Paris Smith as a youngster literally shopped around before she found volleyball. Now the local high school senior will play the sport at Alabama A&M later this year.
Smith, who will graduate this year from Minneapolis DeLaSalle, was one of 27 Minnesota prep athletes who signed a letter of intent to play college volleyball, but she was the only one committed to play at an HBCU.
Alabama A&M isn’t well known around these parts as a volleyball hotbed. The school, located in Normal, Alabama inside the city limits of Huntsville, was among the first 17 Black land-grant colleges started under the Morrell Act in 1890.
“I like that it’s warm down there,” said Smith in a recent MSR interview at her high school near downtown Minneapolis. “The campus is small, and I like smaller schools. Huntsville is a nice city — it’s really beautiful down there.”
The Lady Bulldogs finished fourth last season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), an HBCU league better known for its football. Smith will join a squad that returns everybody but graduating SWAC Player of the Year Ashundria McNeal, who finished seventh in the nation in scoring and eighth in kills.
Alabama A&M was among several schools Smith, with her mother’s help, contacted for possible interest in her. “My mom helped me with the [recruiting] process,” she explained. “We both emailed coaches [and schools] that I was interested in [to see if I could] fit their need. A couple of schools reached back, and I went to visit,” but she didn’t like either campus.
Then came her eventual college choice: “We reached out to Alabama [A&M], and she [Head Coach Rose Powell] reached out to me and said she really liked my video,” continued the young woman.
Smith started playing volleyball around age 11. “I was trying out a lot of different sports when I was younger,” she recalled. Physical contact can’t be avoided in such sports as basketball, however, and this was a turn-off for her. Something about playing in front of a net on the court appealed to her.
“Volleyball was the main one that stuck out for me, mainly because there’s no one around touching you,” stated Smith. “It’s really exciting to play because it’s like a race — you have to get to 25 points first [to win a set]. That’s really fun and exciting for me.”
Then she set out to sharpen her skills by playing club ball, a normal route for volleyball players aspiring to one day play in college. It’s where most colleges usually recruit from.
“When I first started, I was at middle blocker,” recalled the 5’-9” Smith. “But I switched to right side to get more notice, because I’m short for a middle. Most D-I [Division I] colleges are looking for those 6’-2” bigger girls who can get up and block the ball. I’ve gotten more notice since I moved [to] right side outside.”
Smith is fully aware of the paucity of Black females playing her sport: “About three or four.” She can easily point to running into players who looked like her at area club or high school volleyball. “Minnesota has fewer Black girls playing volleyball,” she observed.
But that won’t be the case with her college team, other than being the only Minnesotan on the Lady Bulldogs in a few months, where Black females are the majority.
“I’m excited to get to school,” said Smith.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.