Down two sets to none and trailing 20-15 in the third set to Youngstown State on Aug. 26, junior outside hitter Sabrina Mangapora stepped on the court for her first regular season match in nearly two years.

She contributed a kill and back-to-back service aces to help bring Ball State back within two in a crucial third set. The Cardinals would go on to lose the match, but it was obvious that Ball State had regained a key member of their team.

“I was so happy to be back,” Mangapora said. “To just be able to get back into rhythm and show them what I’ve got after waiting so long.”

Sabrina Mangapora career-highs:

Kills: 22 (9/10/16 @ Appalachian State)

Digs: 11 (8/31/16 vs. IUPUI)

Has had 10 games with double-digit kills this season. 

Those first two sets are also the only two she's missed all season.

The Process

After being named to the Mid-American Conference All-Freshman Team in 2014, Mangapora began to feel some pain in her shoulder in April 2015.

“I tried to do physical therapy for a month with the mindset that maybe I could strengthen everything around it,” Mangapora said. “I thought the pain would lessen enough where I could just make it through the season and get surgery afterwards, but that’s not how it turned out.”

Physical therapy was unable to alleviate the pain, which led Mangapora to get surgery in July 2015. She would miss her entire sophomore season.

“I knew I was going to be in for the long haul, and it kind of takes a toll on you when you get that news,” Mangapora said. “You kind of have to start back over getting in shape, and I had to basically reconstruct my arm swing with my new shoulder.”

For someone who had as strong of a freshman year as Mangapora did, it was tough to have to watch from the sidelines.

“I just felt like I had crawled my way in there and earned a starting spot and made a name for myself,” Mangapora said. “The whole time you just really want to be in on the action so badly.”

Mangapora credits a lot of people for helping her through her rehabilitation process but one person who went above and beyond was her teammate and roommate junior opposite Jessica Lindsey.

Lindsey said her goal was to help make sure that Mangapora still felt that she was a member of this team.

“It makes you have that greater feeling of being a part of the team even though you can’t participate in anything and that was my main goal to give to her,” Lindsey said. “She came out with a really big presence and then not being able to have her for my sophomore season was a huge change.”

The Return

Prior to this season, Mangapora had career-highs of 18 kills and eight digs. She’s already passed her career-high in kills four times (new career high of 22) and her career-high in digs twice (new career high of 11).

“I proved to myself early this season that my old career high is of the past,” Mangapora said. “This is a new year and a new me.”

While it may be easy to try and compare Mangapora’s post-injury success to her pre-injury success, she said that she tries not to think of it that way.

“The fact that I am fresh off of an injury, I’ve never really used that to compare my success,” Mangapora said. “I’m not like ‘Oh I’m doing so great after coming off an injury.’ I’ve just looked at it as a new standard that I’m setting for myself.”

Head coach Kelli Miller said Mangapora has embraced her role as one of the leaders of a young Ball State team this season — only one senior and four juniors are listed on the 18-player roster.

“She’s always somebody that’s down to earth, and she always understands what’s needed in the moment,” Miller said. “She has a really good feel of what the team needs and she’s able to control the whole team dynamic and that can be difficult but it’s something people really count on her for.”

For a team that has three freshman players contribute heavily on a nightly basis, Miller said it’s important for them to look up to a player such as Mangapora.

“I think she is somebody that leads by example, so you never doubt that she’s going to give her full effort every single day in practice,” Miller said. “She’s really directed traffic for us night in and night out, and I think that’s something the underclassmen see.”

The Future

With MAC play well underway, the Cardinals are tied for third in the MAC West with a 3-1 conference record (7-11 overall) after an 0-9 start to the season.

“It was so frustrating because you could see how close we were,” Mangapora said. “Ever since then, I think we’ve stepped up, and we’ve discovered what it took [to win] and we’re ready to do it every single time.”

Mangapora said she would really like to be a member of the All-MAC team but she'll need some help from her teammates for her biggest goal of all.

“As a team, we need to win the MAC Championship, and I think we can do it this year,” Mangapora said. “I’d also like to win the regular season championship, too, because then next year we’d host the MAC Championship.”

It might seem like a lofty goal, but she had an entire season of recovery to think about it.

“Just win it all while we’re at it,” Mangapora said. “That would be awesome.”