LIBERTY, Mo. -- A Northland dance studio is mourning the loss of a beloved coach.
Maria Miller Smith, 33, was walking along a highway near her home outside Excelsior Springs, when she was hit by an oncoming car. She died in the hospital early Thursday morning.
Miller Smith and her daughter Felicity have spent countless hours together at Phoenix Athletics in Liberty. Felicity first came to the studio to take tumbling classes, but her coach mom quickly got roped into leading a cheer team.
After Wednesday night's tragic crash, her entire dance community is hurting.
A recent photo shows one of Miller Smith's proudest moments. Just weeks ago, she led a team of 6- to 9-year-old girls to a championship cheerleading title in Branson.
"She inspired all of her kids to be great," said Phoenix Athletics owner Charles Moore Jr.
Now, her fellow coaches and students are now devastated.
"Whenever she was here, she made everybody smile," Moore said. "She really was just the heart of this gym, and it's really tough not having her here now."
The student feeling the loss the most is her 14-year-old daughter Felicity. She said she still can't believe her mom, who she called her best friend, is gone.
But Felicity is trying to stay strong while remembering the energy and light her mom brought to everyone.
"I loved her smile the most, Felicity said. "She could walk in the room with a smile, and it would put everybody in a good mood."
"We coach a female-dominated sport," Moore said. "So when a girl has an emotional breakdown, we had 'Momma Maria' that could always be that person to cheer them up. She always knew the right words to say."
Now Moore and his team are trying to use "Momma Maria's" spirit to help her students and cheerleaders as they grieve. They know she inspired countless young women, and her spirit will carry on.
"She loved the sport of cheer, and right now, I'm just happy for the fact she got inducted into God's team," Moore said. "We're going to keep moving and do everything we can to let her legacy live on through us."
Phoenix Athletics is already creating a scholarship fund in Maria's memory, which will be given to a student that embodies her energetic spirit. They've also set up a Go Fund Me page to help Felicity and her family.