CHESTERTON | Life wasn’t easy for Shelby Ruffner when her family uprooted from Pittsburgh two years ago.
The then-sophomore enrolled at Chesterton and decided to try out for the volleyball team. It was her last gasp at trying to fill a social hole created when her father took a new position with U.S. Steel.
Ruffner went to the tryout, hoping to earn a place on junior varsity, hoping to find teammates who would eventually grow into her friends.
Ruffner got a lot more than she bargained for.
“I told Shelby 10 minutes after I first met her and saw her play that she was going to be on varsity,” Chesterton coach TR Harlan said. “She was so homesick and I found out later on that they were thinking about moving back to Pittsburgh. Making varsity changed that.”
Ruffner found a home in Chesterton, but still needed to win over her teammates. Seniors would ask Harlan why the sophomore was on the team. The middle hitter eventually became part of the team and won the Most Improved award at the year-end banquet. Then she won the same award as a junior.
“I was just really bad when I came in,” Ruffner said. “I don’t have a problem saying that. Those awards were a reward for working as hard as I did to get better.”
Harlan knew the moment he saw Ruffner that she could become a talented volleyball player and he made it one of his goals to tap her potential. She is now one of the best hitters in the Duneland Athletic Conference and one of Harlan’s favorite coaching accomplishments.
“Shelby is the perfect example of why you get into coaching,” Harlan said. “From where she came from to where she is now. She has a chance, if she wants it, to play at the next level. She is good enough that someone will pay for her college education.”
Ruffner likens Harlan to another member of her family and is grateful for the chance to contribute to varsity as a sophomore. Each practice and game since has been Ruffner’s way of paying back her coach for believing in her when few others did.
“I just couldn’t believe it when I found out I made varsity,” Ruffner said. “It was the best moment ever.”
That moment was trumped earlier this year when the Trojans knocked off Valparaiso at home after being down to their final point in the third game. Ruffner, like all her teammates, had tears streaming down her eyes after the match.
She wasn’t a project filled with potential that night. She wasn’t an outsider hoping to make friends. She was a key member of the Chesterton varsity volleyball team that pulled off its biggest win of the year.
“We still have some goals left for this year,” Harlan said. “Shelby is a big part of those goals.”