MATTOON — Summerlyn Smith, Mattoon’s two-sport star, didn’t view her inevitable decision as much of a decision at all. She knew what she would pick if afforded the opportunities to play volleyball or run track beyond high school.
“I knew I wanted to play volleyball,” Smith said. “It’s such a team sport, everyone has to work together to get that one goal. I like that team environment.”
All Smith had to do was let the process play out and see what options came her way. Parkland College, led by a familiar face, came with steady interest and eventually gave her the chance she sought. She signed a letter of intent to play volleyball at Parkland in an April 12 ceremony at Mattoon High School.
“There weren’t really any other volleyball schools,” Smith said. “A couple reached out, but nothing that really stood out. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go at all, there was no certain place that I was thinking about going.”
Once Parkland offered, though, Smith’s choice became clearer and easier, especially after an official visit last summer. It gave her the chance to stay close to home while also providing enough of a college experience. Cobras head coach Cliff Hastings is also the director of Smith’s club team, Champaign-based Prime Time Volleyball Club, where she played since starting high school.
“He hasn’t been my coach one-on-one, but he runs the club and has worked with setters since I’ve been there, so I’ve gotten to know him,” Smith said.
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As if that wasn’t enough, Parkland’s five straight seasons with at least 50 wins and two national titles in that span offered an enticing chance at attaining the sport’s highest level of success.
As a junior, Smith and her 16U Prime Time team placed fifth at club nationals in Orlando, giving her a taste of success and also strengthening her belief that she could play volleyball beyond high school. Above all, though, that trip reinforced her preference to continue in a sport with a strong team aspect.
“It’s that team environment, where if you get down they can pick you up and you share excitement with everyone,” Smith said.
Smith will move in at Parkland in June and begin summer workouts shortly after. First, though, is the conclusion of her track and field career. She’s a three-time state qualifier and competed in four events at each of the last two state meets. She will aim to make it four in a row in May. As a junior, Smith finished third in the 400 by running a 57.75, a school record.
Smith helped Mattoon’s 4x400 relay team finish fifth at the state indoor championship in March. She also set a Mattoon indoor record with a 17-foot long jump, good for sixth place at the indoor championship.