Dorothy Smith just loves volleyball. It’s been a part of her for most of her adult life. She played the sport in college, coached as an adult and officiated local games for the past few years.
Ever since her college days in the 1980s, Smith has lived and breathed volleyball, coaching when she can and officiating when she can’t.
Now, with the retirement of Becky Wadekamper, Smith will take over the Hermiston Bulldog volleyball program.
“I’m excited to be a part of the Hermiston Bulldogs and excited to see what the future has,” Smith said. “I’m not sure about the girls, but I’m excited to see and work with them.”
Smith inherits a program that came within one game of winning a Columbia River Conference championship and advanced into the state tournament before it was ousted by second-seeded Bend.
Smith isn’t a stranger to Hermiston’s home purple gym. She officiated a number of the Bulldogs’ volleyball games last fall and kept the scorebook for girls and boys varsity basketball games.
In fact, her name suddenly popped into Hermiston Athletic Director Blaine Ganvoa’s head when he was brainstorming possible candidates to replace Wadekamper.
“I’ve always known Dorothy (from) the capacity as an official,” Ganvoa, who officiates basketball games in his spare time, said last week. “Of late, I came to realize she had much greater volleyball background than I was aware of. Once that information was set forth, we had conversations with her, confirmed her interest in the position, and she’s definitely, as a valued member of our community, doing everything she can to promote Hermiston as a true ambassador.”
Her volleyball experience is extensive.
Smith played four years of volleyball at Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, California. At the time, the NCAA Division II school was a small, Christian NAIA school that held open try-outs to fill the roster each year. Smith made the squad as a 5-foot-6 outside hitter in the days when size at the net wasn’t as important in the game.
“I was tall then,” Smith said. “Now they’re just giants, of course.”
Like Wadekamper, the game of volleyball was different when Smith played in college. Scoring was slower, and there was no libero. Smith played her four years, while meeting her future husband, who’s from this area, and went right into coaching. She started in California, where she coached club ball and was an assistant in the high school ranks before taking a head coaching gig in Minnesota.
There, she found herself stuck between a rock and a hard place. Minnesota has just three high school volleyball classifications — 1A, 2A and 3A — and Smith’s school was one of the smaller 3A schools in the state. It created a challenge for her team to stay competitive against bigger schools with larger talent pools and often better teams as a result.
“We did quite well, considering it was a smaller 3A school,” Smith said.
From Minnesota, she moved to Oregon in 2003, and she coached club ball in the Tri-Cities. Five years ago, Hermiston had an opening for its head volleyball coach, and Smith applied but was not selected. She then joined the Blue Mountain Volleyball Officials Association out of Pendleton and began officiating games in the area.
In December, the news of Wadekamper’s retirement spread throughout the community, and Smith caught wind of it. She again applied for the position and caught Ganvoa’s attention.
Smith provides a broad experience base for the Bulldogs. She’s coached a good deal of high-level club volleyball, an environment full of energy and intensity and competitiveness. Smith plans to bring those qualities to the purple gym in the hopes of taking Hermiston past round one of the state playoffs for the first time since 2011.
Her first order of business will be finding replacements for stalwarts Noa Ena and Brea Kestler, who are graduating.
Ena, an athletic and powerful outside hitter, and Kestler, a confident and precise setter, who have both committed to play college volleyball, leave Smith with big holes to fill. In addition, Hermiston’s chief defensive specialist, Briana Wolfe, is also graduating, leaving Hermiston without three key starters.
None of this concerns Smith, who, despite not knowing anything about the rest of her roster, is confident she can evaluate the talent, put players in the best spot possible and hopefully win some games.
She said, however, that developing trust is going to be important early on as she and the players get acclimated. “They have to trust whoever’s in charge,” Smith said. “That’s the big one.”