Former UCLA Volleyball Player Hagen Smith Heads Pac6 Club Program
When you are the son of one of the best players of all time in any sport it can be hard to live up to the family name. Volleyball player Hagen Smith, though, has not hidden in his father’s shadow, rather he has forged his own path and his future has never looked brighter. The 25-year-old grew up in the Palisades and played four seasons at UCLA, ending his career fourth in program history in assists and sixth in digs. His dad, Sinjin Smith, was an All-American setter at UCLA and went on to become a volleyball Hall of Fame member and 1996 Olympian. Hagen was named in honor of another Hall of Famer, Ron Von Hagen, who played one tournament with Sinjin, the pair placing fifth. Hagen was a 2013 Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 selection. His best finish on the AVP Tour is ninth. In 2017 he saw action in 26 matches as a senior at UCLA, all starts at setter/opposite. He tied his career-high with 12 kills at Stanford, matched his areer-best with three aces against Cal Baptist, had 10 digs versus Hawaii and led the team in digs in six matches. He teamed with fellow Palisadian Jackson Bantle to finish second in the inaugural USA Volleyball Collegiate Beach Championships at the Hermosa Beach Pier. As a junior in 2016, he started all 31 matches in which he played as a setter in the Bruins’ 6-2 offense. He had nine kills in wins against Long Beach State and Pepperdine and had 21 matches with at least five digs and six with at least nine digs and set a new career-high with 14 digs against Ohio State. He had 15 matches with at least 3.0 blocks, including eight at Penn State, he had a season-best three aces versus Ohio State and USC, earned Honorable Mention All-MPSF honors and made the MPSF All-Academic team. Hagen played in 13 matches, starting 10, as a sophomore in 2015, but injured his hand in a match at Cal Baptist and missed the balance of the season. Hagen had three double-digit dig efforts (11 versus St. Francis and 10 each versus UCSB and Long Beach State) and registered a team season-high 11 block assists in a match against USC. As a freshman in 2014 he started nine matches, played both the setter and libero positions during the year. He had at least 2.0 blocks in five matches and had at least six digs in 10 matches. Hagen was a two-year letterman as a setter and outside hitter for Loyola High, helping the Cubs to runner-up finishes at the CIF and state championships and a Mission League title in 2013. In 2012, Loyola was ranked No. 1 in the state and advanced to the CIF Southern Section finals after winning the Mission League and the Best of the West Tournament. In July 2014, he was in action for the United States in the FIVB Beach Volleyball U21 World Championships in Larnaka, Cyprus. Hagen played libero for the Manhattan Beach Surf, which won the 2012 SCVA 17s Boys Invitational, and he earned First-Team 17s SCVR All-So Cal Team honors. His grandfather James earned his PhD from UCLA and his mother Patty and uncles Jim, Ed and Bobby all ghraduated from UCLA. Hagen is taking over the Palisades-based Pac6 club volleyball program and he took timeout last week to chat with Palisadian-Post Sports Editor Steve Galluzzo about being Sinjin’s son, his career at UCLA and his goals for Pac6 volleyball:
PP: When and where are tryouts? How many different age groups will there be?
HS: Tryouts will take place September 12. We plan on having teams for junior (U10) up to U18. People can sign up and learn more on our website. The club season will start shortly after tryouts. Check our website: www.pac6vb.org for locations based on age group.
PP: How did your recent surgery go? What caused it?
HS: I am two weeks out, and doing really well! I had surgery on my lower abs and my adductors on both the left and right side. The reason for the surgery was from an injury that originated my freshman year at UCLA. I had torn my right side adductor towards the end of a very promising season. Our team was in the playoffs and we had a great shot of going all the way. The injury started there, but thanks to the athletic training plus strength and conditioning staff at UCLA, I was able to stay realtively free from major issues involving the same injury. Once I graduated and hit the beach, the injury reared its ugly head again. My 2018 and 2019 beach seasons were more or less battles of staying healthy enough to practice when I could, play in tournaments and try to find the solution to the injury. I was introduced to some of the same trainers that my dad had worked with while he was playing. We went through the gamut of treatments and possibilities of what could be causing the injury. We decided that surgery was our last option to tackle the problem. We deduced that the adductor tear, which was previously affecting both sides, was now putting stress on my lower abs and across my pelvis. To correct this, the procedure included putting a mesh implant under my lower abs to help fortify the area, and to do an adductor release on both adductor longus.
PP: When did you decide to take over Pac6? Were you recruited by parents?
HS: I had been floating the idea of starting a boys club in the Palisades for some time. I was working with a group of Palisades boys and the interest from many families was there. Then, I was introduced to the possibility of taking over the Pac6 club run by Peter Partain and Jeff Conte. We sat down last summer a couple of weeks before the club season. We chatted about volleyball and shared our philosophies of coaching and player/person development and the state of boys volleyball on the Westside and the Palisades. They must have liked what I had to share because they suggested putting me in the role of Interim Club Director for the 2019-2020 season and if I enjoyed it, to run the club next year. It was amazing timing. Peter and Jeff started the club in 2015 (one of the reasons) for their own boys to play. Both of their boys are now off to UCLA to play on the men’s volleyball team, and felt it was time to pass on the club to someone who shared their vision and had big aspirations for the club.
PP: Where did you grow up in the Palisades and where do you live now?
HS: I grew up on Embury in the Alphabet Streets. I now live in Santa Monica, but definitely miss the Palisades community.
PP: What schools did you attend prior to UCLA?
HS: I went to Corpus Christi, then Loyola High, an all-boys Catholic school in Los Angeles.
PP: What was it like growing up as Sinjin’s kid? Did you feel extra pressure to succeed?
HS: I should have a business card with the answer to this question I get it so often. I have never felt any negative consequences being Sinjin’s son and pursuing the same professional career as he did. I use my relationship to my advantage as much as I possibly can. I was fortunate enough, albeit at a very young age, to travel around the world with him and our family to his tournaments and other volleyball events. I have access to people who have helped his career and now are helping me with mine, plus I have one of the best players as one of my main coaches. I don’t feel the pressure of his lasting legacy, it gives me something to chase, and one day to overcome.
PP: Are you and fellow Palisadian Steven Irvin still partners on the AVP Tour?
HS: Steven and I played together for the end of the 2018 season and most of the 2019 season. Steven was one guy I looked up to in middle school and high school, and then I wanted to crush him when we played each other when he was at Stanford, which I did. I admired his athletic ability, competitiveness and ferocity. We are not training together at the moment. I have not been able to play or train since the end of August 2019 due to procedures and treatments related to my injury. We are not playing together now, but are now business partners on a new dating app. We are currently in the process of our first rounds of fundraising.
PP: How was it at UCLA, where your dad also played?
HS: I had wanted to go to UCLA my entire life and it was a dream come true when it was finally a reality. Following in my dad’s footsteps was pretty cool, and he was able to unretire his number so I could wear it while I was at UCLA. I learned a lot about the inner workings of a team, as a player, a coach and a young man.
PP: Do you help out at your dad’s camps from time to time?
HS: I grew up going to camp and then eventually working at the camps as a teenager. Now, I help more behind the scenes and fill in if necessary. I am looking forward to Pac6 being able to partner with my dad and his camps.
PP: How old were you when you started playing volleyball? Did you try other sports growing up?
HS: I have had a ball in my hand for as long as I can remem- ber. It has always been a part of my life. I played because it was a big part of my life and I have my dad to thank for that. I played all of the sports I could growing up, and loved being active. He never pressured me to play volleyball, but he did try to push me towards tennis.
PP: What is your best memory from UCLA? Is there a particular match that stands out?
HS: That is a tough question. Looking back, my favorite times were spent in our practice gym. The time spent working on your craft with the family we built at UCLA is what I miss the most.
PP: What have you been up to since you graduated? What did you major in?
HS: I majored in Geography and Environmental Studies. Since graduation, I have been pursuing my beach volleyball career. It has been a rough ride to say the least trying to stay healthy, but I’m excited for what the future holds and the opportunity to call this a job. I have always wanted to start my own business and have been working on a few projects. I have been shadowing a CEO at a private equity firm for the last two years. I have also been working with my strength and conditioning coach from UCLA on a youth training app, designed to better help youth athletes understand and take care of their bodies.
PP: What is your goal for Pac6 volleyball? What do you hope to achieve?
HS: My goal for Pac6 volleyball is to build back the strong boys volleyball community of Pacific Palisades and the Westside. There is such a rich history. The Palisades has always been a breeding ground for the best volleyball players in the world. If you look at the list of the all-time great volleyball players on the men’s side, three of the top five were from the Palisades. Not only were some of the best players born in the Palisades, but it used to be the training ground for the best professional players in the world. Names like Sinjin Smith, Randy Stoklos, Kent Steffes, Gene Selznick, Ron Von Hagen and Mike O’Hara… those are just a few of the legends to play the game who called Palisades and its beaches home. However, it’s not just about producing great volleyball players, its about creating the community that will last for many more years to come.
PP: Who has been the most influential coach you have had in your career and why?
HS: That’s not a fair question. There are so many I could name. I have been so lucky to learn from many outstanding coaches that have made a tremendous impact on me both as a player and a person throughout different points in my career. That said, I’d have to highlight my club coaches. They helped mold me to be the player that was able to pursue an education and play the sport I loved at UCLA. Better yet, they helped mold me to be the person that I am today.
PP: What are some of your favorite memories growing up in the Palisades? Do you keep in touch with any of your high school or club teammates?
HS: My favorite memories growing up in the Palisades revolve around volleyball, believe it or not! I loved going to practice and tournaments with my friends. It was always a little bit sad when the season ended right after the Junior Olympics. Some of the best friends I have are from my years playing club volleyball. My first year of club was a team formed by my dad and Cari Klein (Marymount High coach and Sunshine Club Director) so their kids and friends could meet and play. I still see all of the friends I made from club, and I am lucky to call them some of my best friends.
PP: What would you rate as your biggest thrill or accomplishment in volleyball so far?
HS: One of the biggest thrills in my career so far was playing in my first international tournament at the age of 19. The event took place in the Mediterranean on an island called Cyprus and it was an opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world. However, I know that the biggest thrills and accomplishments have yet to come.
PP: What is the most valuable thing that you learned from your dad? Was it something he said or a trait you picked up?
HS: There are plenty of lessons he has taught me over the years in all aspects of life, but I’ll narrow it down to just volleyball. One thing I think about everyday when I train is to not be the guy who forfeits the match because he is tired or cramping. I always want to push myself one more rep, because you better believe your opponents are doing the same, and if they are not, then you have the upper hand.
PP: Do you prefer indoor or beach volleyball and why? Which are you better at?
HS: I love both! I love the big team aspect of indoor, and doing everything as one team, one family. On the other hand, I also love the beach for its individuality, and the fact that it requires combining all of the skills together with mental toughness. I would not want to be forced to pick one over the other.
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