“Consider It Pure Joy” A True Underdog Story

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” James 1:2-4

I recently came across this verse in my daily reading and have been meditating on it. I thought, “Where have I seen trials and tribulations in my life?” If there’s any place where I’ve seen trials and tribulations, I’ve found it in sports. The line “Consider it pure joy” kept playing over and over in my head, and all I could ask was, “God, how do you expect me to find ‘pure joy’ in the midst of trials?” As athletes, we attribute joy to when we’re winning, when we’re starting, and pretty much if everything is going how we want it to go. But here, James, a servant of God, is talking to the Jewish Christians of that day, saying, “Brothers, consider it joy when you hit trials of all kinds.” Wow. Find JOY? That’s quite a challenge.

As I thought more about some of my favorite sports stories, some of the best stories are about athletes being hit with “trials of many kinds.” They get knocked down, feel defeated, and have to fight and persevere through many battles. Although many of these stories end with the athletes as champions or MVPs on top of the podium, what inspires me the most is not the trophies and accolades but their unwavering determination to overcome obstacles. I am impressed with the character they build and the lessons they learn along the way, which we do not always recognize in sports today.

We like to call these athletes “the underdogs.”

It makes me wonder why we are so fascinated with them and pay the big bucks to see their stories come to life on the big screens like The Blind Side,  Rocky, or Remember the Titans… one of my favorite movies of all time!! “Left side, STRONG SIDE!”  I mean, put one of those movies in a theater, give me a bag of popcorn and a recliner chair, and I’m on cloud 9. These are the stories that leave me with tears dried up on my face and with “chills of utter inspiration”!

As I think of athletes enduring “trials and tribulations,” my sister, Rebecca, immediately comes to my mind. My sister’s journey through collegiate volleyball gives me the “chills of inspiration.” It might not have made it on the big screen (YET), but it’s one of the best underdog stories I’ve heard. It’s a story about Humility, Hard Work, Perseverance, and Faith. A story I think we all should hear.

My sister and I both started playing volleyball when we were young. Like many young athletes, my sister had aspirations to earn a college athletic scholarship. When senior year of high school rolled around, she had to decide where to commit to play for the next four years. This can be an exciting or stressful time for high school athletes. You could either be receiving multiple offers from your dream colleges, or you could be scrambling online, contacting coaches, and sending in your sports highlights, all in hopes of one college offering you a scholarship. It can be a luxurious time or the most stressful time of one’s high school experience.

Unfortunately, Becca’s collegiate story falls into the latter category. As February of her senior year approached, no offers were coming her way. But by the end of the month, she managed to score a tryout with one of her favorite schools, Regis University.

“I flew out for the tryout. The coaches ran me through all these defensive drills, and I got to meet the team and set for the girls. After the whole tryout, I felt so good heading up to Coach’s office to hear his thoughts.” 

Well, this is where Becca hit one of the many “trials” that she would go through in her collegiate career. The coach loved her and thought she had an amazing tryout… BUT. Yep, there was a BUT, and the but went something like this, “You had such a great tryout Becca, BUT we just offered our last scholarship to another setter last week.” Becca flew home with no scholarship, but she absolutely loved the campus, the girls on the team, and had this GUT feeling that Regis was home for her. She quickly applied and was later accepted into the school. Though she didn’t have an official spot on the team, she reached out to the coach, desiring to be a part of the squad in some way. She entered her freshman year not on the roster…but as a PRACTICE PLAYER

Like any freshman year, the newness of life away from home, new routines, and new people was a lot for any 18-year-old to handle! And learning her role as a practice player was looking to be quite challenging as well! 

“Wherever the coach needed me, that’s where I went. I could be a part of one drill and not another. It was a big adjustment; you sometimes feel like you are a part of the team, and sometimes you feel like you’re not. I remember calling Mom and bawling on a bench on campus, saying, “I don’t think I can do this.” 

Just as she acclimated to her new role, Becca was hit with another challenge a couple of weeks later when the coach asked if she’d like to be their TEAM MANAGER. Initially, she was hesitant, confessing, “As a practice player, I already had a tough role to play. And now, being asked to manage the team? It felt like a lot of responsibility.” However, despite the challenges, Becca took up the job and gave it her all. “It was hard. From washing the girl’s jerseys to getting their food, carrying the cameras and extra luggage, it was a challenging position.”  she said. The team manager role was a great opportunity to get to know the girls better, travel with them, and experience the full life of a collegiate athlete, which she ultimately wanted to be one day. 

Becca returned for her Spring season fully committed as the team manager.  But to her surprise, the coaches called her in one afternoon for a meeting. They brought her in and offered her a scholarship right on the spot…her jaw dropped to the floor in SHOCK. Becca called this one of the best feelings in the whole world. “All of the hard work paid off. I truly believed God wanted me to be here for a reason.” She signed on the dotted line and walked into her sophomore year as a member of the Regis University Volleyball Team! Once she accomplished her dream of earning an athletic scholarship and a roster spot, that didn’t mean the trials stopped there.  

(Becca is in #14 jersey Lower Left Corner)

She continued to battle for playing time throughout her sophomore and junior years, but she persisted in giving her best, whether in the weight room, the gym, or the classroom! She told me this season of her life challenged her to “trust the process” and even pushed her to lean more into her faith: “Having a chapel on campus kept me close to my faith. I remember going, sitting down, and having quiet time with God. I would ask him questions like, ‘God, is this where you want me to be? I would sit and talk to him like a friend, talking to him about the highs and lows of practice! This season pushed me toward a relationship with God and even more so toward fellowship with other athletes on campus. I began attending the FCA group, which allowed me to connect with other athletes, hear about their own struggles, and give us the space to connect on different levels than just volleyball.” 

Becca’s work ethic remained consistent throughout her career as a Regis Ranger, regardless of the role or position she held. Whether she was a practice player, team manager, or an active player on the roster, she maintained the same level of dedication. “I was more of a leader by example, going in early before practice, staying later if I needed to, pushing myself every day to get stronger.” 

In 2014, my sister entered her senior season and was quickly voted by her teammates as TEAM CAPTAIN. Wow! If that wasn’t a good story in itself, with her fifth year of eligibility on the table, she decided to take it and play one last season for the Rangers while pursuing her master’s in Accounting! 

But.. it wouldn’t make sense if she didn’t hit one last trial. 

Becca had been a setter her entire career, from club, in high school and all throughout college. However, in 2015, the setter position was already taken and it wasn’t going to be hers. So, in Becca-like fashion, she looked at how she could help the team! It wasn’t going to be as a setter, but the coach asked if she’d like to learn a new position, libero, and Becca was up for the challenge! After fighting and working her tail off in spring season and pre-season, she secured the libero position and was a starter her final season! To me, that is a God thing. 

What if God called my sister into His office before she entered her senior year of High school in 2010… right before this whole story took place, and He sat her down and said: 

God: “Rebecca, Consider it pure joy when you are denied a scholarship in February. Rebecca, Consider it pure joy when you are asked to be a team manager two weeks into your freshman year. Consider it pure joy when you don’t start your junior year, and another setter starts in front of you. Consider it joy when you are no longer needed as a setter but I challenge you to become a libero. Consider it all pure JOY, my daughter.” 

Becca: “Why would I consider that joy, Lord?”

God: “Why? Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”


Sarah Sponcil is a prominent figure in the world of professional volleyball, known for her exceptional skills, work ethic and achievements on the court. Born on August 16, 1996, in Phoenix, Arizona, Sponcil began her volleyball journey at the age of three and has been showcasing her immense talent and dedication to the sport ever since.

Garnering three high school state championships in Arizona, and two NCAA national championships at UCLA, Sponcil’s career reached new heights when she represented the United States at the 2020 Olympic Games. At 24 years of age, Sponcil became the second youngest beach volleyball player to ever represent Team USA in the Olympic Games and, together with her partner Kelly Claes, were the youngest beach volleyball team to ever represent Team USA in the Olympic Games.

Following her Olympic success, Sponcil has continued to excel as a professional volleyball athlete, earning numerous accolades and recognition for her prowess as both an indoor and beach volleyball player. Her versatility, athleticism, and relentless determination has solidified her reputation as one of the top players in the sport and make her a force to be reckoned with on any volleyball court.

Off the court, Sponcil is known for her humility, work ethic, and commitment to her faith, family, and desire to inspire the next generation of athletes. She serves as a role model for aspiring volleyball players worldwide, demonstrating that with passion, perseverance and dedication, anything is possible in the world of sports.

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