Follow the Leader
Dec. 10, 2008
By Larry Watts
At 6-foot-3, Stephanie Lynch would be considered average for a middle hitter. But in the Purdue University community, Lynch casts a long shadow and she is considering anything but average.
For the past three years, once a week, she has visited with Amanda, a sixth grader, through the Big Sister-Little Sister program. Usually, it's just lunch, but as Lynch says, "it's a big deal to these kids."
"Sometimes we play board games, but mostly we just talk about school and life in general. It's important for kids to have positive role models. You make them feel special and, at the same time, you're getting such a great feeling from it."
But that's only the tip of Lynch's involvement in the Purdue community.
The Boilermakers' volleyball standout is one of several athletes who volunteer once or twice a year to visit the student center in order to read a book to a group of students. As part of Volleyball Special Friends, she and some of her teammates will visit a local school and help out, like making gingerbread cookies in a recent visit.
And then there are trips to the Purdue Day Care Center. "We'll go around to four or five classrooms, spend about15 minutes in each, reading or playing with the students."
As part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the 22-year-old Lynch is looking forward to taking a mission trip to Haiti next May.
"Because of my commitment to volleyball, it's something I haven't been able to do it in the past,"' she says. "I understand the students do a variety of things on those missions as they try to lend a helping hand to the villages."
"Stephanie is the best of the best," head coach Dave Shondell says. "Any philanthropic opportunity, she is always the first one to volunteer."
"It's good to have this kind of balance in your life," Lynch says. "We're only talking about an hour of commitment per week. It really doesn't take much effort and you're giving something back to the community."
"She's as kind and gentle a person as you will ever find off the floor," says Shondell. "But once she's on the floor, it's all about competing and winning. It's odd how she can turn that demeanor on and off again like that.
"She's our version of (Notre Dame basketball standout) Luke Harangody, a beast on the court. I think she gets that from her mom (Cynthia), who is probably the most vociferous person in the gym during our matches.
"Stephanie has been know to give a little feedback to the officials on some of their calls. And there have been times in practice when she may get a little feisty and gives me some feedback. One of my assistants asked me if I was going to take that from her, and I just said as much as she has given this program, I can take a little attitude from her."
"I am pretty competitive," Lynch, a native of New Albany, Ind., says with a laugh. "Even when I play a game of cards, I don't like to lose, but it doesn't stay with me long. On the other hand, a loss in volleyball stays with me a little longer, because losing in volleyball is pretty dramatic."
When Lynch and fellow seniors Danita Merlau and Kelli Miller reported to Purdue in 2005, the once proud Boilermaker program had not posted 12 Big Ten victories or won more than 20 matches overall since 1990. In that first season, the Boilers collected 12 conference wins (25 overall) and gained their second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament. This year they won 13 Big Ten matches and have extended their NCAA appearance streak to five.
"Three of us came in here with the idea of doing something special and helping build this program," Lynch says. "Everything has gone by so fast.
"Even though this has been our best year, my competitive nature says you always want to think you're capable of doing better. We're very happy with what we have done, but we always set our goals higher. This team has really connected with one idea -- bring Purdue volleyball back to elite status."
Lynch traces this year's success to the team's 12-day foreign tour last May. The Boilers traveled to the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Italy.
"The trip was amazing and had a real impact on making us a tighter group," she says. "There were very few cell phones because it cost too much to call home. Our only form of communication was through e-mail when we could find the time. We mainly had each other for 12 days.
"I thought the highlights were going to Prague and Rome. We didn't get into the Sistine Chapel because it was closed, but the Vatican City was really neat. It was just a thrill to see all that architecture and history."
Lynch isn't one who likes to talk about her personal accomplishments. For the record, the three-time first team All-Big Ten and two-time honorable mention All-America selection will leave Purdue with career records for block assists (currently at 545), total blocks (654) and hitting percentage (.351). She also ranks among the top five in kills (fifth at 1,531) and is building on the single-season record of 169 block assists.
"The way I look at my accomplishments is my name gets highlighted in the record books, but it is my teammates who have done it all to make me look good," she says. "There are a lot of other people who have played key roles to make all of this possible."
"That's Stephanie in a nutshell, very humble and selfless," Shondell says. "It's always about giving credit to the team for her accomplishments. Her goal has always been to make Purdue volleyball better and she has had a vision to take this program to an elite level again."
Lynch, who has a double major in health science and management, will not graduate until next December, so she plans on staying close to the Purdue volleyball program. She will be coaching the club team in the spring.
"I'm trying not to think about graduation too much right now," she says. "I'll probably be around the program a lot next fall and then we'll see where that takes me."
Shondell, who says he has already heard from a number of foreign coaches about Lynch, plans to have her around as much as possible, maybe even on the bench.
"She'll be out there at practice with us," he says. "She won't have to run sprints like the other girls, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if she jumped in."
Shondell claims Lynch is still deserving of one more honor this season -- first team All-America.
"She got robbed last year," the Purdue coach says. "If she doesn't make first team this year, it's a travesty.
"They don't come any better. She came to Purdue with a work ethic second to none. She's been a treat to coach."