HALL OF FAME SPOTLIGHT: Smith starred at Albemarle High, N.C. State, continues to contribute as coach

Like so many other youngsters, Shanna Smith credits an early interest in sports, and encouragement from her father, as leading to her eventual success.

Shanna Smith

“I was about 5 years old when I really started playing sports, and my dad, Jeff Smith, was the person who sparked my interest in every sport I played,” said Shanna Smith, who fondly recalled the time spent with him as she grew up an avid athlete. “He spent countless hours driving me to practice, working in the backyard and traveling to all my basketball and softball tournaments.”

The seeds of sport grew and bloomed in Smith’s life, and after a stellar four years in volleyball, basketball and softball at Albemarle High School, she earned a softball scholarship to NC State University.

In Raleigh, Smith made an immediate impact, capturing Rookie of the Year honors for the Wolfpack in the spring of 2005, and made the ACC All-Tournament Team in her sophomore year as State captured the 2006 conference championship. But the 2007 and 2008 seasons turned out to be her most productive.

In 2007, she started all 63 games for the Wolfpack at shortstop, and posted the fourth-highest batting average on the team (.306), with 53 hits, 10 doubles, two triples and eight home runs. In addition, she tallied a .526 slugging percentage and a .381 on-base percentage, as well as stealing 25 bases in 29 attempts. Defensively, she paced the Wolfpack with 130 assists.

As a senior captain for NCSU in 2008, Smith picked up where she left off the previous season. For the third straight year, she started all 58 contests (ending up with 192 consecutive starts over three seasons). She also finished with the team’s second-highest batting average (.322) and led the team in hits (57), home runs (12) and on-base percentage (.440). On the basepaths, she swiped 26 bases in 30 attempts.

She posted one of the greatest offensive games in Wolfpack history that season against Central Florida when she went 5-for-5 with two home runs and five RBIs.

Since her playing days, Smith has continually given back to the game as an assistant coach at NCSU, St. Mary’s College and Clarendon College, before taking her current position as an assistant at Eastern New Mexico University.

According to Smith, then-NCSU Coach Lisa Navas, who started the Wolfpack fastpitch program in 2004, was a key force in her development on the diamond.

“She was the most influential coach I ever played for … she was very tough on me as a player and pushed me beyond my comfort zone many times, but I would not have been the player I was without her investing her time in me,” she said.

Presently, Smith is in a similar position of influence to the 26 players on the ENMU roster, and she reflected on the life lessons she has learned and strives to teach through sports.

“I think the most important lesson learned through sports is accountability. Holding myself and my teammates accountable was a big part of the softball program.”

Smith also identified time management as a skill that she had to learn quickly.

“NC State was hard for me to adjust to at first,” she said. “It was a tough schedule to manage as a freshman. Going from class to lunch to training room to practice to weights to dinner to study hall and doing it all over again … time management is a skill that high school athletes need to figure out before getting to the college level.”

As for the state of college athletics, Smith’s view is that recent changes in NCAA regulations create an uneven playing field for athletic programs at smaller schools.

“This will be an unpopular opinion, but NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) has hurt a lot of smaller programs in recruiting. The Power Five schools take advantage of this because they can guarantee all the athletes getting money for their likeness, while smaller schools cannot compete with that,” she said.

Smith also believes the NCAA transfer portal is counterproductive to the values sports teaches.

“It is killing any sense of accountability or loyalty to a program,” she said, adding, “the NCAA has made it too easy for athletes to just up and leave if they are unhappy, rather than to work harder and find a way into the lineup.”

Smith will return to Stanly County on July 17 as one of five local coaches and athletes tapped for induction in the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame. Tickets to the 6:30 p.m. induction ceremony are available for $35 in advance at Albemarle City Hall, Albemarle Parks and Recreation (Jesse F. Niven Center and E. E. Waddell Center), ● Starnes-Bramlett Jewelers and Uwharrie Dash, Locust City Hall and Oakboro Town Hall.