When Joe Huppenthal took over as girls basketball coach at Lake Central, he was introducing himself to the team and learning all of the players' names.

One stuck out.

"Call me, Smo," Lauren Smolen told him.

"I thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?'" Huppenthal said with a laugh. "I was working on trying to remember everyone's name, and there it was, 'Call me Smo.' I'll never forget it now."

Smolen is proud of her nickname.

The Indians senior and her fellow Class of 2018 teammate Lauren Ladowski were on the same AAU team as youngsters in the Lake Central system.

Not many other "Laurens" out there, but with two on the team, one needed a shorter name.

Coach Sandy Todd turned to Smolen and called her, "Smo."

"She passed away a couple years ago, and it impacts me and I'm really proud of my nickname," Smolen said. "I'm hoping I can carry it on in college."

Smolen has signed with IU Northwest, prepped to take her consistency to a Red Hawks program she said she quickly liked. She averages 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Indians (13-5), leading the team in both offensive and defensive rebounds.

"Everybody always wants to know who's the leading scorer, but Smo is really our best defensive player and I don't think she gets enough credit for that," Huppenthal said. "What she does inside, getting the rebounds — offensive and defensive — is important to us. Her offensive game has really developed over the last year that we're getting her the ball inside, and we've developed enough plays that we've made getting her the ball a priority."

Smolen missed most of the summer offseason with a thumb injury and has played the bulk of this season with her left thumb taped. With the injury on her non-dominant hand, she was able to work through shooting drills, but not catch the ball and take passes for the first two weeks.

She took the tape off for the Indians' recent tournament at Northridge.

"I feel like I don't want to rely on it a lot," Smolen said. "I'm going to be playing in college, and I feel like it got a lot better."

Having her at 100 percent is important for the Indians, who play Saturday at LaPorte in a Duneland Athletic Conference matchup. LaPorte is the only DAC team with an unbeaten conference record, and the Indians — winners of the last two conference titles — are among three teams with one loss each.

"She's consistent every game," Huppenthal said. "You know what you're going to get from her: defensive pressure, six to eight rebounds, six to eight points. We don't need her to be the leading scorer; she gives us that consistency night in and night out. And the stiffer the competition, the more she shines."

The coach said Smolen's personality, not her stats, has made her one of his more memorable players.

"She can look at me and know what I'm ready to say," Huppenthal said. "She'll look out of the corner of her eye if I'm ready to vent at her and it's the funniest thing. That's part of our program: I love these kids and she's one of those kids you'll never forget about. She's got that moxy about her that I like."

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Sports Director

Hillary has covered prep, pro and college sports -- and even a Dixie Baseball World Series -- for newspapers north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line since 1995.