In search of new identities: Soon-to-be graduates of Ball State athletics prepare for lives without their collegiate sport

Fourth-year Vince Orlando sits on bench to rest after a singles match against Binghamton University on April 14 at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center. Orlando won his first singles match. Katelyn Howell, DN.
Fourth-year Vince Orlando sits on bench to rest after a singles match against Binghamton University on April 14 at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center. Orlando won his first singles match. Katelyn Howell, DN.

Donning a Cardinal red polo and khakis, he sits with some uncertainty.

 His knees bounce up and down, progressively gaining speed, while he slowly spins side to side in his chair. He takes a deep breath and directs his once-darting gaze to the floor. 

He hasn’t really thought about life without tennis.

“You’re scaring me here,” graduate student Vince Orlando said. “The future is a little bit unknown for me.”

Uncertainty surrounding identity post-graduation can be felt by different soon-to-be graduates across Ball State University athletics. After living a life full of sport, putting it in the past can prove to be a tough pill to swallow. 

Orlando is preparing to enter his fifth regular season as a collegiate athlete, starting another year of continuous training, practice and play. Sticking to this routine is one challenge, but leaving it behind is another. 

“It's going to be a reality check, you know? Tennis has been a part of my life since I was probably four years old,” Orlando said. “It shaped me into the person I am, and I feel like a lot of things in my future, because of this experience…it’s going to be an adjustment.”

Senior Kiah Parrott of Ball State women's golf is also just beginning to feel, accept and process the emotions that are to come with her final season. 

“It's surreal, and honestly, it hasn't really sunk in yet… I don’t want to think about that,” Parrott said. “It's gone by so fast, but it's been fun.”

Already finding success early in her final season, Parrott is humble, but optimistic about the road ahead as the season picks back up in February. Parrott said the culture and success she experienced at Ball State are unforgettable parts of her time in Muncie and hopes to bring them with her post-graduation in spring 2024. 

Parrott originally had dreams to play professionally after school but recognized within the last year that golf could be a part of her life without it being competitive. This realization comes as a desire to continue enjoying her sport for decades to come and hopefully with future grandkids.

“I don't think [leaving golf is] a loss. I've had some success and I think that success is always going to be left here at Ball State, but it is never going to go away,” Parrott said. “I'll always have the success that I had here with me too, it is something I can carry on down the road.”

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Junior Kiah Parrott walks on the green at the Cardinal Classic at The Players Club Sept. 20, 2022. Parrot scored 72 during the tournament. Eli Pierson, DN

Regardless of whether or not Parrott will play golf after college, she is hoping to involve the sport in her career to inspire the younger generation, especially young girls. 

“I could see myself owning and operating my own kind of teaching clinic. I want to be that person for the younger generation,” Parrott said. “I approach my whole life just wanting to do something for someone else, I want to be that leader.”

Fifth-year swimmer Owen Chaye also hopes to give back to the younger generation post-graduation. Studying to be a teacher, he has a desire to be a role model like prior instructors have been for him. Along with giving back to the youth, Chaye also hopes to remain close to Muncie and give back to the city, school and team he calls a second home. 

Big goals are coming with Chayes last season both with his team; hoping to take home the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship; and personally, to participate in the upcoming Olympic Trials. 

At this point in the year, Chaye has lived up to his goals, putting up the best numbers of his career. On Oct. 21 at the Dan Ross Indiana Intercollegiate meet, two first-place finishes earned him a MAC Swimmer of the Week award.

Above all, Chaye just wants him and his other fifth-year teammates to be leaders in their final year.

“We're kind of in that transition, going from being college athletes to being out in the real world,” Chaye said. “So, I do feel that weird sense of wisdom, and that I can be there for the other, younger kids on the team.”

After electing to swim another year at Ball State this past offseason, Chaye said he wanted to give the Cardinals his best one last time and showcase his growth. Chaye also said this choice helped ease the realization that sport cannot be his whole life, and he doesn't want it to be.
“Swimming was a very huge part of my identity last year,” Chaye said. “I've definitely worked on and have gotten better with [knowing] at the end of the day if I'm not a college athlete, I'm still a son, still a brother, still an uncle. None of that will ever change.”

For Elyse Horner of Ball State field hockey, who finished her last season at the end of October, coming to terms with her current reality has been tricky. 

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Senior Elyse Horner poses for a photo surrounded by Ball State merchandise Dec. 1 at the photojournalism studio in the Art and Journalism Building. Horner has acquired the merchandise throughout her four years at Ball State. Mya Cataline, DN

Horner has been a Cardinal for the last four years, but suffered a season-ending injury her sophomore year, and did not see the field as much as she’d like to. It is because of this, a lack of a championship in her time at Ball State and the connections she has made which leave her in limbo. 

“It doesn’t feel real. I’m like, ‘I’m coming back, what do you mean it is time to move on?’ Horner said. “It'll be weird to not do it in the fall, not be training for preseason, not coming back and seeing the younger girls on the team.”

This past season, Horner prided herself on being present at every given moment; one-hour bus rides, practices with teammates and different conversations held throughout the season.

Playing a sport that traditionally ends in college, Horner knew long before her time at Ball State this was the end of the road with field hockey. Horner was already able to channel the lack of sport into working out and becoming a cycling instructor this upcoming summer. 

Regardless of this, the thought of having to say goodbye is still surreal. 

“I wouldn't be where I am today or who I am today without my team. I have 26 built-in sisters, and I know no matter what happens in life, we are there for each other,” Horner said. “Field hockey created relationships for life. Ball State, this program, this school and my team hold a special part of my heart.”

Contact Trinity Rea via email at or on X @thetrinityrea.


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