Aug. 9, 2007
IOWA CITY -- Catherine Smale was flattered when the University of Iowa, a school she said presented the "total package" for a collegiate experience, came knocking during her senior year at Rosary High School in Aurora, Ill., in 2005.
"It was an awesome experience being recruited by Iowa," said Smale, a junior outside hitter on the volleyball team. "The fact that a Big Ten school had confidence in me made me feel really great. I'm so glad I made this choice. I'm happy to be a Hawkeye."
In one way Smale yearns for a return to her prep days. She would like to duplicate at Iowa a resurrection her high school volleyball team accomplished.
"I went to an all-girls high school and we turned the volleyball program around," Smale said. "People really started coming out and supporting us because we gained their respect. I want to carry that on here. I only have two years left, but I want to see that turn-around happen before I leave."
University of Iowa fourth-year coach Cindy Fredrick is no stranger to rebuilding. After leading Weber State to the Big Sky title and into the NCAA Tournament in 1988, Fredrick inherited a Washington State program that was 9-29 in her first season and then took the Cougars to nine NCAA Tournaments and seven 20-win seasons. She fondly remembers recruiting Smale.
"The third day I was on the job (at Iowa), Catherine's dad called and said that she was interested in visiting campus," Smale said. "Not only did she end up being a Hawkeye, but she was named to the all-Big Ten Freshman Team, which is quite an honor."
Obviously, Smale's impact was immediate. As a freshman she was named team most valuable player after posting 3.61 kills per game and setting the Iowa freshman record with 441 kills. She was named to the all-tournament team after Iowa won nine of 10 games and all three matches to capture the championship at the Coastal Carolina Classic. Last season Smale led the Hawkeyes with 366 kills and 3.27 kills per game. She was second on the team with 374 digs and third with 20 ace serves. Smale recorded a career-high 27 kills against Purdue and had five matches with at least 20 kills.
"In relation to other players in the conference, I'm not real big," said the 6-foot Smale. "I think my strengths are the ability to play well under pressure and to play smart. Now I'm trying to improve as both a front and back-row player."
Fredrick hopes that two years experience and all the accolades turn Smale into a leader who the younger Hawkeyes will be able to emulate.
"The fact that a Big Ten school had confidence in me made me feel really great. I'm so glad I made this choice. I'm happy to be a Hawkeye."
"I would like to see Catherine's role increase," Fredrick said. "We're working on her bringing a more aggressive style of play to the court and we'll need her to be vocal."
Smale, who resides in St. Charles, Ill., has played 64 career matches at Iowa (234 games) and has amassed 807 kills, 686 digs and 40 ace serves. She admits that she doesn't pay much attention to personal numbers, but she wouldn't mind tacking a larger figure onto future Hawkeye victory totals. Iowa has gone 27-39 the past two seasons and Smale is confident that the program is heading in the right direction.
"Everyone on this team can play and we have good recruits and a good schedule," Smale said. "People need to understand that being an athlete at a Division I school, you need to earn people's respect, it's not just handed to you. We'll do that by working hard because you can't expect it to change over night."
In high school Smale was named first team all-state and Suburban Catholic Conference Player of the Year. She led her team to victory in four consecutive regional championships and was named MVP of the AAU national tournament and was part of an AAU All-American team.
"It was important for me to go to college close to home and I knew I would get a great education at Iowa because my sister (Kristine) had gone here," Smale said. "I was hearing great things about (Coach) Cindy (Fredrick) and her staff and I wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process at Iowa."
Four starters return for the Hawkeyes in 2007, but it will still be a young and inexperienced group. Outside hitter Stacy Vitali is the lone senior and there are four juniors and three sophomores. Vitali, Smale and setter Kiley Fister are all from St. Charles, Ill.
"I'm excited about our incoming freshmen," Fredrick said. "We're hoping to beef up our defense and passing this year."
Incoming freshman Aimee Huffman (Poth, Texas) is one of 36 players named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association High School Senior All-American Team.
"I'll do my best to get the freshmen accustomed and comfortable to playing at this level," Smale said. "I can offer lot of leadership. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or not, when you get on the court you have to perform."
Smale career statistics
Kills - 27, vs. Purdue (10/7/06)
Assists - 4, vs. Wisconsin (11/11/05)
Digs - 28, vs. Florida-Atlantic (9/9/06)