There are 215 players on the 14 college volleyball teams in the Big Ten Conference this season.
Those players come from all over the United States and 10 other countries. And two of them came from Warren and Janine Smith’s house in Weatherford, Texas.
Warren and Janine have two children, and both are playing in what is probably the best volleyball conference in the country right now. Oldest daughter Brooke is a senior at Nebraska, and their other daughter, Natalie, is a sophomore at Michigan.
So at least two times this season the sisters will play against each other, the first time being Friday when the 18th-ranked Wolverines play No. 3 Nebraska in Lincoln.
Brooke Smith is in her second stint playing for Nebraska. She was a serving sub and the backup setter on the Huskers’ 2015 national championship team, and on the team again in 2016. But she wanted a chance to play setter and transferred to Kansas State in 2017 and played in a two-setter offense.
She transferred back to Nebraska this summer. After a second transfer, she thought she’d have to sit out this season, but she won an appeal to the NCAA.
Brooke Smith has played in all four matches since she became eligible. She usually enters the match briefly as the setter in a double substitution with Anezka Szabo in an attempt to make the Huskers a better blocking team, and that's been more successful since Smith began playing.
Natalie Smith, a defensive specialist for Michigan, has 43 digs and 11 set assists while playing in every match.
It’s not a surprise they’re volleyball players. Their mother played volleyball in college at Texas, and was on the Longhorns’ 1988 national championship team.
Janine Smith is a high school volleyball coach now, and for many years was an NCAA Division I head coach at the University of Texas-Arlington. She was also an assistant coach at Colorado.
“We grew up in a volleyball family,” Brooke Smith said. “My mom was a Division I coach for 11 years, so we were both kind of born into it. Especially my sister, being born in September, that was the start of one of my mom’s seasons coaching at UTA. I would say my mom was a huge influence in both of us playing volleyball, but I’d like to think I’m (Natalie’s) mentor as well.”
When she had two young daughters, Janine Smith decided to get out of college coaching.
“She coached there until I was in second grade, and then she came and taught kindergarten at our elementary school, so kind of a big change," Brooke Smith said. "But she wanted to be around her kids. She always says that she feels like she missed out on a lot of big milestones in our lives."
Brooke is 21 years old, and Natalie is 15 months younger, so they shared many of the same volleyball experiences. Natalie made the high school varsity team as a freshman, so they played on the same team for two years. They were also on a relay team together in track.
Their mom never coached them in high school, but did in YMCA and club volleyball.
On Friday, Janine has to coach the Chisholm Trail High School team in a match and won’t be able to be in Lincoln, but the sisters’ dad and grandparents will be there. On Sunday, Nebraska and Michigan have matches at the same time, with Nebraska hosting Michigan State and Michigan playing at Iowa.
Their entire family is pretty competitive, Brooke Smith said, so it’s fitting that the sisters now find themselves on the other side of the net from each other in a big match to begin the conference season.
“It’s going to be good competition, and it’s definitely for bragging rights,” she said.