Former Sharyland Pioneer volleyball player Audrey Smith was on her way home after a visit to UTSA in 2017. The visit went well. Smith enjoyed the city, the campus, the coaches and the players. She was preparing to become a Roadrunner, until she got a phone call.
“We were heading down US-281, and that’s when she got the call from Texas Tech associate head coach Morgan Thomas inviting her for a visit the following week,” Audrey’s mother, Melissa, said. “That’s when she said, ‘OK, this sounds better.’”
Smith began school in July to get a jump on her academics and summer training. Two months later, Smith and her teammates will visit her old backyard when the Texas Tech Red Raiders (8-3) face UTRGV (7-4) on the UTRGV Fieldhouse hardwood at 7 tonight.
“I’m so excited to be back,” Audrey Smith said. “It’s going to be great playing in front of people I haven’t seen in a long time. It’ll be a really cool atmosphere.”
“It just worked out,” Texas Tech volleyball coach Tony Graystone said. “When I worked at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, I was really familiar with UTRGV. I’ve been down there many times. Coach (Todd) Lowery has brought them to our place the last two years, and we knew we were going make a trip back in 2018. This just so happened to be the year that Audrey would be a freshman.”
Smith was a setter throughout her Diamondbacks career, but she has since had to learn a new position.
“I’ve had to completely change my mindset from a girl who got every second ball to now being someone who gets almost all of the first touches,” Smith said. “It’s been an adjustment. I’ve never had to really serve receive before. There’s been a learning curve, but I really enjoy the process. I’ve enjoyed being in the back row, getting hit at really hard and putting myself in front of every ball. It’s pretty exhilarating.”
“We have a lot of returners to this team, and we’ve got some young players like Audrey who are playing in the back row,” Graystone said. “That’s where a lot of our focus is right now, but overall, we’re happy with this team.”
Smith has appeared in three games thus far as a freshman. Having Big 12-caliber teammates has helped mold Smith early on.
“When you’re in a situation where you surround yourself with successful people, and people who are better than you, you play better,” Smith said. “I know that’s been happening to me. The moment I stepped onto the court with these girls, I felt such positive energy. I’ve started to see myself play better, as well.”
“Audrey’s a great kid,” Graystone said. “She’s going to wear a couple different hats for us. We’re training her in the back row now. Eventually, we’ll move her into a setter role and a little bit of a combo player where she’ll do more than one thing. We’re excited that she’s going to be with us on this trip, and maybe she’ll get some court time.”
Smith will also play the role of unofficial tour guide for her team during their Valley stay.
“I can’t wait to show them the Valley,” Smith said. “I tell them, ‘I’m from Mission, Texas.’ They’ll say, ‘Is that around South Padre Island?’ ‘Well, not exactly.’ They’ll get to see the diverse culture we have down there.”
“We’ve been excited from the get-go when she became a Red Raider,” Melissa Smith said. “I can’t wait to see her again and meet her teammates. To have them in our area is exciting. I love volleyball, so being a small part of this makes me very happy.”