Macy Smith’s first semester in nursing school wasn’t a typical experience. For starters, her inaugural year included a trip to an NCAA tournament, an undefeated regular season, and All-Mountain West Conference Honors.
Smith is currently in her second semester in the School of Nursing after spending the spring balancing her first semester with her final season on a record-setting squad for UNLV volleyball. When both paths crossed this year, she successfully took her shot at growing on and off the court.
Smith started playing volleyball in the sixth grade. Her passion for nursing can be traced to spending time as a young girl visiting her grandparents in hospitals and nursing homes. Smith remembered one time hearing another patient cry out for help, but no one came.
“I don't know what she needed," she said. “I had no idea what was going on, but nobody was around to help her. I [thought] I want to treat people better than that and treat them how they deserve. Literally at that moment, I was all [about] nursing.”
Coming to the desert
She majored in nursing while playing at South Dakota State, but Smith wanted better opportunities in her volleyball career. She remembered UNLV head volleyball coach Dawn Sullivan as an assistant coach at Iowa State, which coupled with UNLV's nursing program, made Las Vegas an attractive landing spot.
She came to UNLV in 2018 and was in line to play her final semester of volleyball last fall so she could focus exclusively on nursing starting this spring, but the coronavirus pandemic rewrote those plans. With the volleyball season postponed until spring 2021, Smith was game to take on both.
“I didn't want to change my plan,” she said. “My coach and I talked about it, and we're like, ‘Let's just go for it.’”
Smith summed up her semester like this: “Nursing, volleyball, nursing, volleyball.”
She had virtual nursing courses in the morning. Then she’d be at the gym from noon to 6 p.m., practicing, weight lifting and getting treatment. When her clinical courses started, she’d pull a 6 a.m.-1 p.m. hospital shift, then change and go straight to the gym. Remote classes helped her adapt to this new lifestyle.
“When I took summer courses in person, I would leave practice early and sweaty and rush to class,” Smith said. “Your mind is going 100 mph because you're doing that high intensity practice, and now you have to sit down and focus. The online learning has been super helpful because, otherwise I'd miss every Friday class, but I was able to do it on the bus or at the hotel when we were traveling in the airport.”
Sullivan had nothing but praise for her player.
"At the end of the day, it fills my heart with joy to see a player such as Macy achieve it all: winning championships and serving the hearts of others,” Sullivan said. “She is special and is already touching so many lives.”
The grind never stops
COVID-19 shut down all Mountain West athletic programs in March 2020. Smith, like others, spent most of her spring and summer quarantining. But neither she nor the volleyball team took a break.
Players would meet virtually to do their workouts together and hold each other accountable. Smith credits that for keeping the time on track for a huge 2021 season.
“I've heard other schools just took the whole couple months off, like they just took a break,” she said. “We just kept pushing and grinding. The Zoom workouts weren't fun, getting up at different times of the day, depending on where you were in the country, but it was worth it.”
The payoff came just three games into the season when UNLV faced Colorado State.
“We hadn’t beaten them since I've been here, and they're usually top of the conference,” Smith said. “We went to Colorado and we swept them the first night and we're like, ‘Holy cow, we're this good this year? It was like, ‘We're doing this thing. We're winning, and we're going to go to the NCAA tournament.”
That collective attitude and play led to a historic 12-0 regular season, with the team ultimately falling to Kentucky, the eventual NCAA women’s volleyball champions, in the second round.
Now that her college volleyball career is over, Smith is all in for nursing, having started her second semester in May 2021. Having reached one peak, she wants to scale the next one.
“I wanted to be the best that I could be in volleyball, but now I want to be the absolute best nurse I can be,” she said. “They definitely go hand-in-hand; two passions that just fuel each other.”
Smith plans to go into emergency medicine. The pace and the pressure of volleyball has helped pave the way for an entry into that field, she said. And like in volleyball, becoming dedicated to something starts with loving your work.
“Once you find a passion, if it's truly a passion, then you'll do whatever it takes to make it happen," she said. "A lot more things are reachable."