Over the course of the last four years, Notre Dame’s Lexi Smith has proven to be an absolute terror for opposing frontlines with her play on the front and back lines for the Lady Titans’ volleyball program.
However, that success, which includes career totals of 1,655 kills, 327 blocks, 227 aces, and a staggering .477 hitting percentage, didn’t come without hard work. Since the age of 12, Smith has traveled an hour to club volleyball practices and games — all while balancing volleyball, basketball, track, and of course, the academic aspect — at Notre Dame.
When a person works that hard from an academic and an athletic standpoint, it is said that the hard work will pay dividends on down the road. Those individual dividends showed up on Wednesday afternoon, as Smith, a Wheeling Jesuit University volleyball commit, signed to play with the Cardinals, an NCAA Division II volleyball powerhouse, on what will be a full-ride scholarship for the standout athlete inside the halls of Notre Dame High School.
For Smith, the feelings of excitement and relief certainly come to the forefront — which is to be expected for a student-athlete who has worked so hard to put herself, and more importantly, her team, on the state map from a volleyball standpoint.
“It’s just so exciting,” Smith said. “It’s set in stone now, so I know what I’m going to do. I don’t have to worry about the future. It’s really exciting to play for such a great program.”
Kelsey Glockner, however, knows that it’s certainly Smith’s time, especially when one considers how hard Smith has worked throughout her lifetime.
“It feels really good,” Glockner said. “I love a student-athlete like Lexi who works so hard on and off of the floor. She didn’t just ride her natural talent. She went out and made herself such a great player, and for her to get noticed at the next level and be able to go to a great college that is excellent academically and athletically is just a really neat moment, and a really proud moment, for a coach.”
Over the past four seasons, Smith has torn down some unprecedented walls — both from an individual and a team standpoint — that haven’t even been so much as reached with her play on the volleyball court.
The 6-0 middle hitter, who obtained First-Team All-SOC and First-Team Division IV, District 14 accolades in all four seasons of her varsity volleyball career, was named as the SOC Division I Player of the Year and the Division IV, District 14 Player of the Year in each of her final three seasons eligible for postseason hardware. Smith ultimately led Notre Dame to a staggering 89-17 mark (84 percent) over the course of her career, including a stellar 53-4 mark (93 percent) in SOC I action en route to conference championships in her last three seasons of play.
Those accolades, however, may not even appropriately describe how good Smith truly is. Over her four seasons of play, her worst season — if one even wants to call it that — would be a career year for a vast amount of volleyball players as the middle hitter obtained 311 kills, a .424 attack percentage, 68 blocks, and 42 aces as a freshman.
Smith, however, proved that she was no one-hit wonder.
Despite taking on a more all-around role in her final three seasons of play, the talented multi-sport athlete finished with a hitting percentage above .450 from her sophomore to senior seasons while obtaining 400 kills or more during each year. The six-footer also finished with at least 54 aces and a 93 percent serving mark, 78 or more total blocks, 195 or more digs, and 182 or more service receptions in each of her last three seasons en route to leading the Lady Titans in kills, attack percentage, and blocks in every season of her high school career and pacing the entire unit in each of the aforementioned categories, plus aces and digs, in 2017.
But while Lexi’s numbers will certainly be missed to a high degree, it is the leadership that she and fellow senior Ali Smith provided that will be really missed.
“Numbers-wise, she’s going to be a huge hole to fill next year,” Glockner said. “We’ll really, really miss her. However, beyond that, you like your seniors to set an example for what you expect, and our seniors have done a great job, including Lexi, from a year-to-year basis as far as setting the tone on how we behave in the gym and coming in and getting our team ready for when I come in for practice. They have all helped run a really efficient gym. Losing Ali and Lexi are holes that we are going to have to fill, because they definitely set the tone for us this season.”
“I’m really proud of how hard everyone worked,” Smith said. “It’s been great to be a part of a close family where we are all taking part in a game that we love. Everyone had the same goal, which was to accomplish as much as we could from a team standpoint. It’s never been about one person, and I know that will continue to be the case going forward.”
Not surprisingly, when one works as hard as Smith does in the classroom — both off of and on the court — and obtains National Honor Society accolades in the classroom, that will demand attention from well-run programs who produce strong results.
And with a 529-122 record (81 percent) over the past 16 seasons, the Wheeling Jesuit volleyball program certainly represents the kind of stability and long-term success that any strong recruit is looking for.
The Cardinals, who have collected that mark behind the direction of Christy Jenner, have obtained a NCAA Division II National Championship (2015), a NCAA Division II Final Four appearance (2013), and four additional NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearances (2011, 2012, 2014, 2016) over the last six full seasons. Jenner’s club, who has won 30 or more games over 10 consecutive seasons and won an astounding 119 consecutive home affairs from October 4, 2012 to November 4 of this year, was in line to obtain its 11th consecutive 30-win campaign with a victory over Urbana in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) Championship Game.
“Wheeling Jesuit is a phenomenal program for Lexi to get the opportunity to go play for just off of the records that they accumulate year after year,” Glockner said. “However, their coaches are another huge selling point. When Lexi, her family, and I met their coaches, it just fit for Lexi. They care about their players, they’re from there, and they care about the program. That’s what Lexi is used to here, and it was just like the stars aligned when we met them. We just all knew that is where she was meant to go. I have no doubt that Christy (Benner), as well as her husband, Matt (Benner), care about their players. They are a great team, and I’m just so excited for them as they take Lexi to the next level for the next four years.”
What makes the signing so special, however, is the role that Smith is expected to play. After all, there aren’t many programs that are coming off double-digit streaks of 30-win seasons and a long-lived streak of 119 consecutive victories at home who expect a freshman to contribute from Day One.
“The coaching staff really expects her to come in and make a big impact as a freshman, which isn’t always the case,” Glockner said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity. She is going to be playing middle (hitter). One of the things that they really liked about Lexi was her slide behind the setter and how she can elevate off of one foot. Those are qualities that they’re looking for her to bring to the table early on as a freshman.”
With her signing in the books and her future set, Smith, being the winner that she is, has already put strong goals on her own bulletin board.
“At Wheeling Jesuit, I would like to put together winning seasons, and hopefully, another national championship in the trophy case,” Smith said. “Beyond the court, I just desire a great college experience. I feel like that’s an important part of growing up. I’m really looking forward to it.”
And those goals are ones that Glockner knows that Smith can obtain — because the sky is truly the limit as the work shows.
“Those are things that you can’t always teach kids,” Glockner said. “You can teach kids the game, but you can’t teach them to be athletic and you certainly can’t teach a kid how to work harder. The kids have to want to do those things. That’s something that she’s always been pushed to do. She has traveled over an hour away to play volleyball since she was 12 years old, because there wasn’t an opportunity here to play club volleyball at that time. She doesn’t know any different than to do a great job here at Notre Dame, and then go to another club practice, work hard there, and get home late. Balancing all of that has been tough, but she’s done it and passed all of her tests with flying colors. I have no doubt that she will be able to go in there, balance school, and balance the intense set of practices that Wheeling Jesuit has to offer. She’s a kid that I know will do such great things at school and beyond.”
However, Smith knows that she still has unfinished business left considering that the roundball will officially be broken out in less than two weeks — a sport that the senior is certainly no slouch in, as evidenced by her 11.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per contest on 50 percent shooting, as well as her Honorable Mention All-Ohio honors as a junior.
So for now, the stellar student-athlete will celebrate with her family, friends, coaches, and fellow teammates who have helped make her dreams a reality — and then get back to work, as she has always done.
“They’ve meant a lot to me because they’ve been there with me over the past four years, supporting me,” Smith said. “They were all just excited to see the signing come to fruition.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT