By Rozzy Valle
Jason Smith has a passion for volleyball. Last season was his 23rd year coaching for college volleyball, 7 of which have been at Arizona Western College.
A meteoric rise
When Smith was in college, he got to play as a walk-on. He didn't have a scholarship.
In his sophomore year, he broke his ankle during play. Even though he was injured, he still got to stay with the team, and he was able to attend the 1990 Goodwill games, an international competition held in Seattle.
"I accidently got a coaching job when I got out of college," said Smith. Even though he wasn't a starter, he got a coaching job due to the fact that he had played for a major college program.
He began as an assistant coach in Kansas City, Mo., at Alva College, which the year before had a 6-38 record. With Smith as the new assistant coach, their record went to 21-21.
The following year, the Alva head coach quit, and Smith took over. From there, he transferred to Rockhurst University as a volunteer, then went to Iowa Western and then to the University of Utah.
This season at AWC, Smith only had 10 players on the team.
"In a real match we play 6 on 6," he said. "That's why I wanted to practice as much as possible."
Having a full practice was difficult since it would be 5 on 5. Sometimes the coaches or even the student manager had to jump in just so the volleyball team could have a good practice. Under those circumstances, the team had to be vigilant in avoiding injuries, but they managed to pull through.
Their most memorable game this year was in Nationals, when they played Western Nebraska. Both teams had only 10 players, and both wanted badly to win. AWC was down at first, but in the end they got the win.
Best year ever
AWC finished the season with a ranking of #6 in the nation, its most successful season ever. AWC has been Region 1 champions for 11 of the past 15 years -- in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Here is a partial list of last season's individual honors for AWC:
- Setter Sashiko Sanay Heredia -- 1st team All-Conference, 1st team All-Region, ACCAC player of the year, NJCAA 1st team All-American and AVCA 1st team All American.
- Middle blocker Maria Del Mar Guzman Franco -- 1st team All-Conference, 1st team All-Region and NJCAA National All-Tournament Team.
- Outside hitter Gabriela Dias -- Region 1 MVP and Honorable Mention All-Conference.
- Head Coach Jason Smith himself -- District C Coach of the year and AWC Volleyball's Winningest Coach
More to come
"If anybody asks where I have enjoyed coaching the most, it's here," Smith says without hesitation.
Yuma is his new home, and he doesn't imagine leaving. After last season's success, he looks forward with relish to the coming year.
Photo by: Lawrence Sanchez