How dedicated was Cardinal Stritch senior Sara Turner-Smith to the Cardinals’ volleyball program this season?
“Sara has been our emotional leader since day one of open gyms,” Stritch coach Chad Rutkowski said. “She hates to miss practice. She loves 6 a.m. practices, and she’s the type of athlete who can be pushed to her limit and then look at her teammates demanding more from them and herself. Sara is a phenomenal young adult and has a very bright and prosperous path ahead of her.”
Turner-Smith’s talent and dedication led to her being voted the Toledo Area Athletic Conference Player of the Year by the TAAC coaches. She was a unanimous selection after leading the Cardinals to an 18-9 record and a berth in the Division IV regional semifinals, where they lost to sixth-ranked Buckeye Central.
Turner-Smith’s sister, Jessica, was the TAAC Player of the Year in 2009.
“When she got it, that was my goal,” Sara said. “I said, ‘when I’m a senior, that’s what I want.’ When I told her it got it, she was really excited. She knew that was one of my goals. She’s happy anytime I’m successful, and I’m happy anytime she’s successful. We joke that we should hang our (Player of the Year) plaques next to each other or something.”
Turner-Smith, who this year shares the All-Press Co-Player of the Year award with Eastwood senior Ericka LaVoy, finished second in the TAAC Player of the Year voting last season behind Toledo Christian’s Ellen Huffman.
“We’ve always joked about it since last year,” Turner-Smith said. “One of my past coaches was like, ‘You’re going to get player of the year this year. At mid-season, I was kind of nervous because there were a lot of girls who were deserving of it.”
Turner-Smith, 17, said she found out about the TAAC honor from Rutkowski on the bus ride back from the regional tournament loss to Buckeye Central.
“He said he wanted to lighten the mood,” she said, “so he told everybody what awards they won on the way home.”
Turner-Smith, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter and team captain, played for three different head coaches during her four years at Stritch. A three-year starter, she helped the Cardinals finish second in the TAAC and win their first district title in 13 years. She led team in kills (297), aces (66) and hitting percentage, and was second on the team in blocks (14.5) and digs (125).
“I definitely hope I’m remembered as being very dedicated and hard-working,” Turner-Smith said. “You have to work hard for everything you get. I’ve always been obsessed with volleyball. Even when I eat, I think, ‘how is this going to help me play better?’ When I’m on the court, everything around me disappears. It’s like my escape.”
Turner-Smith said she wants to play volleyball in college and major in either athletic training or psychology. She also wants her younger Stritch teammates to make sure getting to the regional tournament becomes an annual experience.
“The level of commitment needs to stay,” she said. “As long as they keep doing what they’re doing, they’re gonna be fine next year. I have no doubt the commitment will stay there. They’re putting in the hours and they’ll be fine.”