Sarah Smith, a former head coach at the Division II level, begins her fourth season as an assistant coach for the Youngstown State volleyball program in 2017-18.
In 2014, Smith and Head Coach Mark Hardaway guided the Penguins to 17 victories, the most by the program since 1999. The Guins tied the school mark with seven Horizon League wins and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the second straight year. In the regular season, YSU ended up in a tie for fourth in the HL, which was its best finish since joining the league in 2001.
The Penguins won their first six matches for the first time in program history and earned nine victories in the non-conference season. Among those were a win over Virginia, YSU’s first over an ACC team in 12 years, three over Missouri Valley teams and one against OVC runner-up Belmont.
On the court, YSU’s .218 attack percentage was its best since 1999. Val Jeffery was voted the Horizon League Setter of the Year and All-Horizon League. She finished averaging 10.47 assists per set, the most by a YSU setter since 2005. Nikki Thompson set a school record for digs in a season with 495, and Lexi Egler became just the fifth player in school history to record both 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs. Sam Brown led all Horizon League freshmen with 293 kills, and she led all league players with 42 aces.
In 2015, outside hitter Sarah Varcolla was named to the Horizon League's All-Freshman Team. Varcolla led the conference with 40 aces, and she ranked third among all Horizon League freshmen in kills with 236. YSU led the Horizon League with 1.55 assists per game, the most by the program since 2005. Thompson eclipsed her season-record for digs in 2015 finishing with 510 for the campaign.
The 2016 season completed the career of one of the program’s best all-time setters and saw several players show big improvement. The Penguins earned non-conference wins over Akron and Robert Morris in September and won the Akron Invitational despite fighting through injuries and adversity.
Jeffery posted 1,000 assists for the third straight season, and she ended her three-year Penguins career with 3,217 assists, which is the fifth-most in program history. She was named Honorable Mention All-Horizon League for her efforts. Senior Lori Vanbeek had her best season as one of three players in school history to average at least 3.2 kills and one block per set. She ranked in the top 10 in the conference in kills, blocks and attack percentage. Additionally, Lauren Blanco was voted Academic All-Horizon League in her first year as YSU’s libero.
Before coming to YSU, Smith spent nine years as the head coach at Division II Shepherd University in Eastern West Virginia. Her tenure at Shepherd was highlighted by a 21-win season in 2009 and her being named the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. The following year, she was named one of the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 30 Coaches Under 30.
"We are very fortunate to have someone with Sarah's background on our staff," Coach Hardaway said. "Sarah is a very versatile coach with a tremendous amount of experience. With nine years of head coaching experience at the collegiate level, she understands all aspects of running a program. She has solid office skills to go along with her recruiting and coaching skills. Sarah is well thought of within the volleyball community, which is evident by her receiving the prestigious AVCA 30 Under 30 Award."
Smith led the Rams to 129 wins and a 72-61 mark in conference play during her nine years. Sixteen of her players earned all-conference honors, and one went on to earn AVCA All-Region accolades. Off the court, the Rams earned a team GPA over 3.1 eight times, and more than 20 received honors for academic excellence.
Smith was very active off the court. She created what became the Shepherd Women’s Athletic Alliance, which brings all women’s sports teams together for community outreach and fundraising opportunities. She was the Mountain East Volleyball Coaches Chair and was active on the AVCA All-Region and Division II Head Coaches committees.
Prior to taking over at Shepherd, Smith was a graduate assistant at Minnesota State, Mankato for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Her duties included training middle blockers, scouting opponents and video analysis. In 2003, the Mavericks finished 20-9 and ranked 20th in the country.
Smith had an outstanding career as a student-athlete at Bryant University. As a four-year starter, Smith led the Bulldogs to four NCAA Tournament appearances and an overall record of 116-45. Smith registered 406 kills on a .340 attack percentage her senior year in 2002 as Bryant advanced to the Sweet 16. As of 2014, she still ranked 10th in Bryant history in career kills (1,261), sixth in career aces (276), 11th in career digs (1,364) and 14th in career blocks.