In her fourth season with the Southeast Missouri State volleyball team, senior libero Tara Beilsmith accomplished not one but two things no Redhawk ever had. Beilsmith finished as the Division-I leader in digs with 773 and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Out of SEMO’s 33 total matches this fall, the Weldon Spring, MO, native recorded 20 or more digs 15 times and produced 30-plus digs in five of those matches. Beilsmith also led SEMO to its second-straight OVC Tournament Championship game appearance, but the Redhawks fell one set short of repeating as conference champions.
Along with having two firsts for SEMO, Beilsmith also is now the program’s all-time leader in digs with a total of 2,238. Tara broke the Redhawks single-season digs record as a freshman with 641 in 2019, and she broke her own record by having 661 digs her junior year.
“For my career, it’s something that I’ve really been striving to do,” Beilsmith said. “Coming into SEMO, I knew I was going to get the opportunities to make some history here. Not only for me, but for the team, too. I want to do whatever I can for the team, and if that’s getting as many digs as possible, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Beilsmith missed the last seven games of her sophomore campaign with an injury as she only finished with 163 digs in an already shortened season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This means SEMO either won the OVC Tournament Championship (2019 and 2021) or made it to the title game each season Beilsmith has been able to finish. The Redhawks had not won the tournament in 19 seasons prior to Tara stepping foot on campus.
In 2021, SEMO recorded its best record under current head coach Julie Yankus at 26-8 overall and 14-4 in OVC play. On that team along with Beilsmith were players like former Redhawks Laney Malloy, Ally Dion, Elissa Moylan and Claire Ochs.
“Whenever I was looking at schools to go to — I loved the people and the place — I knew I could come in and really try to make a difference here,” Tara said. “Last year, we were just unreal. Every single position was amazing — there was no way we weren’t going to win. We had that confidence, we had that drive and we had that want. Every single person had it.
“Laney Malloy and Ally Dion really, really helped me gain confidence in myself. Even if I wasn’t doing well, they taught me to see the positive in it, which is what I’m trying to teach the younger players.”
One thing Beilsmith does in her spare time is watching the film of “big-time liberos” because she feels it’s fun to learn from them and see how they move to see if she can reflect them in her own way. Tara can be described by anyone who knows her as a perfectionist.
One of the liberos Tara looks up to is former Stanford Cardinal Morgan Hentz, who was a three-time national champion and three-time All-American. Beilsmith described Hentz as “amazing” and that her mom would even text her asking, “Did you watch Morgan Hentz before the game?”
“I always think, ‘What I did today isn’t good enough because you didn’t win,’” Beilsmith said. “I’m that type of person, and I always have been. If I don’t outperform myself then I feel like I failed. That really pushes me to absolutely just throw my body everywhere.”
Beilsmith uses this mentality to lead by example because she feels like if she’s giving it her all that she might be able to inspire her teammates to do the same.
One could say this was crucial to No. 5 seed SEMO making this year’s OVC title game and knocking off No. 1 UT Martin in the semifinals. Beilsmith recorded a single-match, career-high 42 digs in the Redhawks 3-2 victory over the Skyhawks.
“I think it truly has worked — I think I’ve pushed my team to be better not only from the attacking line because I’m digging them, but also from behind the dig, too,” Beilsmith said. “I just don’t want the ball to hit the floor like ever — I don’t care if it’s perfect, but I want to be the match lead in digs every single game.”
Along with leading by example, Tara is the type of player who is quick to be there for her teammates and pick them up emotionally when things may not be going their way. This is because Beilsmith never wants her teammates to have to deal with those type of things.
“We have other people that lift each other up, too, but I never want to be the type of person that makes someone else feel like they did something wrong and can’t come back from it,” she said. “I want to be a confidence builder instead of taking it away from people.”
The Redhawks are certainly lucky to have a player of Beilsmith’s magnitude and character for one more season next fall.
“SEMO volleyball truly is a family as cliche as it is to say,” Tara said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them. I’ve been hurt multiple times but never will I be like, ‘Oh, I can’t get that ball because I’m hurt. I’m going to get that ball despite that I’m hurt.’
“I will do anything, and I will play through any pain. I’m always going to go all out, and I want so badly for my team to have a good experience. If I can leave a legacy behind, that’s what I want to do, too.”