Assistant Volleyball Coach
Sarah Smith, a former head coach at the Division II level, is in her third season as an assistant coach for the Youngstown State volleyball program.
In 2014, Smith and Head Coach Mark Hardaway guided the Penguins to 17 victories, the most by the program since 1999. The Guins tied the school mark with seven Horizon League wins and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the second straight year. In the regular season, YSU ended up in a tie for fourth in the HL, which was its best finish since joining the league in 2001.
The Penguins won their first six matches for the first time in program history and earned nine victories in the non-conference season. Among those were a win over Virginia, YSU’s first over an ACC team in 12 years, three over Missouri Valley teams and one against OVC runner-up Belmont.
On the court, YSU’s .218 attack percentage was its best since 1999. Val Jeffery was voted the Horizon League Setter of the Year and All-Horizon League. She finished averaging 10.47 assists per set, the most by a YSU setter since 2005. Nikki Thompson set a school record for digs in a season with 495 in 2014, passing Heather Luben’s mark of 448 in 1996. Lexi Egler became just the fifth player in school history to record both 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs. Sam Brown led all Horizon League freshmen with 293 kills, and she led all league players with 42 aces.
In 2015, outside hitter Sarah Varcolla was named to the Horizon League's All-Freshman Team. Varcolla led the conference with 40 aces, and she ranked third among all Horizon League freshmen in kills with 236. YSU led the Horizon League with 1.55 assists per game, the most by the program since 2005. Thompson eclipsed her season-record for digs in 2015 finishing with 510 for the campaign.
Before coming to YSU, Smith spent nine years as the head coach at Division II Shepherd University in Eastern West Virginia. Her tenure at Shepherd was highlighted by a 21-win season in 2009 and her being named the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. The following year, she was named one of the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 30 Coaches Under 30.
"We are very fortunate to have someone with Sarah's background on our staff," Coach Hardaway said. "Sarah is a very versatile coach with a tremendous amount of experience. With nine years of head coaching experience at the collegiate level, she understands all aspects of running a program. She has solid office skills to go along with her recruiting and coaching skills. Sarah is well thought of within the volleyball community, which is evident by her receiving the prestigious AVCA 30 Under 30 Award."
Smith led the Rams to 129 wins and a 72-61 mark in conference play during her nine years. Sixteen of her players earned all-conference honors, and one went on to earn AVCA All-Region accolades. Off the court, the Rams earned a team GPA over 3.1 eight times, and more than 20 received honors for academic excellence.
Smith was very active off the court. She created what became the Shepherd Women’s Athletic Alliance, which brings all women’s sports teams together for community outreach and fundraising opportunities. She was the Mountain East Volleyball Coaches Chair and was active on the AVCA All-Region and Division II Head Coaches committees.
Prior to taking over at Shepherd, Smith was a graduate assistant at Minnesota State, Mankato for the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Her duties included training middle blockers, scouting opponents and video analysis. In 2003, the Mavericks finished 20-9 and ranked 20th in the country.
Smith had an outstanding career as a student-athlete at Bryant University. As a four-year starter, Smith led the Bulldogs to four NCAA Tournament appearances and an overall record of 116-45. Smith registered 406 kills on a .340 attack percentage her senior year in 2002 as Bryant advanced to the Sweet 16. As of 2014, she still ranked 10th in Bryant history in career kills (1,261), sixth in career aces (276), 11th in career digs (1,364) and 14th in career blocks.
Graduate Assistant Volleyball Coach
Local standout and Division II All-American Stephanie Sfara is in her second season as a graduate assistant for the Youngstown State volleyball team.
Sfara, who is a graduate of Boardman High School, joins her hometown team after spending four years playing at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga. She will help out in all aspects of the program, especially with training in the gym, scouting of opponents, game management for home matches, administrative duties and recruiting.
Sfara was named a third-team AVCA Division II All-American as a senior as she averaged 3.48 kills and 3.14 digs while registering a .280 attack percentage. Also a two-time AVCA All-Region honoree and a First-Team All-Peach Belt Conference selection, she finished her career with 1,092 digs and 754 kills. She led the Pirates to a 30-3 record and a No. 24 final overall ranking in the AVCA Division II Top 25 Poll.
Sfara was the District Player of the Year in her senior season at Boardman in 2010. She was also a First-Team All-Federal League pick, and she played in the Ohio All-Star Tournament and the Terrific 21 All-Star Match between Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Sfara graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation sciences from Armstrong State in May of 2015. She is studying physical therapy at Youngstown State.
Volunteer Assistant Volleyball Coach
Leona Oani has joined the Youngstown State volleyball program as a volunteer assistant coach on Mark Hardaway’s staff for the 2015 season.
Oani, a Northeast Ohio native, will be coaching at the collegiate level for the first time. She has coached at the club and high school levels in her young career.
Oani was most recently the head varsity coach at Chagrin Falls High School, and she led the Tigers to a district title and a berth in the regional semifinals in 2014. She was an assistant varsity coach at Streetsboro High School in 2013. Current Penguin Paige Saunders was a senior at Streetsboro that season.
Oani has been a coach for the IGNITE volleyball club in Twinsburg since 2013, and she got her coaching start as the head coach for the C Club Men’s Volleyball Club at Ohio State.
Oani played volleyball as a freshman at Lakeland Community College and led the team with 350 digs as its libero. She is currently studying interior design at the University of Akron. She graduated from Crestwood High School in 2008.