Smith Family Reflects on Climb to the Top
Story first seen in Football Gameday Program (9/1/18)
“I think it was the 2006 freshman class, that’s when we knew.”
Rebuilding a program has been the livelihood for Shelley and Jamie Smith at the University of South Carolina. The husband-wife combo truly took over the program from the bottom, and over the past 18 seasons, they have found their way to the top with Shelley as the head coach and Jamie as the associate head coach.
“I remember telling Jamie, ‘Why are you coaching? You double-majored in marketing and management! You could have a lot of job opportunities,” Shelley Smith laughed.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I was a physical education and nutrition major,” Shelley said. “The only thing I wanted to do was soccer. So I tried coaching, because I liked working with kids and the teaching aspect.”
The Smith’s would marry prior to joining the South Carolina program, and they united around the opportunity in Columbia in 2001. The jump from the Northeast to South Carolina not only meant a new team and a new city, but it meant a first-time jump for Jamie.
“I knew he had the capability to be a great coach, men or women,” Shelley said of Jamie. “It was just a matter of us trying to figure it out together.”
The year prior the Smith’s taking over in Columbia, the Gamecocks had not fared well in the SEC. They finished with a 4-16 overall record in 2000, including a 1-8 mark in the SEC.
“I had come from Brown University, a team that had just finished in the Elite Eight on the men’s side,” Jamie said. “When we came in, we retained nearly the whole roster from the season before, and we ended up finishing 8-7-3 that year. You would have thought they had won the national championship, they were so excited.”
With the start of the Smith regime at South Carolina, the building of a powerhouse had officially begun. The process took nine years of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ as Jamie Smith would explain, but in 2009, they finally put it all together.
“You have to have something that gives at some point,” Shelley said about the process. “To get the better players, you have to have some kind of success to bring them here. Yet, how do you get the kids, if you haven’t had the success yet?”
“They had to trust that there was a process to this,” Jamie added. “For some, it was sooner rather than later, for some, it doesn’t come until senior year.”
Sure enough, by the senior year of that 2006 freshman class, they had conquered the mountain that is the SEC. They would go on to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, the farthest a Gamecock team had ever reached in the postseason.
“That class that won the first SEC Championship trusted what we were doing,” Shelley said of the 2009 team. “No one really knew those kids when they came in, but they ended up being some of the best players in the SEC by the time they finished. That said a lot about them. They earned a championship because of that.”
Over the next several years, the Gamecocks continued to build on their postseason success. They now have made seven of the last eight NCAA Tournaments, including the team’s first College Cup appearance in program history in 2017.
“There were a lot of things last year that we were able to take part in that other programs that never have and maybe never will,” Jamie said of the 2017 season. “The next thing is this – can we continue to compete for championships in the conference? The next ‘first’ is to get back to the College Cup and win a National Championship. That’s what driving all of us now – trying to maintain that standard, which is not easy. Once you get there, staying there is maybe harder.”
Both Smith’s credit the coaches around them as a key reason the team has taken another step forward over the past two seasons.
“I think a part of our success recently has been our staff. Not Jamie and I, but the staff we have around us,” Shelley said. “The staff we have around us is some of the best in the country. Not only with Clark [McCarthy], but with Alex [Buchman] our strength coach and Steph [Rosehart] who takes care of the players.”
“We have even started our new fan club, Familia FC, and we get to see the outpouring of people that support us and root for us and want to be a part of it. We are so thankful for that,” Shelley added.
The next climb for the Gamecocks will be one back to the top, and that climb is something they hope to not do on their own with the start of the Familia FC group. If one thing is for certain, it is that the Smith’s know how they have gotten to this point, and that is their soccer family.
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