Redefining the Classroom

Band of Sisters take Laker Spirit into extra innings

Posted: May 4th, 2017

EXTRA INNINGS -- Lake Superior State University Laker softball alumni (l-r) Carly Banchiu, Taylor Steinhelper and Emily Estep form up for a final squad photo, shortly before an honors ceremony on April 29 in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. The teammates also happen to be roommates, were named outstanding seniors of their respective academic schools. (LSSU/John Shibley)

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LSSU Athletics

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Three teammates will leave Lake Superior State as champions after an atypical collegiate athletic and academic journey. LSSU senior softball players Carly Banchiu, Taylor Steinhelper and Emily Estep, who also happen to be roommates, were named outstanding seniors of their respective academic schools. All three were recognized during an April 28 LSSU Honors Program at the Arts Center.

Banchiu, a business administration and management major with a minor in public relations, received top honors from the Lukenda School of Business. She graduates Saturday with a 3.88 grade point average.

Steinhelper, with a 3.97 GPA, was named the School of Recreation Studies and Exercise Science’s top senior. She will also earn an associate’s degree in health and fitness and has been accepted to Oakland University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

Estep, a biology major with a chemistry minor and concentration in medicine, has a 3.945 GPA and will attend the Michigan State College of Osteopathic Medicine beginning this summer.

Banchiu, Steinhelper and Estep brought out the best in each other and their teammates, and sought a silver lining during every challenge they faced during four unforgettable years at LSSU.

“One of the reasons why we succeeded was we had a team,” said Banchiu, also a first baseman and power hitter for the LSSU softball team, which folded at the end of the 2016 season due to budget cuts. “You (looking at Estep and Steinhelper) did well, so I wanted to do well.”

“Discipline is not a switch you can flip on and off,” said Estep, a third baseman. “Discipline covers all aspects of life. You can’t expect to be disciplined on the field if you’re not disciplined in the classroom. Our stats didn’t show it that way, but we were still disciplined on the field.”

“We fed off each other,” said Steinhelper, a center fielder and slap hitter that LSSU varsity coaches named a finalist for the Deb McPherson Female Athlete of the Year Award. “We developed that discipline in high school. It started there, but here we were able to make it shine, put it into context and fine-tune it. We were the masters of our own discipline…Yes, we played softball. But school was our No. 1 priority.”

The three teammates bounced ideas off each other while delving into vastly different academic tracks. Estep joked that she didn’t expect to learn so much about exercise science or business, and Banchiu quipped that the trio needed to find a fourth housemate who was a liberal arts major to round out their academic diversity.

Banchiu, Steinhelper and Estep credit former LSSU softball coach Lori Shimasaki and successors Nikki Stein and Brittany Williams with fostering academic success. LSSU softball was a perennial winner of the Laker Club team academic award.

“It was not a fluke that we were softball players,” Banchiu said. “They (softball and academics) were not mutually exclusive. Lori, Nikki and Brittany knew academics were important. We had study tables, but they didn’t have to enforce them. Everybody just studied.”

“You learned how to adapt to circumstances, whether it was no Wi-Fi on the bus, getting to a hotel at 1 a.m. or studying before a game,” Estep noted. “Discipline and diligence is contagious, and our results are a direct reflection of that discipline…We (the team) had a mutual agreement that we were going to succeed.”

The three teammates played club softball at a more relaxed pace during their senior year, and now marvel at how they managed their time during their first three years at LSSU. They equated the experience to having a foot in two different worlds. Supportive instructors and family were their constant – along with leaning on each other.

“Personally, my teachers were so accommodating,” Banchiu said. “The Business Department – they do that for all sports.”

“It’s not as easy in biology because of the additional time in labs,” Estep said. “It’s hard to make those up, so you had to be strategic in how you planned classes…I owe so much to my professors for taking the time to be flexible, taking extra time to help me learn, and to those students who sent us notes.”

“My teachers knew what kind of students we were, so there were no questions asked,” Steinhelper said.

The Lakers’ mindset was that their academic destiny was something they could control when circumstances like always-changing travel itineraries due to weather, coaching and player personnel issues, and ultimately lethal budget cuts were out of their control.

Banchiu, Estep and Steinhelper, though utterly disappointed at the program’s demise, chose to look at all sides of a complicated matter and make the best of a challenging situation. They continued to excel at LSSU. Banchiu made the effort to study the matter from an administrative perspective, knowing that someday, when working in big business, she may be the one making a life-changing decision for her staff.

“We had been there for three seasons and rolling with the punches for a long time,” Estep said. “If the bus broke down, it was ‘alright, get your backpack and shoes on, and we’re walking to the game.’ It was a blue-collar mentality. Whatever needs to be done, you do it.

“Our team didn’t win that much,” Estep continued. “We were not wonderfully successful, so we had to learn how to be positive in situations that were not always positive.”

“It was a testament to our team’s character that we were able to turn a constant negative into a positive and keep pushing,” Steinhelper said. “All of the obstacles that came our way.”

“Just get ready for whatever comes at you,” Banchiu said. “It built who we are.”

“Yeah, like the text, ‘we’re leaving in three hours and you better be on the bus,’” Estep added. “There’s no way we could have done that without absolutely loving what we were doing. I loved the grind. I’d do it again.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Steinhelper said.


CONTACTS: Linda Bouvet, Sports Information, e-mail, 906-635-2601; John Shibley, e-mail, 635-2314.