St Ambrose Mt Mercy Womens

St. Ambrose's Annie Smith looks to put the rebound back up against Mt. Mercy's #15, Wednesday, January 12, 2012, during second half action at Lee Loman Arena. (John Schultz / Quad-City Times)

John Schultz

This may be St. Valentine's Day, but Annie Smith would not mind dealing with a little rejection this week.

The senior forward on the St. Ambrose women's basketball team needs just one block to tie a school career record that has stood for 21 years.

Smith has rejected 174 shots in her three seasons with the Queen Bees, one fewer than Cindy Born swatted over four seasons during a career that ended in 1991.

"I don't spend any time looking at stats or anything like that, I never have, but I am aware that this one is out there and to have a chance to do in three years what has taken other players four would be a pretty cool accomplishment," Smith said. "I'm hoping I can get it done."

Smith, who has 54 blocks in 25 games this season, gets her next chance Wednesday when St. Ambrose plays its final regular-season home game at 5:30 p.m. against Viterbo.

Shot blocking has been a part of Smith's game since high school when she played for Davenport Assumption, but her skill extends beyond her 6-foot-2 height and solid wingspan.

"Those things help her, but players have to understand how and when to go for the block, and Annie has a knack for that," St. Ambrose coach Krista Van Hauen said. "She has ability to go straight up and get the block in a lot of situations where many players would foul. She doesn't really do that."

Van Hauen said the length of time the existing record has stood is a testament to the skill that Smith possesses.

"That says something about the difficulty of the skill and to block the number of shots she has blocked in three years speaks to her ability," Van Hauen said.

Taking a break from a Monday workout in the gym where her father Darryl Smith starred for the former Marycrest College, Smith credits his teaching with helping her develop the skill.

"As I was getting taller in high school, he always told me that I was going to have to become the type of player in the post who could use blocks as a way to defend," Smith said. "He taught me the importance of going straight up to get the block and it's been an important part of my game."

She enjoys watching her presence change the way opponents attack the basket.

"It does alter a game and there's no better feeling than to get the block and deny someone a shot," Smith said. "I've had shots blocked, too, and I've learned to just play on, but it does get into the heads of some players. You can see it, and that only helps our team."

Smith began her college career at Southwest Minnesota State, but transferred closer to home after her freshman season.

She said the experience there helped her mature and toughened her for the final three seasons of her collegiate career.

"Looking back, I think it forced me to grow up a bit and it prepared me for the toughness that it takes at this level," Smith said. "I've dealt with things better here because of the experiences I had at Southwest Minnesota."

For that reason, Smith doesn't regret any of the decisions she has made.

"It has made me the person and player I am now," said Smith, who is working toward a degree in radio and television production at St. Ambrose.

Joining Rock Island Alleman alums Mollie Yeargle and Michelle Charvat as the only seniors on the Queen Bees' roster, Smith leads the team in scoring and rebounding with averages of 13.6 and 9.8 per game.

She has filled multiple roles for St. Ambrose this season, and while she buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send a game against Mount Mercy into overtime last week, Smith has been coming off the bench lately.

It's a role she doesn't mind.

"Teams evolve, and I'm still getting plenty of minutes, doing what I can to help the team," Smith said. "The best thing about Ambrose is that it is a team. We're like a big family and when it's over, I'm going to miss that. I don't have a lot of games left, but I want to make the most of them. We all do."