Games with four big brothers prepared McDonogh All-American Baylee DeSmit for a stellar soccer career

by Katherine Dunn

Baylee DeSmit

Baylee DeSmit earned just about every accolade possible after her junior soccer season at McDonogh last fall, including Gatorade Maryland Player of the Year and United Soccer Coaches All-American.

The 5-7 forward scored 20 goals and had 11 assists in a 17-game season for the IAAM A Conference champion and No. 1 Eagles. She netted 10 game-winning goals and scored twice in the 3-1 title game victory over No. 2 Archbishop Spalding.

With her exceptional ability to finish as well as to create scoring opportunities, Baylee looks as though she’s played organized soccer since she started walking, but her first experience came in club ball in the sixth grade.

Baylee, 17, learned to play soccer — and many other sports — in the front yard of the family home with her four big brothers. Ray, now 31; Ryan, 29; Riley, 25; and Daniel, 23, welcomed her into all of their front yard games.

“When I learned how to walk, I basically ran,” Baylee said. “I always wanted to move, do something. I just wanted to be with my brothers and play with them and be like them, so when I was younger, it was kind of my safe spot. Having a ball with me, I could just do what I wanted to do.”

When she started playing front yard soccer, Baylee was the neutral player, always on offense. At 3 or 4, she couldn’t physically defend her brothers, so they had her attack the goal.

“The rule was you could never steal the ball off her foot or push her off the ball, so she had to generate passes,” said Ryan DeSmit. “What ended up happening, like in basketball, we would deny the pass to the brother which meant she could just dribble right to the goal, so soon she realized if there were no passes, I’m going to the goal. Then we would try to block her and the passes would open up. Intentionally or unintentionally, that nose for the goal developed early.”

Doug DeSmit, a former Division III college All-America striker who has coached at Friends and Gilman, saw more than just his daughter’s innate athletic ability at an early age.

“When she was 3-1/2-4 years old, I was absolutely stunned that she was making offensive runs off the ball that I wished my high school players could figure out and she was doing it naturally.”

Still, he didn’t want her to play organized sports so young.

“I didn’t want anyone to limit her. I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘No. You can’t do that.’ There’s no can’t-do-that in front yard games,” Doug DeSmit said.

Baylee’s game developed quickly under the tutelage of her brothers, who all played high school soccer, and her father, who set almost every scoring record at Calvin College (now University) in Grand Rapids, Michigan between 1980 and 1983. He still stands second on the school’s all-time scoring list with 171 points and second in goals with 70. Mom Debbie, a marathon runner, preferred the role of No. 1 front-yard fan.

“The front yard just kept my skills improving,” Baylee said, “because I would have a teammate, usually it would be my brother Ryan, and we would come up with these game plans and these plays. We would just have fun with that and always treat it like an actual game even though I didn’t know what that was at the time, but it was just fun to think of all these scenarios that could happen.”

That rule about her brothers not stealing the ball from her? That only lasted until Baylee was 7 or 8.

She also loved being a ball girl at her father’s or brothers’ games which led to her being “discovered” during a Gilman game. When John Waugh, whose daughter played on Santino Quaranta’s Pipeline Soccer Club team, saw Baylee kicking and juggling the ball along the sideline, he thought she should try out.

A couple days later, she did and she’s been with Pipeline ever since.

“Her very first organized soccer experience was for Santino Quaranta who I grew up watching play for DC United,” said Ryan DeSmit, “and within five minutes, he comes over to the fence and goes, “Yeah, whatever I can do to make this happen.’ Five minutes in! She didn’t know where to stand, she never did a passing pattern except with us in the front yard and now she’s on this team that’s ranked No. 1 in the country.”

That’s when Baylee said she fell in love with the game.

“When I finally got into club sports with Pipeline, something about the team aspect and making those friends after all these years just solidified the connection to soccer and made me love it even more,” she said.

At McDonogh, Baylee also plays basketball and lacrosse, two sports among the many front yard games. McDonogh basketball coach Brad Rees said she brings the same competitive fire to basketball that she brings to soccer.

“At the level our league plays, to have the ability to bring in an athlete like that who can play defense, score, [do] whatever you need her to do speaks volumes to her abilities,” Rees said. “She doesn’t touch a basketball from Feb. 14 through Nov. 7 and all the sudden she’s right there with the kids who have played 90 to 100 AAU games.”

Had Baylee not decided to concentrate on soccer and commit to play at Loyola Maryland, Rees has no doubt her athletic ability, competitive drive and work ethic would have made her a top recruit in any sport. He’s been most impressed that she plays with the same intensity at practice as she does in a game.

She also proved she’s not just a local star.

Last summer, she led the U17 Pipeline team, coached by Ryan, to the finals of the US Youth Soccer National Championships in Overland Park, Kansas. She scored nine goals in the tournament, more than any other U17 player.

Then she returned to McDonogh for another IAAM championship. She is the fifth McDonogh player to be named a Varsity Sports Network Player of the Year over the past 10 years. She was also the Maryland Association of Coaches of Soccer Player of the Year last fall.

Eagles coach Harry Canellakis has coached many of the area’s top girls soccer players in 11 years at McDonogh, including several multiple-time players of the year so he’s not inclined to name one best player. DeSmit, however, is easily in the mix.

“It’s hard to make that call before a kid’s career is over,” said Canellakis. “Baylee has one more year and, in theory, it’s going to be her best year. She’s already accomplished what it’s taken some of our top players four years to do.”

McDonogh has won the past three IAAM A Conference championships and also won three between 2013 and 2015. No team has ever won four straight A Conference soccer titles. Canellakis said the Eagles would not be in position for a fourth without her.

As a freshman in the IAAM semifinals, she scored two goals in her first game at center forward position after Julie Dorsey tore an ACL. Her sophomore year, Baylee scored three second-half goals to finish off Archbishop Spalding, 5-0, in the title game. Last fall, she scored twice in the second half to help secure the third straight championship.

Canellakis said Baylee’s most natural position is attacking center midfielder, but once she took over the center forward spot as a sophomore, she became the Eagles main goal scorer. She has 52 goals and 28 assists for her career.

“She has been100 percent the go-to player,” he said. “We know that and everybody else knows that and the fact that she’s been so effective in those games has been the most impressive thing. She’s been a really outstanding performer in the most high-pressure situations and that’s pretty rare.”

Teammate Alayna Lynchard, the Eagles center back, said there isn’t an easy answer to why Baylee is so tough to defend.

“She’s really fast and explosive and she’s very physical, so she’ll push you off the ball even attacking,” Lynchard said. “It’s always good to go against her in practice because you know you’re getting the best practice for a real game.”

Canellakis called Baylee a “clinical goal scorer.” She doesn’t need many opportunities to put the ball in the net.

As she’s grown and become a more tactical player, Baylee said she prepares mentally for those critical scoring moments before she steps on the field.

“Always before a game — this I’ve learned from brothers and Dad and family —I try to visualize the goals I’m going to score, the moves, all like that,” Baylee said. “When I just have a feeling of ‘This is kind of what I visualized; I can do this,’ I know I’m going to score. It’s before but at the moment. It’s just a heart, gut feeling I’m going to score, we’ve got this.”

Ryan DeSmit, who has coached with Pipeline since Baylee joined, has seen many of those moments.

“It’s almost to a point where it’s not thinking,” he said.

“She scored a spectacular goal in Kansas where she juggled the defender and then she chipped the goalie and I’m like. ‘Baylee, did you know the amount of space you had between the two because it was pretty tight?’ A second longer probably a collision with one or the other and she’s like, ‘I really just didn’t think and by the end of it I’m jogging to the corner flag with my teammates.’”

To St. Paul’s coach Joie Gill, Baylee excels for many reasons but she said all of them combine into one lasting impression.

“She stands out to me because everything looks so effortless,” Gill said. “She is so good and I know she works extremely hard, but she just makes it look so easy. She’s just a fun player to watch.”