Editor's note: "For the Record" is a weekly series featuring former stand-out Ball State athletes and their lives after college.
Sarah Obras Steele walked into John E. Worthen Arena alongside friend and then-Ball State women’s volleyball player Stacie Baldwin Pagnard during her official recruiting visit in 2001.
With 11,500 vacant seats looking on, assistant women’s volleyball coach Chad Weyenberg approached them and Pagnard blurted out something that surprised even Steele.
“Stacie looked at Chad dead in the eye and said, 'hey Chad, guess what? Sarah’s coming to Ball State,'” Steele said. “I looked at her like, did I just make that decision?”
Sarah Obras Steele
Sport: Women's volleyball
Years at Ball State: 2002-2005
But from that moment on, Steele knew her decision was made.
“I thought, yep she’s right," Steele said. "This is the place for me. This is where I’m coming.”
Steele and Pagnard — still best friends — joke that Pagnard made Steele's recruiting decision for her, but their friendship started down the road at Munciana Volleyball Club.
Steele, an outside attacker who played for the Cardinals from 2002 to 2005, didn't begin playing volleyball until seventh grade. When she realized she had potential, she joined Munciana and by the time she was 16 she was good enough to play with the 18-year-olds. But in moving up, she risked flying under the radar of college coaches because everyone on the 18-year-old team had already been recruited.
Instead, schools wanted her to join her older teammates. Munciana players were committing to major-conference schools like Georgia Tech and Alabama, and multiple players were going to attend Ball State — including Pagnard.
"When I was being recruited by Ball State and I knew that they were going there, there was a level of comfort because I knew them, and I had played with them," Steele said.
The Pendleton, Indiana, native moved just 30 minutes north to call Muncie her new home. Twelve years later, Steele still holds 12 Ball State women's volleyball records, including career kills (1,975) which also ranks second in the Mid-American Conference all-time, most matches with 20 or more kills (37) and most kills in one match (37) which is also tied for sixth in the MAC. She was also named to the 2005 "ESPN The Magazine" Academic All-America Third Team.
But statistics and records are not what Steele remembers most about her time at Ball State.
"When I look back at it now I look at the friendships I made," Steele said. "We kind of have a core group of girls that came out of that. We still to this day get together.”
Steele said even though her former teammates only get together as a big group once a year, they're still like the family they were 12 years ago.
"It's like we never missed a beat," Steele said. We went through the trenches together. When you do that and you lean on each other and you rely on each other so much, that is one of the biggest blessings that came out of my time at Ball State.”
Besides her lifelong friends, Steele met someone else at Ball State.
Austin Steele was a golfer at Ball State. The two were married in 2008 and have two kids, Carson, 4, and Brooklyn, 2.
With her accounting degree, Sarah works part-time at Park Tudor school in Indianapolis as their financial coordinator. But that love for volleyball is still very much in her life.
In 2010, Sarah served at the varsity head women's volleyball coach at Park Tudor. After two seasons, Sarah took a break from coaching when she became pregnant with her son.
But when Carson turned one, Sarah called up Pagnard, who was the head women's volleyball coach at Westfield High School, and told her she was ready to coach again.
“He’s old enough now and I’m itching to get back in the gym,” Sarah said.
Pagnard has since taken a coaching job elsewhere, but Sarah remains the assistant varsity coach at Westfield. She said with her being a hitter and Pagnard being a setter, they complemented each other so well — just like they did at Ball State.
As a player, Sarah said she never would have thought about becoming a coach.
"I remember thinking, I don’t think I could coach because I like playing too much," Sarah said. "It would be too hard sitting on the sideline. As I’ve gotten older I see the value of coaching. I call it a life giving experience. For me its something I have to do."
Sarah always seems to fall back on volleyball and the bond she created with her former teammates turned lifelong friends.
"Being in the gym and coaching is the one place I can be where I’m not in my mind saying I want to be at home with my family,” Sarah said. "That’s how life-giving volleyball is to me. When I’m in the gym I’m 100 percent present. I love it."