
Per Chris Smith, Perkins should be back in action before the end of January. Also returning for the Raiders in due time should be Yahaira Bueno, who Chris Smith called a true point guard.
The Raiders will play a more small-ball lineup when Perkins and Bueno return. That suits the team just fine.
“We’re so young. Ain’t so substitute experience,” Chris Smith said. “My (class of 2024) are getting a ton of experience. Angie has done a great job of taking over even though she’s only a sophomore, just taking over and giving the best she’s able to give. “
Seniors Kendall Winston — a short guard — and Miranda Fry — an undersized-post — have contributed immensely over the last few weeks. Fry brings an intensity on the defensive end that helps get the Raiders going.
“Miranda and Kendall (Winston), even though they were coming off the bench, they’re such good veterans,” Angelina Smith said. “They’ve been here around the program for four years now and having them, they know their role and they play their role really well. As a point guard I appreciate them and what they do because maybe sometimes the things people don’t always see and it leads to our wins.”
Of course, the Raiders’ successes have them thinking big. The Raiders’ lone in-state loss is to undefeated Sycamore. At 12-3 and unbeaten in the Southwest Suburban Blue, the Raiders still have Homewood-Flossmoor, Providence Catholic and Sandburg coming up in conference games.
“We’re trying to go down to state,” Angelina Smith said. “We’re trying to win state. I’m so excited to be on a team like this, such an amazing team with an amazing culture. Bolingbrook, we don’t just play for the team now, we play for the teams before us, the Ariel Massengales, the Morgan Tucks.”