Freshman phenom Sabine Smith energizes Miners |

Freshman phenom Sabine Smith energizes Miners

The middle blocker is rare freshman starter for Park City

Park City freshman middle blocker Sabine Smith has been a valuable player for the Miners this year. Freshmen don't often start for Park City, but Smith brings valuable energy and athleticism to the team.
David Jackson/Park Record

Park City’s volleyball team was locked in a tight match against Crimson Cliffs on Thursday, and Park City coach Matt Carlson was experimenting with playing freshman middle blocker Sabine Smith on the outside. 

Smith approached a set like she would as a middle blocker instead of an outside hitter and, as a result, misfired as she tried to hit the ball. Carlson yelled some instructions over the loud crowd noise at Smith, and, in the midst of an intense tournament match, Smith turned to her coach, smiled and gave him a thumbs up. 

“She just turns, looks and (goes), ‘You got it, coach!’” Carlson said. “Like it was no big deal. … It’s just not common. Even my seniors don’t have that poise.”

The Miners ended up losing the match, but the freshman phenom’s athleticism and energy have been pivotal for this year’s team.

“I’m really honored to be with this great bunch of girls,” Smith said. “They’re so awesome to play with. The whole summer, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so psyched for high-school volleyball.’ And then here it came, and it was even better than I thought it was going to be. It’s magical.”

It’s not very often a freshman starts on the volleyball team at Park City High. The only players Carlson could come up with were Grace Wiczek and Emily Smith, who went on to play at Dartmouth and Utah, respectively.

“We haven’t had kids of that talent or caliber come in the program that made that big of an impact over kids who were (already in the program),” Carlson said. “It’s a very deep program. To have a freshman who’s just as good if not better than some kids is exciting.”

The freshman is almost as new to Park City volleyball as she is to Park City. She moved from northern California just last year, but she has fit right in with the program and then some. 

Smith has arguably been Park City’s hitter this season. Her hitting percentage sits well above .300, which is by far and away the best on the team out of Park City’s regular hitters. She’s third on the team in kills and plays relatively error-free volleyball. Home games, which Smith said have been her favorite part of the season so far, have been full of, “She’s a freshman,” chants whenever she buries a kill. Carlson credits her speed and athleticism.

“Her ability to go from ground to up in the air is really unique in the sport of volleyball,” he said. “Her arm strength is super fast as well. She catches teams off guard. Her movement, agility side-to-side is super fast as well.”

Smith attributes her athleticism to her parents. She said her mother ran track, played volleyball and tennis and was a cheerleader. Smith added that her dad can still beat her in basketball, her second sport.

Smith’s skill set also allows her to make mid-air adjustments to practically any set delivered her way. Park City wants to play fast, and Smith can take quick sets from her teammates and turn them into kills with ease, whether it’s perfectly placing a kill into the heart of the defense or pounding one off a would-be blocker. 

Carlson said Park City alumnus and Santa Clara University middle blocker Hayden Goodman came by once and remarked about the speed of the offense.

“She’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, you guys run that middle (at) our speed,’” he said. “We’re running the same speed as them. And so, having our setters put up a perfect ball every single time at that speed is tough, so having an athletic middle that can adjust in the air is huge.”

Defensively, Smith possesses just as much potential. She’s second on the team in total blocks, and the same physical tools that make her such a dangerous weapon on offense hold true on defense.

“She’s just so quick side to side,” Carlson said. “When she figures out how to use her athleticism on the press, she’s going to be first in the state in blocks because she’s so quick from side to side.”

Park City freshman Sabine Smith, right, goes up for a block with teammate Ruby Edwards, left.
Park Record file photo

Blocking is one of the areas where Smith feels she needs to improve, and she’s been taking notes from senior middle blocker Kennedy Halper, who comfortably leads the team in blocks. 

“We’ll tell each other if we notice anything,” Smith said. “Like, ‘Hey, on that one, you’re a little late.’ It’s a really friendly (relationship).”

Smith has also turned to Halper as a mentor. Halper said Smith feels like a senior because she knows so much about the game, but it’s been valuable for the freshman to learn from an actual senior. 

“She’s such a nice person,” Smith said. “On and off the court, she’s a really great role model to have, especially as a person. I love having her around. I would never rather have it any other way.”

Their relationship goes both ways as well. Since the two generally aren’t on the court at the same time, they can take cues from watching each other.

“Sometimes when she does things I’m not doing on the court, I’ll try to watch her and what Matt’s trying to tell me to do,” Halper said. 

However, Smith’s positive energy and enthusiasm are just as important as the tool set she brings to the table. Smith’s love for volleyball is obvious, and it rubs off on the rest of her teammates all match long. Her friends convinced her to try out for the school team back in fifth grade, and that was all it took.

“From the first month, I just remember, ‘I’m going to wake up today because I want to play volleyball,’” Smith said. “That was it. It was like, ‘I really want to put on those spandex.’ I guess that was it for me.”

Carlson will rave about Smith’s volleyball skills, but he says her attitude is unique as well.

“That kid, no matter what’s happening on the court, that kid is smiling,” Carlson said. “It looks like she just loves and lives every minute of playing volleyball. Just loves it, and you see her just embrace that. I think everybody just loves her as a teammate. She’s just always happy and works her tail off, everything. You ask her to do something, she’ll do it and then some. It’s just a good culture shift.”

Smith’s positive demeanor on the court stems from focusing on mental resiliency. It’s always about picking up her teammates when they need it and moving on to the next point.

“I try to make (my attitude) help as much as possible,” Smith said. “Mainly if I try to make an impact on my teammate, just bring them up, whether I’m swinging or my emotions. Also, through myself, if I screw up or mess up and I know I’m letting them down, I just have to shake it off.”

Park City was 11-7 after Thursday’s matches and ahead of a busy weekend. The Miners are 14th in RPI as of Friday morning. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance, like taking a set off Maple Mountain, the No. 2 team in RPI in Class 5A, on Thursday, but they know they’re capable of more moving forward. Like Smith herself, the Miners are full of potential. 

“Matt keeps saying this team has the greatest potential of any (Park City) team he’s ever coached,” Smith said. “I think we can make that mental switch and really turn it up four notches. And I think we can dominate.”


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