Red Hawks court ready for success
By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 22, 2016
The beginning of any season provides optimism and hope for the best said the Red Hawks senior girls’ volleyball coach Steve Smith.
“There are some high expectations by their coach,” he said, raising his voice slightly for the players. “I always throw OFSAA at them every year. Sometimes it’s a pipe dream, but you never know; anything can happen in competition.”
Smith takes over the senior team from last year’s coach Michelle Backus, who is the assistant this year.
He is also being assisted by Hawks volleyball alum Shae Hutchings and Grace Diezel, who are also helping the junior team when scheduling permits.
Help is imperative because the two teams are holding practices every day Monday to Thursday (with an occasional Friday), alternating morning and after school practices.
Three girls have come up from the junior team: back-up setter Freya Moran; power, Kristie Clements; and libero Madeline Hopkins.
“The whole team is coming along. This practice was way better than some,” he said, referring to last Tuesday afternoon.
The rookies he said are adjusting to the five-one system rotation – five hitters and one setter – while the returning seniors are getting reacquainted.
The team’s schedule has not been finalized, but Smith believes games will start at the end of this month or the beginning of December. Haliburton Highlands Secondary School is expected to host a tournament.
There were 18 young women who tried out for the seniors. Only 10 were chosen for the team.
A captain has not been selected for the team. Generally, Smith said he leaves one selection to be voted by his team and one selected by him.
As evident by the laughter and smiles of his players during a practice last week, he is continuing to endorse a light atmosphere. In some 20 years of coaching Smith has never thrown anything and rarely raises his voice and doesn’t see the need.
He doesn’t believe in the stern approach and only ever really gets serious if safety is a question.
“You can’t be serious all the time with the athletes. They get serious at school all the time so I try to mix it up. There are times where we are going to be serious. A lot of times my morning practices tend to be a little more serious. The fine line for me is safety. We can have fun, but we still have to be safe,” he said.
He has encouraged music at practice and even brought a portable bluetooth-equipped speaker so his players can amplify their own music from the mobile phones. It lightens the mood and relaxes his players, he said.
Anybody he has coached knows if he slightly raises his voice it’s for a valid reason, which he said is his “hammer time.”
“I can usually give a look and that’s enough. That will suffice. Hammer time is just my voice,” he said.
Smith, as he did with the field hockey program, stepped away from coaching for a few years for personal reasons.
As far as he was concerned it was like he never left and loves being back.
“It’s like I haven’t left the gym. It feels comfortable for me. The girls, the athletes have really welcomed me back. There is a sense of anticipation. A lot of the girls haven’t had me as a coach. Hopefully, we learn together and grow together and we’re successful together. The way I explain it to the girls is when we win it’s because you guys have won and if we’ve lost I need to teach you some more ... I try to promote that.”
This approach, he adds, works for him and the girls, who are emboldened by the philosophy.
Everything old is new again with junior Red Hawks
Smith stepped away, but has returned to coach the junior girls’ volleyball team, comprising of mostly Grade 10 athletes.
He said from 22 hopefuls he chose 14 to represent the school this season. In the past, the team has had 12 players, but with so many Grade 10s on the team this season he wanted to have a few players gain important experience for the future. He characterized the Grade 9s as “very green.”
However, he said they have demonstrated a lot of potential and will use the exhibition tournaments to get up to speed with the other players.
“There is a lot of raw talent, like athletic. They are very athletic. It’s going to be a good season. Both,” he said.
Smith takes over from last year’s coach Brett Caputo, who was assisted by Sharon Dibblee and Dan Gimon took over the team late in 2015 when Caputo could not continue coaching during the 2015- 2016 season.