CHICAGO – Sara Sternard still may be in college, but in a way, she’s already had a taste of the working world.
“I’ve been taking classes, going to open gym twice a week and lifting every day,” Sternard said. “There’s been no time off.”
Such is the life of a college athlete playing at the Division I level, and things won’t get any easier when Sternard and her UIC women’s volleyball teammates get set to start the season.
“There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it,” said Sternard, who is majoring in biology with a pre-dental line of study. “We have to keep up with grades and everything. There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that people don’t know about.”
All the behind the scenes work Sternard does pays dividends when the curtain goes up. As a freshman, she was named to the Horizon League All-Newcomer, and she twice has been named Horizon League Player of the Week (once as a freshman and once as a sophomore). Last season, she was second on the team with 278 kills, and her .276 hitting percentage was good for 11th-highest in program history.
In two seasons, Sternard has established herself as one of the Flames’ best players, and one of the best in the Horizon League.
“Since she stepped on campus, Sara has raised her level of play every season and she has become one of the best middle blockers in the Horizon League,” UIC coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley said. “She brings a great attitude, and is always pushing her teammates to be the best they can be.”
Even though the stats, the accolades and Schumacher-Cawley’s praise would indicate otherwise, the transition from high school to Division I volleyball wasn’t easy for Sternard to make.
“It definitely was a whole new level, especially coming from Class 2A [in high school],” Sternard said. “In college, everyone on the team was the best person on their high school team. You just have to start at the bottom and work on improving.”
After going 10-4 in the Horizon League last fall, the Flames made it to the championship match at the conference tournament. Although they came up short in that match, Sternard said that was a highlight of her college career. She’s hoping to make a new high water mark this season, and if that mean sacrificing her own stats for the good of the team, then that’s what she’ll do.
“Going back to the championship game is definitely a goal. It always is,” Sternard said. “But we also want to improve our record. We’ve improved every year
I’ve been here, and that’s what we want to continue to do.
“As for me personally, I think about the team more than myself. I’d rather be in the championship game of the [Horizon League] tournament than have personal stats.”