Realizing a longtime dream, Brendan Smith got the experience he had waited so long for at the NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball National Championship that took place April 25 through 28 in Rochester, N.Y.
Smith, a 2012 graduate of Fuquay-Varina High School started playing volleyball when his mother, Marcy, was asked to coach for the very first time at Cathedral School in Raleigh. It was a new beginning for her, but she had no idea what it would mean for her young son who was four years old at the time.
As a stay at home mom, she decided to bring him to her practices rather than find a sitter for him. She thought at the very least he would like to run around the gym and play with the volleyballs.
Within the first week he was asking to have the balls tossed to him so that he could “bump it up.” Soon, his mother was hitting the balls at him so that he could “dive and get them up.” By the end of the season he participated in all of the team drills and scrimmages. The girls made him the official mascot of the team.
By the next season, being mascot was not good enough, he wanted to be on a team of his own.
Marcy heard that the Cary YMCA had a boys volleyball program. The program, in accordance with the Carolina Region of USA Volleyball, allowed boys to play with and/or against girls up to 14 years old. But the team rosters had already been filled and Brendan waited for the following season.
In the meantime, Brendan played on scaled down volleyball courts at home with his brother and watched homemade video of the Women’s Volleyball National Championships constantly.
In the early spring of 2002 Brendan asked if there were colleges that had men’s volleyball. Mom answered with the only school that she new of east of the Mississippi; Penn State.
He said, “Okay, well that is where I want to go to college and play volleyball.”
After doing some rudimentary search on the internet, they found out that the Men’s Volleyball National Championships were going to be at Penn State early in May. So Marcy convinced her sister to fly from Detroit and drive to State College, Pa., with her sons, Brendan and Sean, to watch the National Championships. It was a great experience. Little did the family know it planted a seed inside Brendan to set a goal to play college volleyball.
Brendan continued swimming and playing tennis but always came back to volleyball. He played with the Cary YMCA for three more seasons. Brendan and some other friends from Fuquay-Varina put together a team of their own. They practiced in Fuquay-Varina and competed in the Tri-Boys Volleyball League against boys from Cary and Chapel Hill.
Later, he director of N.C. Elite allowed Brendan to train with his adult team. At 15 years old and 125 pounds, Brendan was put to the test to keep up with the “big boys” some of which played volleyball in college. It was after that season that the director of N.C. Elite reached out to the Smiths saying that N.C. Elite wanted to sponsor a boys’ volleyball team.
Brendan played two seasons with N.C. Elite and was able to play in regional and national competitions. In the off season, he trained at the N.C. Volleyball Academy and did some physical conditioning training at Triangle Volleyball Club.
Brendan was invited to attend a high performance camp with USA Volleyball in Geneva, Ohio, in summer 2011. The head coach for the camp was Juniata College Men’s Volleyball Head Coach Kevin Moore and the assistant coach was Penn State’s Men’s Volleyball Assistant Coach Jay Hosack. At the end of the camp, Brendan was awarded Best Defensive Player.
Later that fall, Brendan received a call from Coach Moore asking him to be a part of the freshman recruiting class and to play volleyball for Juniata College.
Brendan was thrilled, not only to be part of the freshman class on the men’s volleyball team, but after winning it’s conference for the first time, Juniata College was invited to the Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship. With no seniors on the roster, the young Juniata team fell to Rivier in the quarterfinals of the tournament. However they were the last team to have beaten Springfield College, which won it’s second DIII title.
A few details of the dream are different but the experience has been rewarding. The Smiths hope to see other boys in the Carolina Region have the same opportunities to play. It will take some effort and some creativity, but the potential is there for other boys to have similar goals and dreams.