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The Antelope

Sterling strengthens mental game throughout career

KOSUKE YOSHII / ANTELOPE STAFF After transferring to UNK, Middle hitter Bailee Sterling prioritized her mental health on and off the volleyball court.

Bailee Sterling, a 5-foot-11 junior, is not only a star middle hitter at UNK, but also an advocate for mental health. 

Sterling grew up in Kearney and at a young age, she found her competitive spirit and began her volleyball career. Like many little girls, Sterling played in YMCA leagues starting in the first grade, but her passion for the game really took off her freshman year at Kearney High School. 

Playing high school volleyball in the fall wasn’t enough for Sterling. She searched for leagues to play in, even if that meant extensive traveling. 

“I would commute to Lincoln three times a week to play club volleyball because it was more competitive than it was in Kearney,” Sterling said. 

Not far into her high school volleyball career, Sterling made a huge decision sooner than most college athletes. 

“It was always a dream of mine growing up to play for a Division I school, so when the offer came around, I made my decision when I was a sophomore in high school to commit to the University of Northern Colorado,” Sterling said. 

Though she was living one of her lifelong dreams, Sterling found herself unhappy once the college freshman was a full-time student athlete at UNC. 

“I was homesick and frankly, just depressed.” 

Sterling made what she describes as “an easy decision” to leave UNC and move back home to Kearney, but she wasn’t sure if volleyball was still going to be a part of her college journey. 

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep playing volleyball due to my mental state,” Sterling said. “I thought when I moved home, my mental health would improve, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I was also really struggling with the fact that I didn’t ‘make it’ in Colorado.” 

Before she committed to UNC, Rick Squiers, the UNK head volleyball coach, actively tried to recruit Sterling in high school. Because of these efforts, the conversation about Sterling becoming a Loper, was somewhat familiar. 

“Coach Squiers understood where I was at mentally and worked with me to help ease me into my decision to play volleyball at UNK,” Sterling said. “He was a big advocate of why I wanted to keep playing, and he seemed happy that I was coming back.” 

“She just brings a positive spirit to the court. I think she’s the right blend of the type of person who wants to self improve but also wants to help her teammates. She likes to be on the court, she has good body language, her energy is positive whether we’re up five points or down five points” said Coach Squiers. 

Now, Sterling is entering her third season as a Loper volleyball player. Her impressive stats have paved the way to what is an almost perfect record after assisting the team in an NCAA Runner-Up Title in 2020. Through 15 games in the 2021 season, Sterling has 87 kills, and an impressive 29 blocks but even her teammates can agree that her focus is not on the statistics but the girls that form their team into a family. 

“Since Bailee transferred she has had such a positive impact on our team. Her transferring to UNK gave me not only a great teammate but a lifelong friend.” said Lindsay Nottleman, UNK’s defensive specialist. 

With that amount of success, Loper volleyball has a lot of pressure to perform this season, but Sterling has found a good balance between volleyball, school and making her mental health a priority. To “live in the moment,” Sterling journals every day, reads, listens to podcasts and deleted her social media accounts six months ago.

“For me, I really try and make it as simple as possible,” Sterling said.

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