Ryan “Kennedy” Smith has been touted as the most exciting player to watch on Illinois. With a cannon of a forehand, Smith usually leads the defensive line in assists while also generating turnovers. His flick came from skills acquired from knowing how to throw curveball as a baseball player in high school. Be sure to watch for #23 in Boulder.
How were you introduced into ultimate?
During the fall of my junior year of high school I started throwing during lunch. A few weeks later there was a tournament that my school team was going to attend. I went to that and was hooked. My high school team was lucky to have a coach and just within a few weeks I could start to see major improvement.
What was your sports background and how did those skills translate to Ultimate?
I played baseball up until I started playing ultimate my junior year. I was never a pitcher, but I still could throw a decent curve ball. Being able to snap my wrist helped me to generate a lot of spin on my flick.
What has your career at Illinois been like?
My career at Illinois has had its ups and downs. It seems every year Illinois has a rocky regular season. Once the series rolls around Illinois starts to play its best ultimate which has resulted in 3 consecutive Regionals Championships. I have been extremely proud to be a part of three regional championships and our national appearances. I would say my individual career at Illinois has been successful. I earned a spot on the A-team my freshman year, and saw a significant amount of playing time. Since then I have continue to improve to become more of a complete player. I have been extremely lucky to have Darren Shultz, Ben Banyas, Nick Kaczmarek, Matt Stupca, and now Walden Nelson, who are all amazing coaches, push me to take the next step. On top of this my teammates are a huge driving force. Everyone on the team has each other’s backs and it’s an amazing feeling to know that you can rely on your teammates.
What do you do outside of Ultimate?
I’m studying Civil and Environmental Engineering with a primary in transportation. I would really enjoy playing college ultimate for 5 years, so I am attempting to go to grad school. I will apply elsewhere, but my heart is really set on U of I.
What do you plan on doing with ultimate after college?
I hope to end up playing at club nationals. I will not be graduating for a few more years, so I am not sure where I will end up living. However, playing with a high level club team and compete for a national championship is a goal of mine. I would also like to coach someday in the future.