The University of Central Arkansas’ Robyn Smith saw the fulfillment of a once-impossible dream last weekend.
From a different perspective.
Smith is one of the standout volleyball players in UCA history. She now is one of the assistant coaches for the Sugar Bears.
She admits to a flow of emotion last weekend after the Sugar Bears added a Southland Conference tournament title to their regular-season championship, earning their first berth in the NCAA Division I tournament.
"I’ve been crying all weekend," she said earlier in the week.
Smith, out of Lubbock, Texas, was one of former coach Steve McRoberts’ top recruits when he began structuring the program for NCAA Division I and the Southland Conference.
"Robyn came here knowing that she would have no chance of ever playing in the NCAA tournament," said David McFatrich, referring to UCA’s provisional status in Division I (including no postseason tournament play) that was part of the five-year transition to Division I status.
There was a slight glimmer as UCA was allowed to fast-track one male and one female sport, other than football or basketball, for quicker eligibility. Smith’s hopes faded when athletic officials chose baseball and women’s soccer.
The Sugar Bears were eligible for a conference championship, which Smith helped them to back-to-back titles in 2008-2009.
"Not being eligible for the NCAA tourney didn’t deter me; it wasn’t the deciding factor," she said. "I loved the campus, the academics and the coaching staff (McRoberts came to UCA from Lubbock Christian). The chance to be part of the first Division I program here was very appealing. I liked the challenge of that. There’s something about being the first to be a part of something."
She certainly made her mark as a pioneer.
She become the career assists and assists per set leader at UCA. She’s the only player to lead the Southland in assists three straight years. She was Freshman of the Year in the conference in 2006 and Setter of the Year in the conference in 2008-2009 , helping the Sugar Bears to a 16-0 conference record her senior year. She was a three-time All-SLC first-team selection both on the court and academically.
Helping on the sideline has been rewarding this season.
"That’s one of the best parts — to still be a part of this team and share in the championship with them," she said. "I played with these seniors. I know what it means to them."
As she watched the team in preseason, she thought it had a shot at big things. She talked of a comforting feeling going into the conference tournament with the NCAA berth on the line.
"Going into the tournament, there was just a sense of confidence and calm with this team," she said. "That was a good sign to me."
And tears came to her eyes almost immediately after match point.
"I’m amazed at how many people we’ve heard from around the country," she said. "It seems there were thousands of people watching UCA volleyball on the Internet and on TV. We got messages of congratulations from everywhere."
After seven years and on the week before Thanksgiving, she was blessed to reap part of the harvest from the seeds she helped plant.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or email@example.com)