Nov. 28, 2013
Michelle Smith left home in 2009 in order to continue playing volleyball. She turned down smaller opportunities closer to home to play for a big school far away.
"Colorado is beautiful, and I had an opportunity to play for a historically great volleyball program," said Smith, a native of Burlington, Wis. "I always wanted to play for a big school, so I went out on a limb and tried something new."
She admits the first year, like it is for most college freshmen, was challenging at times. But what made the transition easier was a year later when her younger sister, Kelli, chose to also attend CSU. Her collegiate career was capped this year when her youngest sister, Maggie, became a freshman in Fort Collins.
"It's amazing having them here," Smith said. "It's so awesome having family in the stands every home game supporting me. I can't explain the motivation and excitement they bring me."
Smith also has an older sister, Allison, who she says she looks up to as a role model from far away.
In five years at CSU, Smith has experienced plenty of success with the Rams. She's one of two players in CSU history to win five regular-season conference championships, and during her career, has been part of several memorable moments. To her, however, none stand out more than another.
"I've been lucky to be part of a lot of success," she said. "I've been surrounded by so much greatness. It's been fun to go places like Hawai'i and experience so many highlights every year, like beating Nebraska. One year doesn't stick out more than others, though. Even this year, starting the year undefeated, it doesn't negate the fact that every single year has been special in so many ways. It's been quite the ride."
Without a doubt, Smith has made an impact on the court. But even bigger, she's done what director of athletics Jack Graham asks of all his student-athletes: Do it all.
She's won, she's excelled academically and she's been a person with great character. Perhaps the best example of that is Rams Care, a community outreach imitative started by Smith.
"I've been part of SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) since my sophomore year," she said. "Going into this last year I wanted to take on a little bit more of a leadership role. We have so many outreach opportunities for different sports, but we didn't have one for the entire athletic department to come together for a common goal; that's what inspired Rams Care."
The tireless work began in March and continued through the summer. After countless preparation, this fall CSU student-athletes have come together to collect cash donations at athletic events. In December, they will use the money to create holiday gift baskets for the homeless in Fort Collins.
"Whenever you have a player who everyone respects as being very mature and incredibly hard working, they set a certain standard for everybody else," Head Coach Tom Hilbert said. "That's Michelle, and that's what she does. She's reasonable and sensible, and is respected by every single member of our team. She's so well-respected and well-liked that she's almost like a big sister to this team. Everyone else sets their standards around hers. People like her are important on teams."
Smith will graduate from CSU with a degree in nutrition & food science in December, and, in addition to continue coaching a club volleyball team, will look to enjoy a little time in Colorado while beginning her post-volleyball career.
The conference titles and milestone wins have been nice, but more than that, she hopes to have made a lasting impact. One like Hilbert says she has without a doubt.
"I love interacting with people and having relationships with them," she said. "I love allowing people to put trust in me and getting to meet young kids who are at our camps and matches; they give me energy and joy. If I can graduate and people remember that about me, to me, that would mean I did it right."
Colorado State will honor its three seniors – Cayla Broadwater, Samantha Peters and Smith– prior to Friday’s match vs. UNLV. Following the contest, the team will be presented with its fifth consecutive Mountain West championship trophy. Tickets can be purchased at the McGraw Athletic Center ticket office, over the phone at 1-800-491-RAMS and online.
Senior Salute: Broadwater
Senior Salute: Peters