Coach Missy Smith and family members. (left to right: mother Regina Anderson, brother Andy Anderson, niece Emma Anderson and father Nip Anderson). Photo Courtesy of Beth Strawn.
By: Mark Burdette | July 1, 2018 at 7:27 p.m.
CLENDENIN, W.Va. – Herbert Hoover softball coach Missy Smith and her Lady Huskies officially hit the national stage with their victory over Hurricane earlier this season according to MaxPreps softball sports writer, Tom Mauldin. Mauldin reached out to The Clendenin Leader on Friday after multiple failed attempts to contact Coach Smith to share the exciting news that MaxPreps was officially naming Smith the 2018 National Softball Coach of the Year. After successfully connecting Mauldin and Smith to do an interview we could hardly contain ourselves to share in this honor that was bestowed on Coach Smith and to hear her reaction firsthand.
I waited until the next day to give Coach Smith some time to let the news sink in after her interview with Mauldin. Admittedly, I was a little nervous prepping for the interview because after hearing the news myself I knew just how big this was going to be for Coach Smith, her team and the entire Elk River community. This is a very big deal! Mauldin said it best, “There are more than 20,000 public high schools in the U.S. and thousands of private schools. Coach of the Year honor doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
Coach Smith and the Lady Huskies’ community impact
Needless to say my first question to Coach Smith was to capture the impact this award had on her personally in being recognized as National Softball Coach of the Year. Smith said, “It’s nice and I always appreciate it, but I like it better when the girls get recognized. A good coach is one thing but you don’t win these awards or get recognized unless you have great players and great people behind you. It’s really not just my award, it is everybody’s.”
Since the 2016 flood that devastated the Town of Clendenin, Elkview and the surrounding area, the Lady Huskies have brought home back-to-back state championships. Their third title in five years. This team has been a beacon of light and hope for a community that has endured so much over the past two years. The one thing I noticed in talking with Delani Buckner and Coach Smith is their poise in handling their success, while keeping the bigger picture in perspective knowing they are not only playing for themselves, they are playing for the entire community.
Smith added, “I think it allows us to understand that we (community) are bigger than just us. We are a small school in West Virginia but we have great players and great support in our area. You don’t have to be from a huge school in another state to be recognized for the great things that you do. I feel like we are a rallying point for everyone. I said the same thing when we won in 2014 and again in 2017 and 2018, the state championship belongs to the whole community, not just the girls on the field. It’s for anyone that has ever worn the Hoover uniform, for anyone that has been to a Hoover game, or help coach, or drug a field, or threw a batting practice. It belongs to everyone, no matter how small, that has helped the Hoover program.”
The announcement of her award comes just two years after the 2016 floods that completely destroyed Herbert Hoover High School. The entire athletic complex was flooded. The clean-up and repairs took several months to get the sports facilities ready for the upcoming school year. As reported by Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Derek Redd in his June 22, 2017 article ‘Herbert Hoover showed resiliency, found success in face of tragic floods“, you can gain a sense of how the odds were stacked against the entire community. Elkview Middle School became the new Herbert Hoover High School in the afternoons, while the middle school students went during the morning. It took over a year
before portables were built in the parking lot of the middle school, which is now the temporary home of Herbert Hoover High School. Amidst the chaos which had become a constant for them, and against all odds – sharing space with the middle school because they lost their school and some lost so much more – I asked Coach Smith how her team found a way to stay focused and achieve this level of success, while the world surrounding them was completely destroyed. Smith said, “They are resilient. Whatever you create for your new normal you adapt to. Hoover softball has been Hoover softball since Mike Chandler started the program and the expectations have been the same. It may be a different venue or a different time but the expectations were the same and they knew they could count on their sponsor, their coach, their teammates to help them through whatever they need to get through.”
Hoover stuns Hurricane
The Clendenin Leader is new to the community and even though we know or know of the people we interview it still takes time to build rapport and to get up to speed with all the backstory. The Lady Huskies have kept the local media on their toes with their amazing undefeated run this past season. It was important to me with this opportunity to interview Coach Smith and reflect back to the turning point in the season when Hoover stunned Hurricane on a Thursday night in May. Smith added, “The longer that game went on and we were able to stay ahead and keep Hurricane off the base path and play good defense, you could see our confidence building. We had a good record going into that game and everybody knew that we were good, but that was really a confidence boost for us that we could finish it out and be undefeated.” Smith went on to explain that some believed their winning streak was due to a weaker strength of schedule, but the win over Hurricane gave the team the additional confidence they needed.
The Huskies shutout the Redskins, the defending Class AAA state champion five out of the last six years, who only managed just three hits against undefeated pitcher, Delani Buckner. Buckner struck out nine and walked one to lead her team to a 3-0 victory. According to Mauldin, beating Hurricane was when Hoover started to show up on his radar at the national level. After the shutout win Buckner said, “It was wild. We knew it was going to be a tough game. Hurricane knew us very, very well and we knew we had to come in focused. It felt pretty good
but we knew that we weren’t giving up just yet.” Meaning there was more work for them to do to defend their Class AA crown. They ended up doing just that, repeating as Class AA champions for the second year in a row by defeating Chapmanville at the state tournament, and finished No. 5 in the nation in MaxPreps final poll.
Coach Smith on Delani Buckner
As reported earlier by Mauldin with MaxPreps and the follow-up story I did on MaxPreps Sophomore All-American Delani Buckner, Coach Smith had these words to say about her star pitcher, “I’m happy for Delani being recognized but I don’t want to lose sight of all the girls because I’m proud of each and every one of them, the coaching staff, the community and the administration. One of things about Delani is that she doesn’t realize how good she is and she is always very supportive of her teammates. We can’t do it without her and she knows we can’t do it without them. One of the things I appreciate about our whole team is that they recognize that they need each other.”
A glimpse into the 2019 season
It was no secret to those who followed high school softball in West Virginia that Coach Smith was doing something very special at Hoover. The Lady Huskies were dominating the competition in every game. I asked Coach Smith what she attributed to their dominance on the softball field over their opponents this past year. Smith said, “A lot of it is the hard work these girls put into the off-season playing travel ball and working in the batting cages all winter. When we started in March we were already in mid-season form and kept going from there. This is a very tight knit group of young ladies. They genuinely care about each other and want each other to succeed and do well. When it goes beyond team you start to play selfless because you are playing for your sister and the other team members. Makes it easy to coach a team like that.”
Teams have to be worried knowing the formula that Coach Smith described above is going to be a tall order come next season. Hoover graduated four seniors, Buckner will be a junior and there are four freshman coming up from
Elkview Middle School who have a lot of promise. According to Smith, the biggest challenge going into next season will be managing that confidence, cocky kind of line. Smith added, “I want them to play with great confidence but I don’t want them to get overblown egos and start to be cocky. That is when you let a game slip through your fingers that you could win and I don’t want to be in that spot. Going into next season everybody has to get better. Nobody can be where we were at the end of last year and expect to pick back up and be successful next year. The Saturday after the state tournament we had one girl in a summer tournament and most of the girls competed the following Saturday playing and working hard in the off-season so we are ready to go come next Spring.” “From the second the last pitch was thrown at the state tournament, along with a couple of hours celebrating our victory, I’m already thinking what we need to do for next season.”
A dynasty and legacy being built right before our eyes
Smith played volleyball, basketball and softball (CF, SS) during her high school career for the Lady Huskies from 1993-1996. She graduated from Hoover in 1996. For those of you who don’t know she is a 7th grade science teacher at Elkview Middle School, as well as head volleyball coach for the George Washington High School Patriots based in Charleston, WV since 2005. Smith mentioned the tremendous support from the administration, especially Hoover’s principal Mike Kelly. She said, “Michael Kelly has done a tremendous job restoring pride and expectation to Hoover. Ever since Kelly took over we have seen great successes in the classroom and on the athletic field. As a former student-athlete at Hoover it’s been really nice to see.”
Smith is only the second head coach in Hoover softball history. Mike Chandler started the program in 1987 and coached 19 seasons, won over 400 games, made 3 state tournament appearances with one 3rd place and two runner-up finishes. Smith was an assistant coach under Chandler for two and a half seasons before taking over the reigns in 2006. Smith has amassed a 281-94 (.749 winning percentage) record along with 3 Class AA state championships (2014, 2017-2018) at Hoover. Smith reflected saying, “Chandler literally built our field from the ground up with his bare hands. He definitely laid the foundation. I couldn’t be as successful as I am without what he had done first.” Today where the Lady Huskies play their home games is aptly named, Mike Chandler Field.
When I personally congratulated Smith on her award and the success she and her team has had since winning their first state championship in 2014. She said, “It’s been a pretty good run.” Coach Smith, I concur and the many lives you have touched over the years would agree as well.
Be sure to checkout other national and local media coverage of this amazing honor for Herbert Hoover High School softball coach Missy Smith.