Katie Smrcka-Duffy was one of the most competitive athletes ever to come out of the Northern Region. If her play didn't show it, her mouth certainly did. Smrcka-Duffy was often the subject of media scrutiny even as just a junior and senior at Madison High School. Her competitiveness is also what drove her to leave Bishop O'Connell after the private school won the city championship in her freshman year.
"We had a tradition, which is why I transferred in to Madison in the first place," said Smrcka-Duffy, who led Madison to three district titles, two region titles and two state finals appearances.
"Katie was one of those kids that wasn't very guarded with what she said," remembered former Madison girls basketball coach Pat Deegan. "After a contest, she literally spoke what was going through her head, and that's probably the worst time to speak."
Smrcka-Duffy, who still holds several Virginia High School League records, might be most remembered for comments she made about Robinson's girls basketball team during an intense playoff race in her senior year. Deegan believes that Smrcka-Duffy, the step-daughter of Washington Times sports columnist Tom Knott, realized the impact she could have by making her thoughts about Robinson public in the local newspapers. Her comments were made after defeating the Rams by a land-slide 64-42 margin in the 1996 Northern Region finals — Madison's second consecutive region title.
"She recognized Robinson as a team that Madison had to beat," said Deegan, who guided the Warhawks all the way to the state finals in both Smrcka-Duffy's junior and senior years only to lose to the Rams both times.
"I was just speaking my opinion," said Smrcka-Duffy. "Whether we won or lost, I still look back and say we were the better team, player for player."
THE 5-FOOT-9 senior guard, who guided Madison to a 27-4 record, was hoping that Madison's second state title appearance — her last shot — would be different. Her public comments served as motivation, both for her and her teammates as well as an angry Robinson squad.
"She had been playing against those [Robinson] teams since she was in youth leagues," said Deegan. "It was that desire to measure up against what was considered to be the best group since she was in grade school. That's what made her such a great player." Smrcka-Duffy and the Warhawks could not overcome the Rams and dropped a 54-41 decision in the state final.
The drama of the events that had preceded the tournament and the game itself, as well as Smrcka-Duffy's obvious talent, prompted the Connection's Brian McNicoll to write "Long after the sting of this loss has eased and her comments have been forgotten, the sign on 123 at James Madison Drive should still read: "Katie Smrcka-Duffy played here."
Smrcka-Duffy averaged 28.8 points per game, eight rebounds, 4.7 steals, 3.7 assists and shot 52.4-percent from the field and 34.4-percent from the three-point line as a senior en route to being named the Washington Post's All-Met Player of the Year. In her time at Madison, she led the Warhawks to a 104-12 overall record. Smrcka-Duffy remains one of the greatest girls basketball players ever to emerge from the Northern Region. She left high school in 1996 with her name printed seven times in the Virginia High School League record books including a second place finish in career points (2,463) and points in a single season (950). She was sixth all-time for most three-pointers made in a career (179) — an accomplishment that Deegan finds more interesting than any of Smrcka-Duffy's other accomplishments.
"As a sophomore, she played for me and scored about 20 points a game," remembered Deegan. "She ruptured her ACL and missed the last few games. She came to me after the surgery and asked me what can she do to be better next year?"
Deegan checked his stat sheet and saw the low number of three-pointers that Smrcka-Duffy had hit as a sophomore (7). He told her to work on her outside shot.
Smrcka-Duffy returned as a junior and nailed 104 three-point shots after "she wore the leather off a couple of basketballs," said Deegan of Smrcka-Duffy's intense offseason three-point shooting regimen. Her 104 made three-pointers is still second all-time in the state's history for three-pointers made in a season.
IN THE END it would be knee troubles that would keep Smrcka-Duffy from accomplishing her true dream, establishing herself as one of the greatest pro basketball players. After leading the blue team in scoring in the 1996 WBCA High School All-America Game, Smrcka-Duffy spent her freshman year tearing up the Atlantic Coast Conference with N.C. State. She was named the ACC's Rookie of the Year in 1997 before transferring to Georgetown, where she completed her career from 1999-2001. She posted career numbers that included 2,172 points (17 ppg), 387 assists, 624 rebounds in 121 college games — numbers that prompted rumors that she might leave Georgetown early for the WNBA. Smrcka-Duffy stayed at Georgetown through her senior year and was eventually drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 WNBA draft (62nd overall) by the Sacramento Monarchs. Injuries, which include knee, back and ankle problems, have kept Smrcka-Duffy away from an elite career in the WNBA. She is currently working with Gametime Skills, a youth basketball program that helps develop young talent.
"It's basically what I wish I had when I was younger," said Smrcka-Duffy, who is also a personal trainer. "We work on the fundamentals, footwork, ball-handling, and speed and conditioning. It's in a group setting or individual setting, to teach the kids at whatever level they are at."
She has a 3-year-old daughter named Azzi and is married to former Chantilly basketball star and former Westfield High School teacher Tim Fudd — who sits 12th all-time in scoring at American University.
Katie Smrcka-Duffy is 18 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.