Katie Smoot was a highly sought-after college volleyball recruit coming out of Notre Dame-Belmont in 2017.
She had helped lead the Tigers to a 2016 state championship her junior year and in her final season in Belmont, went over the 600-kill mark for her career — capping it was a career-high 30 kills in her final high school game.
She picked University of Arizona and immediately made her presence felt, steadily improving from her freshman to her junior year, becoming one of the Wildcats’ go-to players during the 2019 season.
But Smoot wasn’t entirely happy. She began contemplating transferring after her sophomore year and entered the transfer portal after this past season, eventually landing at Cal.
“I just didn’t feel Arizona was the right fit for me. It just took a little longer for me to realize it. I wanted to be somewhere where I was happy,” Smoot said. “My mom had always wanted me to come back home and go to school here. She encouraged me to reach out to Cal.”
If there ever was a “home school” for the Smoot family, it’s Cal. Smoot’s mom went to Cal, where she was a field hockey player, as did her two uncles, who played water polo. She also has a pair of cousins at Cal — one playing soccer and the other playing football.
If there is a common thread in the Smoot family, it’s athletics. Younger sister Krissy, a 2019 Notre Dame-Belmont grad, is a member of the Golden Bears’ track and field team as a thrower. Oldest brother Paul, who played basketball at Serra and graduated in 2015, is embarking on a MMA career. Youngest brother Michael just graduated from Serra and will play water polo at Whittier College.
“We’re all really competitive,” Smoot said. “When we do go against each other, it gets pretty heated, pretty quick.”
The same could be said of Smoot’s Arizona career. She came in for the 2017 season and immediately saw playing time as a true freshman.
“It didn’t surprise me that I was able to contribute right away, but I was surprised with how much (playing time) I got,” Smoot said. “I was able to bring different things [the coaching staff was] looking for — serving and (playing on) the right side, where we were struggling.”
She finished her first season by leading the Wildcats with 20 service aces and led the team in kills, with eight, during a win over, ironically, Cal.
She continued to up her game during her next two seasons. In 2018, she appeared in 25 games, making 12 starts. She was third on the team in kills per set with 2.24 while finishing with 157 kills on the season. She also set career highs in assists, digs, blocks, solo blocks and block assists. This past season Smoot moved into the starting lineup and finished with 307 kills, including 18 matches with double-digit kills as she averaged 2.87 per game.
“I was really settling in and my coaches were getting confident that I could produce at the level they needed me to,” Smoot said.
Yet she was not satisfied and set about transferring.
“For every person it’s different,” Smoot said of the transfer process. “For me, it was kind of rushed. One, I was going to be a senior and two, I was trying to transfer in a month, during the holidays.
“But it went pretty smooth for me.”
Smoot’s biggest concern was finding the right landing spot. She initially didn’t consider the Pac-12 because it would mean having to sit out a season and who would want a senior transfer knowing she would miss the upcoming season?
“When I first entered the portal, I thought maybe I should go some place completely new — like the South or like the East Coast,” Smoot said.
But when Cal came calling, it almost seemed like destiny. Golden Bears head coach, Sam Crosson, while coaching at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, had recruited Smoot out of high school. He didn’t land her then, but got her this time.
In his first season at Cal, Crosson led the Golden Bears to a 20-10 overall record and 10-10 in Pac-12 play. Smoot’s 307 kills last season would have been third on the Cal team, behind Mima Mirkovic’s 325 and Maddie Haynes’ 309.
“I’m definitely very grateful for Sam giving me this opportunity to play,” Smoot said. “I’m excited to see what we can do next year (in 2021).”
Smoot enrolled for the spring semester at Cal and was quickly assimilating to her new life when the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down in March.
“I was kind of bummed. I was enjoying my time at Cal. I was getting along with my team and we were making progress as the spring went on,” Smoot said. “I’m really excited to get back in the gym.”
Because Cal and Arizona are in the Pac-12, conference rules state Smoot much sit out the upcoming season before finishing her college career in 2021. She is allowed to practice and attend meeting, but can’t play in games — which Smoot admits will be the hardest thing to do, just watching.
But, she has already found a silver lining.
“I just figured if I had to sit out a year, I didn’t mind staying an extra year because I get an extra year with my sister,” Smoot said.