Video: Top 10 Plays of the Year
See the best of the best from the 2017-18 school year.
"My team, our dream, all in, we can."
It's a phrase that likely could be the theme for the tiny Clendenin community, which was nearly wiped away by a 1,000-year flood on June 23, 2016. The Elk River flood, caused by 10 inches of rain in less than 12 hours, resulted in 23 deaths and was among the deadliest in state history. Mayor Gary Bledsoe was unsure if Clendenin would survive the devastation, as more than 1,200 homes, including 400 in Clendenin's Kanawaha County, were damaged or destroyed.
Despite seeing their high school, elementary school, softball field and indoor practice field completely destroyed, Smith's Huskies are the pride of the community with a pair of back-to-back state 2A championships. The town celebrated its inaugural Clendenin Homecoming Festival, a fete for persevering through tough times.
The Huskies completed the 2018 season unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the final MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national softball rankings.
For leading her team to a perfect season, guiding them through unimaginable difficult times and playing a major role in "uplifting" the Clendenin community, Smith has been named MaxPreps National Softball Coach of the Year.
"We cope by doing what we do when and where we can to help out," said Smith. "We have a special community and people from all over pitched in."
Following the flood, the Huskies softball field was under more than five feet of water, the concession stand and equipment room both were lost.
"Our uniforms were saved," said Smith of the threads Hoover wore during its 2017 state title run. "Other than that, we lost everything."
Like the Clendenin community, the players persevered. Hoover's 2016-2017 school year split half days with Elkview Middle School students. The 2017-2018 school year took place in a portable raised eight feet off the ground. Hoover students will continue with classes at that location until 2021, when a permanent replacement can be built in a flood-free location.
"That says a lot about how resilient our players were … and are," said Smith. "Their lives changed dramatically, but this is a close-knit group. The seniors have been together since they were 6. We had great senior leadership. This team was important for one another and the community."
Smith said she knows how hard it is to go unbeaten, but the Huskies always schedule one of the toughest slates in the state.
"An unbeaten season can only be appreciated when the season is over," she said.
The Huskies got MaxPreps attention when they knocked off then-highly ranked and unbeaten Hurricane, 4-0. Hurricane won the state 3A title with its only loss to Hoover.
"I knew we would be good, returning all but three players from our 2017 state title team," said Smith.
The 2018 Huskies were indeed good. They hit .407 as a team, scored 273 runs and allowed 25. The team ERA was 0.58 and pitchers combined to strike out 338 batters.
"Our girls worked all winter," said Smith. "We have great behind-the-scenes support. We can't throw the players enough balls, hit them enough balls. They are very dedicated."
The Huskies had big hitters, and excellent pitching in sophomores Presley McGee
and Delani Buckner
, the state's Gatorade Player of the Year winner.
"The success of the team was "truly a complete team success. Delani (Buckner) was outstanding, but every one of our players contributed all the time."
Three Huskies were named All-State — pitchers Buckner and McGee, and big hitter Kirsten Belcher
The Huskies dominated the Cardinal Conference All-Star team. Buckner, Rebekah Woody
, Belcher, McGee and Mallori Chapman
all were named first team and Megan Seafler
, Cortney Fizer
and Taylor Carpenter
were second-team selections. Add honorable mention picks Ava Young
and Jess Canterbury
and you have 10 all-stars from the same team.
Chapman, McGee, Belcher, Carpenter, Woody and Buckner were named to the nine-player state 2A all-tournament team.
"This team is really special, they've been playing together since they were 6, 7, 8 years old all together as a unit," Missy Smith said. "Our girls played for each other and built relationships for their entire lives."
Smith recalled following the 2016 flood, she went to visit flooded out player Kelsey Naylor and her mother, Cindy, to see if they were okay.
"Cindy told me ‘It'll be okay. I got the important things out of the house –— wedding photos, state championship plaque, home run balls and the championship ring.' "
After rain delays and a 10:30 p.m. state semifinal start, many Clendenin residents drove two-plus hours the next day to see the state-title victory.
"Winning helped bring some uplift to the community," said Smith. "We have great community support."
So much so that the team invited the fans, nearly half the town of Clendenin, to be in their championship photo alongside them.
As they did a year ago, the community celebrated with a parade to honor the softball team.
Local photographer and Herbert Hoover alum Beth Strawn said "it takes a river to raise a Husky."
"The Huskies sure have their supporters," said Strawn. "This community never ceases to amaze me. Any time I have put out a call for help with any sport, the community is always there to help with whatever the kids need. That was never more apparent than after the flood. The community is the only reason we were able to save the facilities at Hoover.
"I would like to think these girls brought a little joy to the town of Clendenin when they so needed it," praised Strawn.
And how did the softball team celebrate?
"We celebrated with a campout on our field," said Smith.
The Huskies slept in tents, played corn hole, streamed super regional games, played card games and celebrated into the evening on their field ... a field that a little over two years ago was under five feet or water.
Smith was a three-sport athlete at Herbert Hoover where she played volleyball, basketball and softball. She followed that with a two-sport (volleyball and softball) career at Concord University in nearby Athens.
Softball and volleyball remain her passions as she splits her coaching time between Hoover softball and at volleyball at Charleston's George Washington High.
To say this has been a "special" school year for Smith would be an understatement. Not only did the Huskies softball team go 33-0 and win their second-straight state title, George Washington's volleyball team won 58 matches, losing only two. In the last three years, Smith's volleyball teams have gone 178-6. They were runner-up in 2016 and champions in 2015.
Despite the many life-changing obstacles, Hoover softball and the Clendenin community continues to move forward, just as it began doing when the high school opened in fall of 1963.
Mark Burdette, editor of The Clendenin Leader, said "I believe the success of the Huskies has been a continuous source of good news that has kept our community spirit alive since their school and town was devastated by the flood two years ago."
Smith, who is assisted by Jamanda Rollyson, is only the second softball coach in school history. And there has only been one losing season.
"Softball is special here on the river," said Smith. After all, it takes a ‘river to raise a Husky.' "