The assistant volleyball coach came to know the Lord through the program.
by Abigail Hintz
Callie Murphy grew up going to church. She also grew up playing volleyball. And those were two separate things. No matter what.
Until they weren’t.
Murphy grew up in a competitive family. They were obsessed with athletics, and though they considered themselves to be a Christian home, athletics ultimately came first. It was okay to miss church as long as it was for sports. This created an interesting family dynamic with such a clear distinction between faith and volleyball.
When it came time for Murphy to go to college, she went to the University of West Alabama to play varsity volleyball. Having grown up in Michigan, this was a big transition.
“I was completely on my own, and just kind of thrown into a whirlwind of the college life,” Murphy said. “It was really difficult.”
On top of the 13-hour distance from home, Murphy was feeling the weight of the dichotomy she had grown up in. Living it out on her own was proving to be a challenge.
“I wasn’t sure how being a Christian and being a college athlete was supposed to look,” she said.
So Murphy did not let them overlap. When she was with her volleyball friends, she was one person. When she was with people and friends from her church, she was another. She didn’t know who she was in Christ and therefore fought a daily battle during her first year of college trying to figure out who she was at all.
It wasn’t until her sophomore year that it became clear.
Faith and volleyball converged when Murphy sat alone on the floor of the gym, having just been injured at a collegiate volleyball tournament in Indiana. Her team had just been defeated by some team from Ohio called Cedarville.
The team’s performance on the court was not lost on Murphy, but neither was their character off the court. She didn’t know Cedarville was a Christian school, but she could tell there was something different about them.
Then they took that character a step further.
“Hey Callie, I saw you’re hurt. Can we help you to the training room? Can we pray for you?”
The words struck Murphy.
The girl from Cedarville who Murphy was paired with for post-game prayer was Abby Michalski (Shelton). For Michalski, this was nothing new or spectacular.
“It was something that, as an athlete, I had done so often that it became routine,” said Michalski.
Michalski said to Murphy, “Hey, if you need anything, we’re here for you. We love you and you’re a sister in Christ.”
“I was like, ‘You’ve never met me,’” Murphy said.
Her injury was severe enough that her parents took her to the doctor after the game. When Murphy got in the car, she said something that shocked her family.
“I’m going to work there someday. Or I’m going to transfer. I don’t know which.”
Her mom laughed out loud. She expected her daughter to be distraught. After all, she had just suffered a potentially season-ending ankle injury. She asked Murphy what she meant by that.
“That was the first time in my entire life that I’ve seen being a Christian and being an athlete be one,” Murphy explained. “And to be able to finally see I can compete, I can love others well, I can still be myself and still win with integrity and honesty? Walking away, I’m like, ‘I can be this. It doesn’t have to be two versions of me.’”
This was the beginning of a transformational work in Murphy’s life. It set her on a trajectory to dedicate her entire life to Christ, but it would be a process.
“Those next four months, it was just a ton of questions in my head,” Murphy said.
When she went home for the holidays that year, she felt it was truly a benchmark for her to see how much she’d changed. She had the opportunity to talk through all of her thoughts with her mom, who reminded her that “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”
It wasn’t until four months after the game against Cedarville that Murphy completely gave her life to Christ. She was at a women’s conference, and the speaker was using an analogy with a lot of bags strapped all around her.
She said, “Wouldn’t it be so awesome if there was a way to release all of this?”
The speaker then proceeded to explain that there was, and it was through salvation in Jesus Christ. That was when Murphy laid it all down before the Lord and accepted Him as her Savior.
“Instead of finding my validation and my love and my life in sports and in my friendships and relationships, I could finally breathe and step back and be like, ‘Lord, I can put my identity in You,’” said Murphy.
Murphy’s life changed after that, and so did her approach to volleyball. From that point on, she played with integrity, bringing light to her team through the truth of the Gospel. Though she had been relatively serious about her intention to transfer from West Alabama, she quickly realized why God had her stay, as she was able to show others on her team and in her program the love she had been shown.
After graduation, Murphy began her career in sports broadcasting and became a sports information assistant. At the same time, she was coaching and juggling a lot of other responsibilities, pulling her in a ton of different directions.
Then, in September of 2018, Murphy’s life began to fall apart when her fiancé called off their wedding.
“I kind of fell away from God for a minute,” she said. “I had everything planned in my head of what life was supposed to look like, and it was the biggest realization moment that the Lord was like, ‘This is not your life. Let me take you.’”
The time after that was naturally extremely difficult. Murphy had the desire to continue in spiritual disciplines and follow the Lord’s direction, but it was a challenge.
But then a phone call with her sister changed the trajectory of Murphy’s life.
“What gives you life?” she asked Murphy.
“I love to serve, and I love volleyball,” Murphy said.
She went online that night and began searching for a new job – a new start.
A varsity volleyball assistant coaching job at Cedarville University was the first thing to pop up on the NCAA job market. She had completely forgotten about the statement she had made to her mom after getting injured.
“This is ridiculous,” she thought.
Murphy immediately wrote a letter to head coach Greg Smith introducing herself and telling him how Cedarville had essentially been her dream school since her sophomore year of college.
“If I ever got a chance to be a part of it, it would make my world,” she told him.
She got a call within a day.
She got the job within a month.
Now, Murphy sits at her desk in the varsity volleyball suite at Cedarville University. She took the spot from the very person who got her there: Abby Michalski. Michalski was the assistant varsity volleyball coach to Walters from 2017-2019, after a successful career with the Lady Jackets from 2013-2016.
Her success on the court overflowed to her character off the court as she played a huge part in bringing Murphy to Christ.
“She was such a light here [at Cedarville],” says Murphy about her predecessor.
When Michalski heard Murphy got her former position following her own departure from the program, the significance didn’t hit her right away. When Michalski called Murphy to congratulate her on the position, neither understood why they had each other’s numbers in their phones already. Murphy was the one to finally put it together.
“It was you,” she said.
“I can’t believe that was you,” Michalski said back.
“You don’t know what you did for me,” Murphy told her. “I got really teary eyes just sitting in the office that day.”
The last time the two had connected was about six months after their initial interaction.
“She called me because she had found the note that I had given her and said, ‘Hey, just wanted you to let you know that I just committed my life to Christ,’” said Michalski. “It was just cool. The time that we had played her, it was obvious that God was already working on her heart.”
Murphy said, “I think the Lord planted a seed so long ago and is now seeing it come to flourish. Now I understand why all of my plans didn’t work out.”
“I love Callie, I love her heart,” says Michalski. “Obviously still support all of who she is and so excited she is a part of Cedarville volleyball. And just that God has done what He’s done in her life and then also what an encouragement that has been to my faith and relationship with God.”
Faith and volleyball have converged for Murphy. She is able to use all the Lord taught her through the hurt she has experienced for the good of the girls on her team. Every day, she gets to minister to them while being totally immersed in the sport she’s loved all her life at the same time. And she does it with the letter that started it all hanging beside her on the wall.
“Isn’t that just like the neatest thing ever!?” says Michalski. “Anyways, God is the best.”
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.