As a high school senior, Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Shelby O’Steen received the Jim Thorpe High School Volleyball Player of the Year award from the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in June 2022. The Bright Path Program recognizes the top high school athletes from across the state for their athletic and academic prowess.
“There are some great volleyball players all across the state,” at every level, O’Steen said. “Knowing that I was the one picked out of all of those, I think that was special because there’s great talent all over the state in volleyball.”
The Peltier family descendant began playing volleyball as a fifth-grader. As she got older, it became her favorite sport, trumping softball, dance and tennis. O’Steen decided to attend Mount St. Mary High School in Oklahoma City beginning her freshman year, persuaded by its volleyball program’s reputation.
“I went to a summer camp (at Mount St. Mary) going into my eighth-grade year, and I loved it. I absolutely loved the girls. And so, it was the only right decision when we decided where I was going to go to high school,” she said.
O’Steen’s time there proved why she deserved to be named the state’s 2022 Volleyball Player of the Year. At Mount St. Mary, she was named the Offensive Player of the Year her junior year; held the most assists her sophomore, junior and senior year; and made the Oklahoma All-State volleyball team her senior year. As the captain of the varsity squad her junior and senior year, she led the team to the 5A State Championship and All-Conference tournament and made the All-Tournament team herself.
“I just love being in a team aspect. I love being around people, and I love the competitiveness of it. I hate to lose. … And just being able to do it with my friends, I think is the most important,” O’Steen said.
She called her senior year season “probably the most memorable one” as O’Steen and her classmates became the winningest volleyball team in their school’s history.
“We broke our own record that we set last year,” she said. “We won many, many tournaments — even the state championship. We won state, which was really awesome because my freshman year and my junior year, we got second. This was the last hurrah for me and my fellow seniors, and it was just really special to win with them.”
After witnessing the team’s success and O’Steen’s leadership, Mount St. Mary head volleyball coach James Ward encouraged her to apply for the Oklahoma Hall of Fame award. O’Steen admits that after they sent in her information and resume, it almost slipped her mind until her mom called to tell her the good news a few weeks later.
“It was kind of something we didn’t really think would happen,” O’Steen said. “And then finding out how big of a deal it was, I think, made me even more grateful for it. I’m very grateful for everything — every award I get and every accomplishment that I achieve. And then seeing how big of a deal it is and seeing some of the names that I’m standing next to in these other sports. It just makes me so grateful.”
It felt like a high honor, not only for herself but also for her family. The award’s namesake, Jim Thorpe, was both a Potawatomi descendant and an enrolled member of the Sac and Fox Nation and is considered one of the greatest athletes of all time. O’Steen’s mom, Ashley, and grandfather, Bob Davis, always took pride in their Citizen Potawatomi ancestry.
“I think (this award) just ties back to my grandfather. He was very involved (with CPN) and my mom was too. And they’ve always told me how important it is, how special it is that I am Potawatomi, and I think it’s just a great way to tie it all back together. And for me to see it firsthand how things like volleyball can bring me back to my family,” O’Steen said.
She ended her senior year also winning an Oklahoma City Metro High School Sports Award in partnership with the USA Today High School Sports Awards — one of the most extensive sports recognition programs for high schoolers in the country.
In addition to volleyball, O’Steen focused on a number of academic pursuits during her high school years, including as a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish Club, Spanish Honor Society, Mount St. Mary Student Council, and a Mount Ambassador, speaking with and giving school tours to potential students and their parents.
Despite her love of athletics, O’Steen plans to move on from volleyball while attending Oklahoma State University in Stillwater beginning this fall. She hopes to study communication sciences and disorders and American Sign Language, working toward a degree in speech pathology.
However, the sportsmanship she learned, the friends she made, and the recognition for her accomplishments, including the Bright Path Program award, will remain with her as she takes on the next challenges of her life.
“I was super, super grateful,” she said.