HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Southern Miss Volleyball senior Stephany Purdue has done it all in her four years wearing the Black and Gold. She has competed in the high jump for the track team, served as an officer in the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and appeared on the Athletic Director's and C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll.
Her most proud achievements may be the ones that came about towards the tail end of her final lap.
On Nov. 6, Senior Day, the 5-foot-11 outside hitter connected for career kill No. 1,657, breaking the school record. Not only that, it came in the pivotal third set that began the Golden Eagles' 0-2 deficit comeback win against a strong Rice team.
Not only that, her senior class officially became the most successful in program history that day. Then this past Wednesday, she was voted First-Team All-Conference USA.
"She's just been a really good example for the whole team," sophomore setter Sarah Bell said. "She has taught me many leadership skills and has also been that person everyone looks to."
Purdue's example and leadership foundation goes the volleyball lines and onto the tartan track that has been a part of her since she began attending Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz.
"I had the opportunity to go to state [freshman year] when I got eighth in high jump or something," she said. "I did high and triple jump at state. After that year I wanted to focus on volleyball. My freshman year here, the coach asked me if I wanted to join, but I just wanted to focus on volleyball."
Purdue ultimately agreed when newly-hired jumps coach John Ellis approached her, then competed in a pair of indoor meets for the Golden Eagles.
Purdue's raw talent on the volleyball court appealed to her coaches early on, but that did not mean everything else would fall in place for her as she began her freshman year.
"For me, getting into the starting lineup was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," Purdue said. "I was used to being the head at my high school and club and just having leadership over me, I fell in line with everyone else. I wasn't going to try to do anything to make a statement.
"My freshman year there were two junior captains who did it for two years. My sophomore year, I started breaking out of my shell and learning I had more to contribute on and off the court for the team."
Purdue's 31 starts that freshman season paved the way for an even better sophomore season, including a career-high 35 service aces.
Head coach Amanda Berkley has been at Southern Miss for seven years and began her head coaching tenure when Purdue was a freshman. The potential certainly raised an eyebrow for the present and future.
"Steph started as a freshman because she was one of the best all-around players we had in a long time," she said. "She needed to be in there because she could do it all. She was a real smart player and has been one of the hardest-working players we've ever had."
Purdue made it a habit to stay in Hattiesburg over the summers to work on her game. That also rubbed off on Bell, who as a freshman the year before had 1,364 assists, the fourth-most in a single season at the school.
"Stephany was real encouraging for me to come this summer," Bell said. "We would text each other all the time to say 'hey, do you want to come hit off me? I need to work on some of my sets,' and she would ask me to set so she could do some hitting."
Purdue has been especially quick to give credit where it is due.
"Sarah has moved around the ball a lot," she said. "It helps keep the blockers off of me. Usually I'll have two blockers there and that's four hands. I've had a lot of opportunities where I'm swinging at one person. I just try to hit the ground. When we go through scouting I usually ask Coach Dave [Brown] where their defense is playing so I can see which area of the court is open more often or not."
Purdue has truly embraced the spiritual challenge of the marathon that is playing a college sport, becoming best friends and roommates with fellow seniors Chanel Joyce and Makareta Rademakers. The trio's aforementioned historic success is as organic as it comes.
"Our culture has gotten better each year and we've learned to be better teammates," Purdue said. "This year is finally the one that feels really good to be on the court with everyone. It all meshes well. Being on the court with people you like and knowing what they're gonna do before they do it is a big contributor to our success."
Purdue plans on earning her degree in the spring before ultimately working on a Master's in Sport Management. Her and the Golden Eagles will look to fulfill their greatest dreams in Houston this weekend at the C-USA Championships.
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