SAND ROCK – From basketball to softball to volleyball, adaptation has always been something Sand Rock senior Madison Smith has been good at.
That’s something Snead State volleyball coach Dee Ayres quickly realized during Smith’s tryout for the Lady Parsons last fall.
Ayres was looking for a right-side hitter, but Smith’s primary position in volleyball the past three years has been at middle.
But Smith was willing to see what she could do there. After all, playing a new position has been nothing new for her.
Smith said she started her volleyball career as an outside hitter in seventh grade, moved to setter in eighth grade and then moved to middle at the junior varsity level.
“She (Ayres) was like ‘Have you played right side?’ I said, ‘I’ve played setter, but I haven’t really played right side,’” Smith said. “She was like, ‘I want to see how you play right side,’ and I said ‘OK, I’ll see how I do.’ She said ‘I think you’ll do pretty good for us because we need a blocker and you can hit really well.’ I guess she liked what she saw.”
The end result was Ayres offering Smith a scholarship. Smith made things official on Friday by signing with the Lady Parsons at the Sand Rock High School gym.
“Just throwing her in that day, she did a really great job,” Ayres said. “She’s very coachable, and I like coachable kids because I don’t have them for very long. They’ve got to listen in order to be successful in our program, and I definitely think she’ll do that.”
Smith helped guide the Lady Wildcats to back-to-back appearances in the Class 2A Elite 8 tournament the past two seasons. She set a school record 611 kills last season to go along with 523 digs, 92 blocks and 76 aces. During her junior year, Smith posted 430 kills, 426 digs, 95 blocks, 64 aces and 27 assists in earning the All-Cherokee County Most Valuable Player honor.
For her career, Smith accumulated 1,195 digs, 1,149 kills, 209 blocks and 178 aces.
“She can do anything,” Bates said. “She’s very well rounded and very competitive at what she does. That’s what makes her so good. She hates to lose. Volleyball, softball, basketball – she just helps all of our programs out so much. She’s represented us well here, and I know she will at Snead as well.
“It’s where she wanted to go, so that’s exciting to me. She’s getting the chance to do what she loves. I’m excited for her and her family.”
Smith gives credit to her teammates, Bates and Lady Wildcat assistant coach Johnny Howell for developing her volleyball talent.
“Mrs. Bates pushes us to be our best, to go that extra mile, to do what she thinks we can do. I want to give credit to her because she’s always been there. She’s a great coach, and she’s just taught us how to get ready for life,” Smith said. “We’ve always had a good team, and I love my teammates. They push me and I push them. We just kind of have each other’s back and do what we need to do. It’s six people on the floor at one time, and you’ve got to have everybody doing what they’re supposed to do. If you don’t, then it’s out of whack.”
Bates said it’s been “fun” to watch Smith develop – not only one the court, but off it as well.
“She’s changed over the years, just because she could do so much,” Bates said. “She wasn’t tall in seventh and eighth grade, but she had good hands. We started her at setter, then we changed her to a defensive player because she’s so good at reacting. Then, she started growing and could jump and we were like ‘Hey, let’s get her hitting.’ She really dominated the last two years as far as hitting and blocking. She’s really blossomed into something special.
“She represents us well on the court, off the court, in the community, in everything she does. Our younger ones can say ‘If I work and put my mind to it, I can do that when I’m a junior and senior.’”
Although she’s sad to see Smith leave the Lady Wildcat program, Bates is anxious to see how well she’ll do at Snead State.
So, too, is Ayres.
“They’re wanting to play her right side, which is something she’ll be great at,” Bates said. “She can block. She has good hands. She can play defense. She can hit from there. We’re proud of her going to the next level. I think she’ll represent Sand Rock well.”
Added Ayres: “I’m glad to get a Sand Rock girl. I know she comes from great coaching and she’s played in a lot of big matches. Sand Rock has a tradition. They know how to compete in big games, and that’s what we’re looking for. We want to ultimately be in those big games at the end of the season, and we want kids who are prepared for that.”