by Abigail Hintz
When high school sophomore Lauren Willow jumped and got a volleyball unstuck from the backboard of the basketball hoop, she had no idea it would be the start of something special at Cedarville University in the coming years.
The high school track coach heard about it and came to her lunch table to ask her if she would be willing to try track, specifically high jump. A committed volleyball player, she was skeptical at first. But she came around quickly.
“I went to the first meet and I fell in love,” she said.
The story was similar for her younger sister, Hannah Willow, but was easier to get into as she watched her sister do it successfully first. And luckily for her, Lauren paved the way for the two sisters to do something never done before at Cedarville University – a school where they could grow in their faith, their athletics and their academics.
Just an hour south of their hometown of Arlington, Ohio, in the small town of Delaware, Lyssi Snouffer had no idea Lauren’s track success was setting her up to have the same at a collegiate level a few years down the road. At the time, Snouffer wasn’t even involved in track. Her school was too small to have a team.Now, all three compete in volleyball and track at a collegiate, varsity level as full-time students.
None of the three girls think much about why they are willing to do what they do. They just do it. They all ended up coming to Cedarville chasing their love of volleyball, but for such talented athletes, it didn’t take much to excite them at the thought of adding track to the mix.
Growing up in a Christian school, Snouffer knew she wanted to attend a Christian university to pursue her athletic and academic careers. Not only did Snouffer have her pick of schools, she had her pick of sports.
Snouffer had successful high school careers in volleyball, track and basketball. She racked up 1,548 kills in her volleyball career and 1,843 points with 1,352 rebounds in her basketball career. In track, which she competed in through a local public high school, Snouffer placed third in the long jump at the state meet in 2017 and 2019 and second in the long jump in 2018 and 2019.
She grew up being involved in as many sports as she could. Her parents own a recreational gymnastics gym, so from a young age Snouffer was playing as much as she could. However, she says volleyball has always been different from the rest.
“Volleyball just stole my little heart,” she said.Cedarville had always been on the horizon for Snouffer, and when she got the opportunity to meet head volleyball coach Greg Smith, it sealed the deal for her. Then she found out she could have the opportunity to continue to jump as well, which solidified her decision even more.
For Lauren, the opportunity to compete in track and field and volleyball came with a few more hurdles as she was the first one in the history of the school to attempt it.
“I was prepared to say goodbye to track in high school,” she said, as she was completely committed to volleyball. She had committed to Cedarville before she knew track would be a possibility.
Once both coaches realized it could work, they were flexible and helped Lauren achieve her full potential while maintaining a relatively balanced schedule.
Lauren, a senior, is feeling the weight of the dual-sport athlete life. She is full-time student teaching and actively competing in both sports as volleyball was pushed to the spring due to COVID-19.
“It is very much a lot and very overwhelming,” she admits.
But it’s worth it.
“Without having this opportunity to do both sports those relationships would not have been formed,” she says of all the people she has had the opportunity to meet through her athletic career.
Hannah echoes her sister’s sentiment. The relationships they get to build through both athletic avenues is what makes up for the chaos that comes from being a dual sport athlete and a full-time student.
For her, the academics involves even more structure and discipline. Hannah is a nursing major and has to rely on the Lord week by week to find the time to keep up with her studies and be successful on the court and on the track.
Snouffer is still getting the hang of things. Just a freshman, this year has been one of immense adjustment and uncertainty. Though the pandemic has played a part in that, Snouffer has had some struggles of her own to overcome entering into her first year of school.
Her junior year of high school, when she placed second in the state track meet, she did so despite a nagging foot injury. Her senior year would’ve been redemption, until COVID caused the entire season to get canceled. It ended up being a blessing for Snouffer, however, as it gave her more time to heal, not only from the foot injury, but from a concussion she suffered the summer before coming to Cedarville.
“Coming back, I was very anxious to say the least,” she said. “From an academic standpoint and also a performance standpoint, on and off the court.”
She was medically cleared to begin volleyball on time, but when the pandemic caused the season to be pushed back to the spring it was a relief for Snouffer.
“It was definitely a blessing in disguise,” she said. “Trusting His timing was definitely taxing, but something I’m most grateful for, to have learned and continue to learn every day.”
The girls’ first track meet together was one to remember. But though it was their first one competing as teammates, it was not their first together.
The Willows met Snouffer for the first time when Lauren was a senior in high school and Hannah was a sophomore at the state track meeting where they would be competing against each other in the high jump. Lauren describes track as a sport where it is easy to go talk to your opponents, so that is just what she did with Snouffer.
“We got to talking and she went up there and just beat us all,” Lauren laughed.
At the state meet Hannah’s senior year and Snouffer’s junior year, the two were talking and connected the dots that both were committed to Cedarville for volleyball. Hannah realized head track and field coach Jeff Bolender was at the meet and told Snouffer she had to go talk to him even though continuing her track career wasn’t something she had put much thought to.
By the time Snouffer got to Cedarville, the Willow sisters had already paved the way for her to easily compete in both volleyball and track.
“If the Lord provides an opportunity, I’m more than willing, and just the way He opened up the door for me to be able to do both here was something really special,” Snouffer said.
“We love competing with Lyssi,” said Hannah, who was incredibly excited to know they would get to be teammates on two separate teams.
“This year we’re like sisters in a way,” says Lauren of the three of them.
Lauren and Snouffer say the three of them push and encourage one another on and off the court.
“It’s just a blast,” says Snouffer.
It’s important that they have that support system this year. With both sports happening at the same time and such a massive gap between the past two seasons, getting back into it can be intimidating. Especially for Snouffer, who was entering into her first season of collegiate athletics after such a long break.
“It had been over a year and a half since I had competed, and so I was very very thankful to jump. Just looking forward to see how high I can go,” she said.
And high she went. In her first collegiate meet and after all she had endured since last competing, the freshman won the high jump with a height of 5’7.75” that broke a 33-year-old school record.
“I have no words,” she said in response to her success.
Lauren said the first meet with Snouffer was “one to remember.”
Snouffer and the Willows are continuing to use their gifts for the glory of the Lord as their seasons progress. Lauren has been leading the volleyball team to success this season with 123 kills and a team high .420 hitting percentage and will continue to do so as they make their way through the G-MAC tournament in early March. Hannah and Snouffer have both contributed 50 kills this season.
Alongside Snouffer’s success, the Willows have also had solid high jump performances thus far. Hannah ended in the top 10 in all three meets this season, including the G-MAC Indoor Championships, while Lauren has finished in the top five in every meet.
The three are now focused up on finishing their volleyball season strong as they push for a G-MAC tournament championship before getting back into track mode for the outdoor season.
Abigail Hintz is a junior Journalism major and the Sports and Digital Editor for Cedars. She loves reading, playing Spikeball with her friends and watching soccer 24/7.