Purdue perseveres through trials, triumph
It was not always about the offense or about the accolades for the offensive statistics for her. When she started to gather the statistical gains in the record books, she began to take track of what she was doing on the court.
“It’s something that I’ve been working towards,” said Stephany Purdue, a senior hailing from Mesa, Ariz. “Once I hit [my] 1,000th kill last year, I realized I could be on track for the record so I could keep chipping away at it so it’s the next kind of milestone.”
By definition, a kill in volleyball is any time that a player scores a point for her team. For Purdue, when her team is up on the opponent, she takes advantage, and it is because of her teammates that she knows she is not alone on the court.
“When we are up, we’re up,” Purdue said. “If we go into the halftime 2-0, we know we got this. I think that’s something we’ve created with the group of girls we have this year. We’re super close. It’s really helped us out.”
Her confidence on the volleyball court is not unwarranted. She is the leading offensive player on her team – evidenced by her kill record, which is only 45 shy of the Southern Miss record.
What makes it more of an amazing feat is that she is 22 hours away from home. She is acclimating well to the campus and has been for the past four years.
“I get asked that question anytime someone asks where I’m from,” Purdue said. “They’re like, ‘Why are you here?’ But, to play Division I sports was definitely a dream I had growing up and one of the first offers I had was Southern Miss. It kind of felt right when Coach [Berkley] came up to me.”
It was not just the family factor that brought her here but the players who were already on the roster. They helped her develop the chemistry and the camaraderie needed to put her stats up and the wins on the schedule.
“It kind of helps that my first two years, I was under other captains, and I could learn from them,” Purdue said. “I had to step up into the role, and I had to step up as an offensive player to be a captain and kind of keep the team in check.”
The family atmosphere in Hattiesburg provided a situation for her to flourish and hone her skills on the court. However, she did not lose her Arizona touch back home.
On game days more than 1,000 miles away, she still gets the same feelings all the way in Mississippi. Her dad is one big component of her game on the court, and she is thankful for her family atmosphere that is brought to her every game day.
“My dad definitely knows what to say,” Purdue said. “I always get a text from him right before game days and no matter how bad or how good I play. He always has something good to say about what I’m doing. He holds me accountable.”
Her family has come to watch her play twice this season – in her home opener at Oak Grove and Texas-El Paso, which is a six-hour drive from home – and they look to come watch her play again before the season ends.
Even if they are not in the stands on game days, they inspire her play on the court with a fearless attitude and persevere even when the odds are stacked against her team, just as they were at the LSU Invitational when teams like Virginia, UConn and the home team Tigers were facing the Golden Eagles.
Southern Miss came out of that tournament a perfect 3-0 including two sweeps in the first day of the tourney.
“We learned in preseason that as long as we control what we’re doing, we can take any game from somebody,” Purdue said. “We were brought there to that tournament to lose. We knew it. It kind of hyped us up.”
“My motivation every day is my Mom,” Purdue said. “She’s a breast cancer survivor.”
Purdue’s mother learned that she had breast cancer while Stephany was in high school. But through Joanne Purdue’s perseverance, Stephany learned that she had to dig deeper and create a feeling of never giving up and giving it all her best – especially in Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“She’s seven years in remission,” Stephany said. “Just seeing her go through every day and just against everything that came up in life and face every obstacle and just beat it was definitely motivational. It just gives me the goosebumps every time [I play] because I know I’m playing for a cause and I’m playing for my Mom.”
Perseverance is key to Stephany and with her family’s help here at Southern Miss and in Arizona, she hopes to continue to write her name in the record books.