The post-high school journey has been anything but a boring one for former Wilmot girls basketball standout Sarah Vozel.
She’s survived a coaching change before her first day on a college campus, the closing of a school, a transfer, a torn ACL and a trip to the NAIA national title game that fell just short of the ultimate goal.
If it sounds eventful, it was — and also provided Vozel with more than enough memories to last a lifetime.
Even Saint Xavier University’s 66-52 loss last week to Marian (Ind.) in the NAIA Division-II championship game couldn’t dampen Vozel’s spirits that much, especially when she considers where she’s been in only four short years.
“Going into the tournament, my team and I knew that we had a real possibility to go all the way,” Vozel said. “As the tournament progressed, we felt more and more confident that we would be playing for the national title.
“Although it obviously would have been ideal to win that game, getting there and experiencing that atmosphere was unreal. For athletes at the NAIA level, every game does not draw a crowd — let alone a crowd like that — so to be on the stage and on ESPN3 was something that was incredibly exciting for us.”
Vozel’s high school coach at Wilmot, Keiya Square, beams with pride when he thinks about his former star player and everything she’s accomplished to this point.
And he hopes his current and future Panthers players were paying attention and taking notes of what Wilmot’s third-ever 1,000-point career scorer has done.
“She is everything that I want (them) to strive to be,” Square said. “For a player to be an All-American as a sophomore, then have to transfer, tear her ACL and come back and play a role on a team that was the NAIA runner up is impressive.
“No matter what is thrown at her, she keeps on fighting and working harder than anyone to reach her goals. … Her progress has been unbelievable. She went from a skinny sophomore in high school who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do to an All-American at the next level.”
In her final season, Vozel played in all 37 of the Cougars’ games. She finished with 186 points (5.0 per game), 112 rebounds, nine 3-pointers, 55 assists and 24 steals in 14.7 minutes per contest.
But just getting onto the floor in the postseason was huge, as Vozel missed that chance last year after she tore her left ACL two minutes into a senior night game.
Vozel didn’t take for granted what it meant to have the chance to again compete in her last college season.
“Being on the sidelines last year at the tournament was very difficult,” she said. “I had never gone though an injury before, so it was very new for me to be out and unable to contribute on the court.
“I remember being on the bench and thinking, ‘Put me in coach,’ when he would look down the bench. It was super exciting for me to come back and play with my team.”
That time away from the game not only gave Vozel a chance to heal from the injury, it also allowed her to do plenty of thinking as well.
When you go from playing at a high level and having a significant role, to having that stripped away in a flash can be quite an adjustment, she said.
“It made me appreciate the little things a lot more,” she said. “When you have an injury that requires surgery and any period of immobilization, you realize the things you take for granted.”
On the court, Vozel said it was tough seeing her role and her minutes change, but being part of a 34-3 team that was one win from a title made that all worthwhile.
“Although I didn’t have the year I was hoping for from an individual standpoint, I was ecstatic to just be back on the court and playing with my team,” she said.
Vozel followed her 1,000-point high school career with 1,160 collegiate points — passing that milestone back in November.
With everything that transpired from the time she left Wilmot, there wasn’t too much thought that such a scoring plateau was even within reach.
But when it happened during an away game — and without too much fanfare — Vozel was able to share it with her No. 1 fan, her mother, Mary.
“It was awesome to share that moment with her,” Vozel said. “I think for any athlete, collegiate or high school, it is a very big accomplishment and something to be proud of.
“Of course, I am proud to have accomplished this, but it definitely is something that I have to give credit to my many teammates throughout the year.”
Before Vozel stepped on campus at Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa, the coach who recruited her left for another job.
But Vozel kept her commitment and put together two standout seasons, including her sophomore campaign that ended with NAIA All-American honorable mention recognition.
She also was a first-team, All-Association of Independent Institutions selection and Ashford’s female athlete of the year.
The team flourished as well, as Ashford won two straight conference titles and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NAIA Tournament during Vozel’s sophomore year.
That was the end of that road, however. After the school announced it would close its doors at the end of 2016, Vozel decided to leave Iowa for Chicago-based Saint Xavier for her final two seasons.
“The last four years of basketball has been quite a ride to say the least,” she said. “From the very beginning, I knew that it wasn’t going to be exactly smooth.
“Overall, my college experience has been full of record breaking and history making with the two programs that I have been a part of, which is more exciting to me than any individual accolade could be.”
With her playing days now complete, Vozel is looking toward the next phase: graduation in May with a sociology degree, graduate school and hopefully landing a graduate assistant coaching position.
From there, she’s ready to see how things unfold.
“While I am trying to avoid ‘real’ adulthood as much as I can, I am definitely excited to see what is next for me and looking forward to what’s in store,” she said.