Alumni spotlight: Q&A with Betsy Smith Freeburg ’08, University of Alabama at Birmingham volleyball head coach

Share a little about your story- what experiences or opportunities led you to your current role?
After graduating from Wesleyan in 2008, I started at the University of Florida (UF) where I was a member of three SEC championship volleyball teams and went to four NCAA Sweet 16s and one NCAA Elite 8. We had seven freshmen on the team during my redshirt senior year, and part of my role as captain was getting them acclimated and accustomed to our system. During that year, my coach told me that I would make a great coach someday, and I promptly told her I would never put my livelihood in the hands of 17-to-23-year-old women.
After graduation, I went into commercial real estate, but ten months later, I started getting an itch for coaching and started as an assistant for a club team in Orlando. That December, one of my assistant coaches at UF took the head coaching job at Georgia State University (GSU) and encouraged me to return to Atlanta and give collegiate coaching a shot. I was at GSU for three seasons and then had the opportunity to go to Samford University as an assistant coach for three seasons. I was named associate head coach in early 2020. During my time at Samford, I married Ryan Freeburg who was an assistant coach at University of Alabama prior to a short stint as interim head coach there. In 2019, we coached together at Samford and realized life was much better when we were on the same team and in the same program. In June 2020, the UAB head coach position opened, and although the timing was a bit crazy to make a major career jump, we knew it was the right opportunity, and Ryan is now my associate head coach at UAB.

What does your day-to-day look like?
I have found that I am at my best with routine and structure. In season, that routine looks like waking up, working out, having a good breakfast, and then going to the office. Once I’m at the office I am either in meetings with the athletic department or our staff. There is also a lot of recruiting electronically these days, so staying up on emails is an important priority during the day. As a head coach, I’ve found that each day presents its own unique set of challenges that you have to be ready to address at the drop of a hat. Leading up to practice in the late afternoons, we meet as a staff to plan practice and often have either small group or team video sessions prior to getting on the court. From there, it’s straight home to make dinner, wind down, and prepare for the next day!

What is the most rewarding part of your career?
The most rewarding part of coaching is helping athletes accomplish their goals and achieve success. It is especially rewarding when student-athletes overcome challenges, and I get to see their confidence build through those experiences.
What Wesleyan teacher had a profound impact on you?
Dr. Anna Engle, former high school English teacher, had a profound impact on me because she never gave up on me and challenged me to be great. English and writing were never my strong suit, and I appreciated how much time and effort she put into my development. Because of her constant push, I not only improved as a student but also as a person. I still think of the time she and I met regarding my final paper my junior year on Frankenstein. She told me she was proud of me and that even though she knew I would have to really work, that she was going to recommend me for AP English my senior year based on my growth throughout the year.
What is your favorite volleyball memory from Wesleyan?
I had the privilege to contribute to four state championship teams during my time at Wesleyan, and each one was so unique. My favorite memory is winning that 4th state championship with my sister, Maggie Smith ‘11, setting. Getting to celebrate that state championship together was so special. My other favorite volleyball-related memory is getting to come back and cheer on the 2013 state championship team after being their coach at camp that summer.