Sabrina Mangapora didn’t plan it this way.
She’s the student assistant coach for Ball State women’s volleyball this year, but it was supposed to be her redshirt senior season until a career-ending shoulder injury forced her hand.
“I sat out two seasons ago, completely,” Mangapora said. “I kept pushing it back and tried to control the pain, but when I went to physically put my arm in a position to overhead block and couldn’t, that’s when it really hit me that it wasn’t going to happen this season.”
Mangapora suffered persistent shoulder pain from an arthroscopic labrum surgery and labrum tear in a multidirectional instability operation that she had in the summer of 2015. The Canfield, Ohio native never fully recovered from the injury and was medically disqualified before the 2017 season.
However, head coach Kelli Miller reached out to Mangapora to keep her involved with the program.
“We’d been constantly communicating with different options when we agreed that I couldn’t physically hit anymore,” Mangapora said. “[Kelli] presented me with a couple different options and was very encouraging and said they’d love to have me back as an assistant coach. When she said it, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
During matches, Mangapora charts shots and keeps track of her team’s hitters. Sometimes, she says, they respond to her a little better than the coaches because they played with her when she was an outside hitter last season.
Miller prides Mangapora’s dedication to the program, and knew right away that she wanted to keep her around if she could.
“She’s super competitive, she relates well to the girls and she is going to lead the team on and off the court,” Miller said. “You want successful, competitive and good people around your program. I didn’t want to lose her in all aspects if all possible, so if that meant the max she could help was to be a student coach, then that’s how we were going to take her.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2014, Mangapora earned Second Team All-Mid American Conference and made the MAC All-Freshman Team. In 2014 and 2016, she was named Academic All-MAC and a MAC Distinguished Scholar Athlete.
When she stops to think about it, the experience has been nothing short of emotional for Mangapora.
“It has been very hard for me because of my injury situation,” Mangapora said. “What I felt kept happening to me my whole career here was that I would work my butt off and then be set back again by factors I couldn’t control.”
Still, she doesn’t have any regrets during her time at Ball State as an athlete.
“I don’t wish anything would have happened differently,” Mangapora said. “I’ve just had so many people in my life here to support me and make me feel like I’m still just as important as I was when I was an active member of the team.”
Contact Kara Biernat with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @karabiernat.