Growing up in Bloomsbury, N.J., more than an hour away from the hustle and bustle of big city life, Sarah Stiehler always dreamed of being close to the Big Apple.
"I love going to New York," Stiehler said. "I love being in the city and being right close to New York."
So that was a deciding factor as to where Stiehler was going to attend college.
Then again, so was getting a good education. Stiehler has always been an excellent student, a regular in the toughest of honors courses.
Stiehler was a standout shortstop for the Phillipsburg High School softball team, so playing softball in college was also an option when it came time for Stiehler to make her college decision a little over a year ago. Muhlenberg College and The College of New Jersey were solid options, but those schools were away from big city life.
Rutgers-Newark was not.
R-N head softball coach Kristen Hunt was about to begin her second year with the Scarlet Raiders program, but was in dire need of a shortstop, after the graduation of captain Kelsey Lucas.
Out of the blue, Hunt received an e-mail from Stiehler about possibly playing for the Scarlet Raiders.
"She said that she wanted to stay close to home," Hunt said. "Her mom went to Rutgers-Newark and she wanted to be near the big city. She's an honors student, so academics were a big lure. She said she wanted to get a degree from Rutgers."
Hunt received a video package from Stiehler and that was it. Hunt was sold. She knew that she had her shortstop for the next four years.
In softball, besides pitcher and catcher, shortstop is the most vital position in the field. So instead of having to turn one of her existing players into a shortstop, Hunt recruited one. Or perhaps it was Stiehler who recruited one. In any case, it was a union of the minds that worked perfectly.
"I got to see how athletic Sarah is," Hunt said. "Once I got the e-mail and video, I saw Sarah play almost every weekend. I even went to see her play in Florida."
Stiehler was quickly sold on R-N.
"Rutgers has a great academic reputation," said Stiehler, who plans on majoring in math with the hopes of becoming a math teacher some day. "That was the major deciding factor. But I loved the diversity of Rutgers-Newark, the people here. And it's so close to New York, which I love."
Stiehler also loves teaching.
"I really enjoy teaching people new things," Stiehler said. "I volunteer to teach CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, set by Christian parishes to teach public school students about the Christian faith, primarily Roman Catholic) classes to second and third graders in my church. I just love teaching."
So there was the lure of the City that Never Sleeps, plus the chance to play softball for a fledgling on-the-rise program and the opportunity to eventually teach math someday. Sounds like a win-win for everyone.
But Stiehler didn't know where her place on the Scarlet Raiders' roster was going to be.
"I honestly had no idea I was coming here to play the infield," Stiehler said. "I would be willing to play anywhere the coach needed me. I was really surprised when Coach Hunt made me the shortstop. I had no clue I had a chance for a starting position. I knew I had to work very hard to get a job on the team."
In Hunt's eyes, there was no other option.
"She's consistent and at that position, you need someone who is consistent," Hunt said. "I can put her at shortstop and not worry about her. She came from a great program (at Phillipsburg) and came with a great work ethic. She's focused 100 percent of the time and has that drive to win."
Stiehler said she never knew Hunt's plans for her.
"That's funny," Stiehler said. "I never knew that."
Stiehler said that she's handled the idea of being a freshman starting on a veteran team. "I feel that there's always pressure coming into a new program," Stiehler said. "But everyone on the team is helping me get through the jitters and adjustments."
Stiehler also has the motivation to help the public sector. Last March, while completing her senior year at Phillipsburg, Stiehler was sworn in as a member of the Bloomsbury Borough Council at just 18 years old. Stiehler was appointed to finish out the term of a previous council member. That's a pretty impressive line to add to the resume.
Right now, Stiehler is doing her job as the shortstop for the Scarlet Raiders, who have managed to dodge the wind, rain, snow and cold weather to post a solid 6-6 record after 12 games.
Stiehler is batting .225 with nine hits and two RBI. More importantly, she's handled just about all of her 51 chances in the field. Not bad for a rookie.
"She's scrappy," Hunt said. "She knows all the dynamics of the game. Just from these 12 games, you can see the growth she's made as a player. It's only going to get better. I can see her getting more confident as a player. As soon as she got a couple hits in Florida (on the Scarlet Raiders' annual sojourn south to begin the season), she loosened up and became more comfortable.
"She's one of the shortest ones we have," Hunt said. "But that doesn't stop her. She's scrappy. I am looking forward to having an exciting four years with her."
Stiehler isn't exactly going to intimidate anyone, considering she stands 5-foot-2.
She's definitely the scrappiest member of the Bloomsbury Borough Council, that's for sure.
Stiehler said that she's becoming more and more comfortable with her surroundings.
"I've definitely spent a lot of time together with my teammates," Stiehler said. "Going to Florida (for 10 games, winning five) helped a lot because we spent a lot of time together. But we also played together in the fall, so that's really helped. I have to admit. The first two games, I was really nervous. You could tell I was a nervous freshman. But my teammates helped me and then I finally found my groove."
Stiehler is pleased she's living life in New Jersey's biggest city.
"I knew that I wanted to go to a college in the city," Stiehler said. "I just love the amount of people I see every day, walking in the streets, going to class. It really was a great decision coming here, the best decision for me. The girls on the team are really nice and I like all my classes. It's been great."
Just wait until that first municipal budget crisis occurs in Bloomsbury.