sportsNovember 15, 2023
The fall of 2023 has allowed two SEMO athletes etch their name not only into SEMO’s record books, but the OVC’s (Ohio Valley Conference) as well.
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Graphic by Kyrie Padberg & photos by Nathan Gladden

The fall of 2023 has allowed two SEMO athletes etch their name not only into SEMO’s record books, but the OVC’s (Ohio Valley Conference) as well.

The first, SEMO volleyball graduate student libero Tara Beilsmith, achieved her goal of breaking the OVC record for digs at Tennessee State on Oct. 14.

“It was a goal of mine coming in as a freshman,” Beilsmith said.

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Graphic by Kyrie Padberg & photos by Nathan Gladden

Beilsmith came to SEMO in 2019 after decommitting from Kentucky due to issues with her scholarship offer.

“So she was going to Kentucky. Their offer had somewhat changed, they still wanted her, but the financial piece kind of changed a little bit with their recruiting needs changing,” SEMO volleyball head coach Julie Yankus said.

Once she arrived on campus it was apparent to teammates and coaches she would be an impact player for the Redhawks.

“I knew from the moment that I met her that she was going to break records here. Our very first practice I was like ‘She’s really good’,” middle blocker Talia Gouard said.

Beilsmith earned a similar respect from coaches earning her spot as starting Libero as a true freshman. Beilsmith credits her personal work ethic as being one of the main reasons she’s been so successful.

“We get awarded days off for playing well and having good weeks and weekends, but I don’t really take days off. I think you should never really be complacent with how you're playing,” Beilsmith said.

Just a mere hours after Beilsmith broke the OVC digs record, SEMO graduate student running back Geno Hess broke the conference’s record for touchdowns against Eastern Illinois at Houck field.

Unlike Beilsmith, Hess did not have many offers from other schools to choose from, even though he broke several records in high school.

“He was a great player in high school, set a lot of records, but we were really one of the only ones to recruit him and offer him a scholarship,” SEMO football head coach Tom Matukewicz said.

What he did share with Beilsmith was a desire to get better every chance he got.

“He’s been talented his whole career and he’s been a really good player,” running backs coach Luke Berbinger said. “Really I think the things that he’s needed to change and get better, he’s put a lot of emphasis in.”

Hess’s work ethic has allowed him from a freshman who had to redshirt his first year to the arguably greatest running back in both SEMO & OVC history. Another factor he credits is his love for the game.

“This is still a kid’s game. This is the same game I’ve been playing since I was five years old,” Hess said.

The sentiment of hard work is repeated by former SEMO track & field runner, Miles Smith. Smith said that aside from the hard work, your approach must be to improve every day.

“It’s are you doing the one percent?,” Smith said. “Champions become champions by gaining one percent every day.”

With this approach Smith was able to have one of the most illustrious careers in the history of SEMO athletics. Smith would win 14 OVC championships, was named OVC Track Indoor Athlete of the Year three times (2005-06, 2008) and OVC Track Outdoor Athlete of the Year once (2008) during his time with the Redhawks.

Smith specialized in the 400m race, being named an all-american three times. He qualified for the 400m event in the NCAA finals twice, placing 11th in the 2005 indoor season and 5th in the 2005 outdoor season. His outdoor time of 45.16 seconds set a SEMO record and was the 14th best time in the world season.

The dedication brought by Smith and his teammates also gave them another important factor in their success, confidence.

“We went into our seasons with very high expectations, if I’m being honest," Smith said. “So from the moment I stepped foot on campus at Southeast Missouri, we had really good school records, but we had a really determined greedy group of guys and we expected to break every record that was on board for us.”

One of the biggest distinctions to Smith’s name is that he is a gold medalist at the international level, competing on the USA 4x400m team in the preliminary rounds of the 2005 World Championships.

“It’s a different level of commitment,” Smith said. “I think people gotta understand that it's a lifestyle, and so it comes with a lot of sacrifice. You know in most cases, there are only three spots, you know? Three opportunities to represent the US on the international stage for any given opportunity.”

Though Beilsmith, Hess, and Smith shared very few similarities aside from being SEMO student athletes, they shared two characteristics that separated themselves from other athletes: their dedication to the sport they love and the belief that they could do it at the highest level.

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