All-star setter will be missed

VIU Mariners setter Dani Smith enters her final playoff run as a college athlete.

VIU Mariners player Dani Smith bumps the ball during a match earlier this month at the Vancouver Island University gym.

VIU Mariners player Dani Smith bumps the ball during a match earlier this month at the Vancouver Island University gym.

A television reporter asked VIU Mariners coach Shane Hyde last week if he’ll miss Dani Smith.

The short answer is ‘yes,’ he said, and the long answer, well, it also boils down to ‘yes.’

Smith is all-star, an all-Canadian, an athlete of the year, a national champion and a leader on Vancouver Island University’s women’s volleyball team. On Saturday she played her last match at the VIU gym, and on Friday (Feb. 22) at the Pacific Western Athletic Association championships, she’ll enter her final playoff run as a college athlete.

She’s not the sort of player who can be replaced, though credit the Mariners for trying – last week Smith was presented with a life-sized cutout of herself.

When she showed up at VIU as a rookie five seasons ago, then-captain Britt Grydeland’s cutout used to greet fans at the door to the gym. Smith thought it was the coolest thing, and this year she started dropping hints.

“I’ve been saying it all year, my career would be complete if I can have a life-sized cutout,” she joked.

Of course, Smith’s career isn’t complete yet. There’s still some volleyball to be played, and championships to be contested.

“With the team that we have, with the athletic players and tight unit that we have constructed over this season, it would be a huge disappointment for us not to end up on top,” Smith said.

She knows the makeup of the Mariners as well as anybody. As the team’s setter, she touches the ball every single possession, placing it in just the right spot for one of the heavy hitters to go for the kill.

“To have that confidence in them that they’re going to put the ball away no matter who I give it to, that’s huge,” she said.

She sees that skill first-hand, and she also sees something else on the court – a sort of competitive fire in the M’s women.

“Those are the gamers and I think Shane does a really good job of finding those kind of personalities, too, the ones that in crunch time, they’re going to rise to the challenge.”

Everyone is motivated to win a championship, she said, and as a graduating player, it isn’t all that different from any other year.

“Obviously being my last year it would be a perfect ending and I think anyone in their fifth year would say that, too,” Smith said. “But I believe in this team and I believe we are capable of it so it’s very exciting.”

However it ends, she said her five seasons at VIU have been among the most challenging and rewarding of her life. They’ve gone by in the blink of an eye, and left her filled with pride.

“It’s great to be a part of something that’s bigger than just my five years that I’ve been a part of here,” she said.

She’ll continue to cheer on the M’s, she said. Her life-sized cutout will be there, too, in the corner, a reminder that Dani Smith can be sometimes imitated, but never duplicated.