If it had been up to her father, Monika Smidova would have been an ice hockey player.
Smidova, BSBA '15/MSF '16, grew up in the Czech Republic, where ice hockey is the most popular sport. Her father, a former hockey player himself, hoped she would follow in his footsteps, but instead, Smidova found herself interested in volleyball. She fell in love with the sport and it eventually took her around the world and to the top of her league as a setter on the American University women's team.
A Big Year
This season was a big one for Smidova. She won the Patriot League Player of the Year award and the Setter of the Year award for the second year in a row. She excelled in the classroom as well, earning the league's Scholar Athlete of the Year award and a spot on the Academic All-American team.
For Smidova, her achievements are always a team effort.
"I certainly wouldn't be where I am without all my teammates who keep pushing me forward to make our team better," she said. "Scholar Athlete of the Year is a great honor, and thanks to all the support I get from [and] from Kogod and from everyone, I was able to do well in my classes."
Smidova appreciates her Kogod professors for understanding her hectic schedule as a student athlete.
"Every professor I ever talked to and needed a different day of turning in my paper or doing a certain project, they were always very flexible and helpful to me," she said. "Kogod overall includes great professors coming from all different backgrounds who also understand the student athlete responsibilities and limitations that we have."
Staying the Course
Her many honors are a counterpoint to Smidova's struggles while at AU as well. As a freshman, she struggled to learn English and keep up in her classes. But she thanks her teammates for pushing her to where she is today. They helped her practice her English, and she was able to pick up the language within a few months.
Then during her sophomore year Smidova faced her greatest challenge yet, when she tore her ACL during practice. Frustrated, she sat out the season, but continued to work hard academically. Smidova was selected for the league's academic honor roll that season.
"[But] everything bad turned out to be something good," she explained.
By not playing her sophomore season, Smidova will be able to play on the team next year, as a Master of Science in Finance (MSF) student. She already has taken masters classes and enjoys the classroom environment.
"The way professors teach [graduate] versus [undergraduate] is a little different," she said. "In grad classes, it's a more mature approach to students because they [expect] that you will do it by yourself, and it's up to you if you want to study it or no. The exams are hard, and I enjoy it."
Smidova may not jump into a finance career right away, however. She plans to play professional volleyball in Europe after graduating with her MSF. There she would be closer to her two sisters, who are back home in the Czech Republic. Smidova cheers them on in their own volleyball efforts.
"I try to follow them on the videos and try to be with them as much as possible, so staying in touch with my family is one of my biggest hobbies," Smidova said.
When not practicing, studying, or Skyping with her family, Smidova spends time with her teammates. It's the connections with her fellow players that Smidova will remember most about college.
"I [will] remember us touching in the middle of the court in the huddle," she said. "I [will] remember the faces and the feeling that I felt during those [moments], and it's not like any championship point or me scoring or my teammates scoring, it's the team effort that we put into it that I remember."