Seniors Amanda Huffaker and Lacie Smith, two of Lees-McRae College's most decorated volleyball players, are closing in on the end of their collegiate careers. While they are both looking forward to moving on, each will miss their days in Bobcat green and gold. Their respective careers on the court for the Lady Bobcats should be described as nothing short of extraordinary.
In 2006, Huffaker and Smith led the Lady Bobcats to a 29-7 record, (18-2 CVAC) to win the Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference Regular Season Championship and earn the number one seed in the CVAC Tournament for the third time in their four year careers. Prior to the start of their final collegiate season, the pair was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Preseason All American team. Both were also recently named to the CVAC's All Time Team as well to the All CVAC First Team for their play this year. Smith took home CVAC Player of the Year honors this year as well as being named CVAC Tournament MVP for the second straight year.
While the Lady Bobcats were already a strong program before Huffaker and Smith stepped on campus, winning five straight CVAC Tournaments, few could have envisioned the Lady Bobcats entering this weekend's NCAA Championships as the nine time defending CVAC Champions.
"The NCAA Championship is the only tournament we haven't won," commented Smith. "I have accomplished all of the goals I had when I came to Lees-McRae except the National Championship."
With four CVAC Championships, and countless individual awards, the pair of seniors are now finding themselves reflecting back on years past. The Tennessee natives began playing together six years ago when they were still in high school, as members of the Smokey Mountain Juniors club team.
"It's gone by so fast, it's starting to set in that it's coming to a close," commented Huffaker before leaving for the NCAA's. "It's hard to believe it's almost over."
While Huffaker and Smith try to prolong their collegiate careers, Head Coach Jamie Petrik is trying to avoid thinking of the Lady Bobcats without the services of the CVAC's best blocker in Huffaker and hitter in Smith. The duo's importance to the Lady Bobcats on and off the court has shone through as the season has progressed.
"At the beginning of preseason I was extremely excited to have our best offensive and defensive players returning for another year. Huffaker is by far the best blocker in the CVAC while Smith's defensive prowess is second to none," commented Petrik.
Statistically, Huffaker led the CVAC in total blocks with 143 while Smith buried 485 kills, also a conference best. Huffaker also put up the third highest hitting percentage with .324 while Smith's 3.79 kills per game gave her the CVAC's fourth best average in 2006.
"Watching Amanda rebound from off season ACL surgery to 100% the past couple weeks has been amazing. She plays with such enthusiasm and passion for the game and her attitude is contagious. Seeing Lacie take control of this team the past few weeks, especially during the CVAC Championships…it's been inspiring. Her play speaks for itself, but her vocal leadership is what speaks volumes. To have your best player leading on and off the court can make a big difference heading into the NCAA Championship. The dedication of both of them will surely be missed in years to come."
Over their four year careers at Lees-McRae, Huffaker and Smith have led the Lady Bobcats to a 113-39 record, (69-7 CVAC), three CVAC Regular Season Championships and four CVAC Tournament Championships.
When asked about their involvement with volleyball after college, both replied with "yeah hopefully" and a laugh. "The next step would be to coach I guess, play some women's league," commented Huffaker. "I'd like to stay involved with the game either playing or coaching. After graduation I'd like to head out west and try to play some beach volleyball, put my psychology degree to use," added Smith.
"Lacie definitely has the all around game required for beach volleyball," commented Petrik. "She has the shots, as well as great one on one blocking instincts."
While the better part of a half decade has come and gone with Huffaker and Smith as teammates, two of the CVAC's greatest ever players have led the Lady Bobcats both on and off the court for four of those years. Both acknowledged that the friendships and bonds with teammates who have come and gone will be what they miss the most, as well as the "college experience in the Big Easy," added Smith, referring to the location of Lees-McRae College, Banner Elk, NC. "And of course the championships," said Huffaker with a big smile.
Huffaker and Smith will look to pursue the one championship that has eluded them, this weekend when they travel to Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania for the NCAA Atlantic Regional. The Lady Bobcats will look to improve upon last season's program best finish by moving past the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. The seventh seeded Lady Bobcats will battle second seeded California University of Pennsylvania at 3:00pm Thursday.
At A Glance:
Amanda Huffaker, (below left)
Hometown: Maryville, TN
Major: Elementary Education
All CVAC Honorable Mention as a sophomore, All CVAC Second Team as junior, All CVAC First Team as a senior; ranked top ten in CVAC hitting percentage and blocking all four years; named NCAA Atlantic Region First Team in 2005; named an AVCA Preseason All American in 2006, named to CVAC's All Time Team in 2006; holds Lees-McRae single season total blocks record, (189 in 2005), holds Lees-McRae career total blocks record, (574, 2003-06), member of four CVAC Championship teams; helped lead Lees-McRae to NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2005.
Lacie Smith, (below right)
Hometown: Knoxville, TN
One of only three Lees-McRae volleyball players to earn All CVAC all four years, Second Team as a freshman and sophomore, First Team as a junior and senior, ranked in top ten in kills and kills per game all four years; named CVAC Tournament MVP in 2005, named NCAA Atlantic Region First Team in 2005; named CVAC Player of the Year in 2006, named CVAC Tournament MVP in 2006, named to CVAC's All Time Team in 2006; holds Lees-McRae career records in service aces, (189), digs, (1077), and kills, (1899), member of four CVAC Championship teams; helped lead Lees-McRae to NCAA Sweet Sixteen in 2005.