Change of position and heart flips outlook for Higley’s Symone Smith
October 20, 2023 by Hudson French, Arizona State University
Hudson French is an ASU Cronkite School of Journalism student assigned to cover Higley High School for AZPreps365.com
Higley girls volleyball came into the season with knowledge of two major-impact players, sophomore outside hitter Lucy Schmidt and senior middle Tanner Robinson. Now 13 matches into the regular season, they’ve leaned on junior outside hitter Symone Smith.
Smith has steadily earned starts and meaningful playing time throughout the season, and recently contributed six kills and a block on Thursday in a win over Mountain Pointe.
So how did she get here? It all started a year ago after a disappointing sophomore high school and club campaign when she contemplated giving volleyball up for good.
“After she didn’t get a lot of playing time (during the high school season), she went over to Club One and ended up making their Platinum squad, which was their ones team,” Glynnis Nix, Symone’s mom, said. “She chose to play lower, thinking she would get more playing time, and unfortunately that didn’t happen. It was a bad and hectic year.”
Smith, very quiet until on the court, says she’d hoped for better when joining that team.
“I went into club thinking I wouldn’t know anybody and they wouldn’t know me,” Smith said. “(I thought) they’d just see me for my talent. Well, everybody knew everybody because they all came from the same club, and it felt more like playing favorites.”
Smith’s only goal up until that point had been to play, and that’s the one thing she wasn’t achieving.
“I don’t care what team I make, I just want to play,” Smith said. “Even if the team isn’t that good, I just want to play. That’s all that matters.”
Smith got that chance the following summer, with the ones team at Spiral Volleyball. During the season, Spiral won three gold medals. Smith finally received the playing time she desired, and credits coaches Molly Stark and Lauren Betlach for reigniting her love for the game.
With Higley’s tryouts on the horizon, Smith’s stepdad, Dexter Nix, had a proposition for her.
“I told Symone, think about playing a different spot,” Nix said. “You’re short for a middle. You’re an athlete, but you’re short. She came home from tryouts and said ‘Tyler’s going to have me playing right side.”
Coach Tyler Kraemer believes Smith has always possessed the abilities, and her growth is coming at the perfect time.
“Ever since I met her, the potential is through the roof,” Kraemer said. “Fast-forward two years and you can see her ripping balls today (Thursday), she might’ve been the best player today. And it’s on both sides. She’s become a monster out there. I just can’t wait to see how good she becomes.”
Looking back on the decision to play, which Dexter Nix said was completely Smith’s choice, it was a difficult time for the family.
“I told her, ‘Should you decide to play, who are you playing for?’” Nix said. “And I told her, ‘There's two people that you should dedicate this season to if you decide to play, and you have to put your soul in it. That’s your mom and your aunt. Do you want to play?’ It took her a long time to answer me, but she finally said yes.”
Smith’s aunt passed away in September 2022. A few weeks later, her mom had a car accident which forced her into several surgeries and intensive treatment that she continues to receive more than a year later.
With her mom in the hospital much of the last year, Dexter has had to pick up a lot of slack taking Smith from point A to point B with club or high school practices, taking care of mom, and the other kids in the family. Worn out, he’s still the loudest person in the gym each match day.
“I got to be,” he said. “She says she doesn’t hear me. I want to make sure she hears my big mouth. Because if I don’t, who am I? I’m then just like every other parent. But I’m not them. I want to be Symone’s dad.”
With the support of her stepdad and her healing mother, who can both be seen in the first row of the Higley cheering section at every match, Smith has accomplished her first goal of earning meaningful playing time.
Now, her focus has shifted to playing at the next level.
“She wants to play college,” Glynnis said. “That's her goal. So that is why we do what we do to keep her playing.”
This new goal lines up perfectly with the trajectory Kraemer sees for Smith.
“Next year, when she’s a senior,” Kraemer said, “she’s going to have to carry the load. There’s no senior shouldering the weight. We’re going to have to rely on her, and I can’t wait for that.”
In a calendar year, what was disdain for volleyball shifted to love for the game.