It has been an amazing four seasons in charge for Stansbury volleyball coach Erika Smith.
When she took over before the 2016 season, the Stallions had never placed at the state tournament. They had won all of one region title in seven previous seasons — and that came in 2010, when she was a sophomore playing for Stansbury. She was all of 20 years old and fresh off a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, making her barely older than her players.
But there was a promising group of incoming freshmen — one that included her younger sister, Kayla Alvey — and, with it, a chance to truly put Stansbury volleyball on the map.
“They were looking for a coach, and people were asking me, and I was like, ‘no, I’m not going to do that — I’ve never coached,’” Smith said. “Crunch time came, and I was like, ‘well, it’s either me or nobody,’ so I did it. I just told (the girls) if that opportunity ever arises for them, they have to take it. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to have such awesome experiences.”
Smith’s tenure as the Stallions’ head coach came to a close with Wednesday’s Class 4A fifth-place match, as she is stepping down. But her four years in charge, as well as the years that seniors Alvey, Linzie Hoffmann, Annika Riggle, Marina Riddle, Isabelle Veach, Ashleigh Olsen, Jadyn Gagnier and Heilala Kaufusi spent with the Stallions, have lifted Stansbury volleyball to new heights.
“I feel like I gained dozens of new family members,” Smith said. “We’ve just become so close and I love them like I love my own family. I like this year’s team, especially, because this is the only team that’s only ever had me as a coach. They know me as ‘coach’ — Kayla knows me as ‘sister’ — but we just have that mutual respect. I’m going to be respectful to you if you respect me, and I work hard for them because they work hard for me. It’s worked out really well.”
There was something special about this year’s team right from the start of the season. The Stallions were the best team Tooele County has produced since the 2015 Tooele squad that reached the state semifinals. And even when adversity struck — whether it was the regular-season losses to Uintah and Juan Diego that nearly cost Stansbury a shot at the region championship, or the quarterfinal loss to Sky View that derailed their state-title hopes — the Stallions inevitably found a way to respond.
Not every team can do that. In fact, most can’t. Stansbury came into the state tournament as the No. 5 seed. Of the four teams seeded ahead of the Stallions, only one — No. 4 Sky View — finished ahead of them at state, coming home in third place. It was Stansbury that eliminated No. 1 Juan Diego from the consolation bracket, and SHS beat No. 3 Ridgeline for fifth place. No. 2 Mountain Crest lost in the second round and finished sixth.
The reason the Stallions pulled it off? Leadership. Smith may have been young when she took over as head coach, but she earned the respect of her players. She also benefited from an amazing group of seniors that shared her four-year tenure — a group that was motivated from the first day they walked through the doors of Stansbury High School as freshmen, and carried that through until they walked off the floor of the UCCU Center after finishing fifth in Class 4A as seniors.
Congratulations, Stallions. It was fun watching you this season.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He would like to thank the Utah High School Activities Association for not having this year’s state tournament run into the wee hours of the morning like last year’s did. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.