Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
BAINBRIDGE — To get a notion of how much Savannah Smith loves her younger sister Olivia, you only have to catch one glimpse of the way she looks at her.
“She was my first best friend,” Savannah says, looking at Olivia. “I still remember, at two-and-a-half years old when [my mom] was pregnant, asking her when [Olivia] was going to be here. She’s still my best friend and she always will be.”
The two aren’t just best friends … they’ve been roommates since Savannah’s seventh grade year, they’ve been two crucial parts in the resurgence of Paint Valley’s volleyball, basketball and softball programs and, now, they’re teammates.
That last part? About teammates? Yeah, that was a label they’ve been looking forward to for quite some time.
“We’ve always looked forward to this year because we’ve always wanted to play on the same team at the varsity level,” Savannah said. “Sure, we pick on each other a lot. We’re always together. But we love each other … a lot. This year has been pretty special.”
Coming into her freshman season, Olivia had to first make the varsity team before she could play with her sister. She was nervous coming into volleyball tryouts.
“I’d been working my butt off to try and get on the varsity team,” Olivia said. “I knew this was going to be my first and last year with [Savannah]. So when I made the team, I was really excited. But I also knew I had to keep working hard to keep my spot.”
Not only did Olivia make the team … she became a go-to player within the Bearcats’ offensive scheme. She finished the year with 146 kills, second on the team, alongside 13 aces, 11 blocks and 319 digs. Savannah ended her senior season with 159 digs and 202 assists, and had a ball — no pun intended — passing to her sister at the net.
“I taught her everything she knows,” Savannah said, smiling. “I played SOVC volleyball and when I came home, everything I had learned, I would teach her. So all these years I’ve played, she’s been learning from me. We spent a lot of time in the front yard. [Passing to her] was something I can’t even explain. We had always looked forward to that.”
As a team, Paint Valley advanced to a Div. IV district final after five-set tournament wins over Western and top-seeded Waterford. The Bearcats’ sectional title win was the first since 2013.
“For the past couple of seasons, we haven’t had the best record or made it that far in the tournament. I was always thinking, ‘It’s going to get better in my senior year.’ The freshman class was really good and that’s not just Olivia. We had Abbi [Stanforth], Bailey [Brumfield] … they made the team a lot better. But to have Olivia hitting, it was something that we needed. It obviously worked.”
The dynamic of the Bearcats’ sister duo is also working on the basketball court.
After a season where Paint Valley finished 8-16 overall, the Bearcats are 9-12 heading into this week. Savannah and Olivia are hoping the same improvement translates onto the softball diamond where their dad, Ryan, coaches.
“We’re always the last people to leave the field,” Savannah said. “That even happened before dad was the coach. He always wanted to make sure the field was looking good … softball is his thing. We always talk about things we need to work on after games … it’s a family thing.”
Softball was Olivia’s first love. Now, she gets the chance to play at the varsity level for her dad and carry on a legacy that Savannah started three years ago.
“I signed a waiver when I was four years old so I could play coach pitch,” Olivia said, smiling. “I wanted to play but I would sit out in the outfield and pick flowers. I’ve come a long way.”
Savannah plans to go to college to become sonographer while Olivia plans on joining the school’s 1,000 point, kill and dig club in the coming years.
But while both continue to set and reach goals, they also understand that none of that would be possible without the support of their parents. After all, without them, they wouldn’t be here in the first place.
“We obviously wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for our parents,” Savannah said. “They’ve always supported us in anything we’ve done. We’re always really busy because we play three sports and I cheer. They never miss a game. Even when they’re sick, they’ll be there. They never miss anything and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
As Savannah’s senior year comes to an end, Olivia realizes that means the end of the two’s time together as teammates. But in life, they’ll always go to bat for each other.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten closer with her,” Olivia said. “When I was younger, she would get annoyed with me. But we’ve gotten so much closer. We still argue a lot. And we’ll fight. But at the end of the day, we know where we stand. That’ll never change.”