By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Her presences loomed large on the court.
The 5-foot, 1-inch Joze Smith was a captain, senior leader and energetic libero for the Tipton-Rosemark Academy Lady Rebels. Smith along side her fellow senior Rachel Woelm led the 2016 Lady Rebels to Sub-State.
Smith was already elated for the banner season when she received the news her recruitment process culminated with The University of Memphis. On National Signing Day, Smith was joined by her parents Tee and Jody, brother Jebb and TRA Head Coach Wendy Porter for her commitment to become a Lady Tiger.
“They’re going to get a player who never quits on a play,” Porter said. “She always strives to do better and improve herself. They’re going to get a player who is already fundamentally solid. And a player who just loves the sports.”
Smith’s passion for volleyball grabbed Memphis’ attention and left a legacy at TRA. Porter is going to miss her do-it-all defensive specialist.
“She was a player that I never had to worry about with commitment,” she noted. “She was always at practices, games and tournaments. I never had to worry about her missing anything. She was a leader on our teams.
“Although she not vocal all the time, just her presence on the court she showed the girls what commitment should look like,” Porter added, “what a teammate should look like. She was a huge component to our success. It’s hard to find someone who can play defense like her.”
Smith used her size to her advantage to become a defensive force for the Lady Rebels and her traveling teams.
Smith has racked up awards and team achievements in club volleyball playing for Memphis Metro, Mississippi Storm and Memphis Juniors (nationally ranked). She played competitively for six years outside of Rosemark earning the Hustle Award, Best Defensive Player and MVP.
As a senior captain for TRA, she was named Best of the Preps and was All-West Division II the past two seasons. Smith will play for Memphis Head Coach April Jauregui in the American Athletic Conference.
“She’s worked hard for this,” Jody said. “It’s been a long time coming. She started playing volleyball in the fifth grade. She played for the middle school and then she play competitively for six years.
“First year, everybody was like, ‘Man has she ever played volleyball?’” he continued. “She was just a natural. Just her speed and her hard work. I think she tried to play harder because she was smaller. That gave her the fire to do extra. She’s always been a defensive player playing libero. Defense was natural for her as a smaller player.”
Tee said in her daughter’s modest frame is a huge heart for the game and life.
“She’s very loving, caring person,” she said. “She’s an honor student and great friend to her friends. She’s a member of the church at First Baptist in Millington. Just an all around good athlete and person.
“It means a lot to this program,” Tee added. “Rosemark sports is getting better especially in volleyball. They are sending off more athletes. And I think it will inspire the younger ones to know they can be D-I as well. They can work hard and inspire to move up to reach that goal.”
All Smith’s teammates were on hand for the signing in the TRA Lobby. She hopes it inspires them like current Lady Tiger and former TRA Kendall Seering motivated her.
“This year we went to Sub-State,” Joze noted. “We get our year up there on the banner with me as a senior. I feel accomplished and our volleyball program is really up on the rise. Kendall and I will be at Memphis and have a chance to represent our school and volleyball program.
“It took a lot of work and dedication,” she added. “I would have practice for club and school. So much time and money spent year around. I want to thank my parents for all their hard work and paying for me to get to where I am today.”
Smith said she’s ready for the next level and to continue her calling on the volleyball court.
“The position I play, I play back row and defense,” she said. “So you don’t have to be that tall. Everybody is always asking me, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re so short. How are you going to play at a Division I college?’ It never upset me. I just kept working hard.
“Defense is what I do,” Smith continued. “It’s a mentality. You have to be mentally tough. You have to be ready, be low and ready to defend any hard hit the other team sends over the net to you. As the libero, I’m the No. 1 defensive player on the team. So I have to dig up all those ball that come over the net.”
Smith said she wouldn’t have an opportunity to be digging the scene in the Elma Neal Roane Fieldhouse on the campus of The University of Memphis if it wasn’t for her support system.
“I just want to thank my parents and God for getting me this far,” she concluded. “I want to thank all my teammates for supporting me and all the coaches for influencing me in my life. It just means I feel like I’ve accomplished my goal to play in college.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.