Sam Steele has been an integral part of the Bobcats defense this season. The freshman’s ability to play the ball is natural, almost like the ball finds her. While she wishes it was that easy, Steele has had to work hard and roll with the changes to get to this point in her career.
The Omaha, Nebraska, native found that the transition away from home was difficult at first.
“Being so far away, especially with COVID, knowing that I can’t see my parents, I can’t see my friends, even if they wanted to visit (was difficult),” Steele said.
Her lifestyle change was eased by the fact that her roommate and teammate, Tria McLean, is also a freshman from Nebraska. They bonded over their home state and try to travel home together on the same flights if possible. Having someone there who she could relate to was comforting for Steele.
Not only was she transitioning to a new way of living, but Steele was also transitioning to a faster, more intense style of play. She quickly learned she would have to adjust her tactics on the court.
“I had to definitely make adjustments there just dealing with the strength of hitters and how much faster the ball is coming a lot of the time,” Steele said.
Steele had time to learn about the odds and ends of college play before learning she would be taking over the role of libero from senior Macy Reihing. Steele saw she had big shoes to fill but was comforted in knowing her teammate is supportive of the transition and is there for her along the way.
Despite the support, Steele was still nervous in her first match against Central Michigan in The Convo. The newness of it all was getting to her. However, these nerves did not stop her ability to play from shining through.
In her first-ever college match, Steele posted 29 digs. Wherever the ball went, she went. It seemed as if the ball would simply find her, but Steele attributes her skill to the off-season and pre-season eye-work the team did in practices.
That work payed off in spades. Not only against the Chippewas, but in later matches as well.
Steele has been voted the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Week three times this season. Currently, she leads the MAC in digs with 170 in 27 sets. She averages 6.30 digs per set, which is just above her personal goal.
“I always have a goal to get six per set,” Steele said. “I think my standard should be about six.”
During her latest match against Bowling Green, Steele racked up 27 digs. The match against the Falcons was the second time she has achieved that number this season and the fourth time she has earned 25 or more digs in a match. Her season high came during the Feb. 5 loss at Akron, where she dug the ball 30 times.
Steele doesn’t like to put a number on everything, though. She wants to get all the touches she can and get to every ball that comes her way. Steele has become known on Ohio for her willingness to throw herself to the floor or run at a wall for the ball.
In matches where she does not get as many touches as she may have wanted, she knows it is because of the proficiency of the blockers in the row above her. Steele knows the back court and front row are in it together, and it shows in her playing style.
Commanding the back court has come easy to her. The speed and game IQ that she exhibits has been beneficial to the Bobcats in tough matches. Steele has the ability to remain composed in even the toughest of moments but knows that her team is there for her at the slightest sign of stress.
She looks to her teammates and coaches for a laugh whenever she can feel her nerves starting to become worked up. She credits Tia Jimerson with helping her and her teammates learn to reset their eyes and focus their minds to stay up on themselves.
In her short time with Ohio, Steele has learned a lot from her team and from the world around her. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into her season, but that does not stop her from trying to make the most of her academic and athletic experience.
“I would say for all of us freshmen, we’ve been making the best of it both ways,” Steele said.
From car rides to practice, Steele and her teammates try and find ways to be there for each other whenever they can. This allows Steele to feel comfortable on the court and play to the best of her ability because she knows her team has her back.
Transitions can be difficult, but Steele has been able to translate her flexibility during a match into other areas of her life. With these skills, the changes have come easier.
The defensive powerhouse is one to look out for the rest of the 2021 season and the remainder of her career at Ohio. Steele is only a freshman, but her strengths on the court do not show her age.