Katy Stephens and her parents

Notre Dame's Katy Stephens signs to high jump for Northern Iowa track and field

Matt LevinsThe Hawk Eye

After being shut down for two years for repairs, "The Elevator" is back in operation and headed to the top floor.

Notre Dame High School senior Katy Stephens, who missed two track and field seasons due to COVID and reconstructive knee surgery, will compete in the high jump at the NCAA Division I level.

Stephens made it official Monday afternoon, signing a National Letter of Intent to compete in track and field at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

For Stephens, who is affectionately called "The Elevator" by her grandfather, Delbert Stephens, for her leaping ability, it is a dream she thought may have slipped way when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee just over a year ago.

“It’s very emotional. Being able to make this decision is a huge relief," Stephens said. "The whole time going through the recovery I was thinking, ‘What if I am never able to compete again?’ ‘What if I am not able to go to college and do what I want to do?’ I feel like it’s all worth it going through all those hardships and making me a new person. Just getting more perspective on life and now getting to take that to college and still be an athlete … it’s super exciting for me.”

“The story is great, but there’s no story without a great kid and a great family to get her to this point," West Burlington-Notre Dame girl track and field coach Mike Gurius said. "Her hard work and her perseverance is really what allowed her to get to this point. She should be proud and her parents should be proud of what she’s done.”

West Burlington's Katy Stephens competes in the high jump during the 112th annual Drake Relays on Thursday, April 28, 2022, at Drake Stadium in Des Moines.

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Stephens made a big splash as a freshman, placing sixth in Class 3A in the high jump at 5-foot-4..

But Stephens was leaning toward volleyball in the early stages of her high school career. 

Stephens helped Notre Dame win the Class 1A state volleyball championship in 2019, averaging 4.0 kills, 2.9 digs and 0.6 blocks per set. She also connected on 239 of 262 serves for 91.2 percent and had 28 aces. 

Stephens was named captain of the all-tournament team at state, further solidifying her desire to play college volleyball.

“Pre-injury I was pretty set on volleyball, but I also wanted to go to a big school," Stephens said. "I was torn between that. I talked to a lot of smaller schools about volleyball. There were a lot of options to do both. But I really felt at home at UNI and I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”

Stephens suffered the knee injury late last winter, causing her to miss her junior year of track and field, as well as her senior year of volleyball and basketball. 

During the course of her rehabilitation, Stephens began to weigh her options moving forward, both athletically and academically.

“I want to be a physical therapist," Stephens said. "At first I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do something in the lab, but after going through all of this and how my physical therapists really changed my life, I want to do that for other people, too. And I just think I have an understanding of what it’s like to go through it and I want to help people with it.”

Stephens will be joining a UNI track and field team with former Notre Dame High School teammate Rylie Todd, who also is a high jumper for the Panthers. Former WB-ND standout sprinter Isaiah Trousil will be back for a fifth year on the team next year. Notre Dame graduates Xavior Williams and Jacob Smith also found success with the UNI track and field team in the past.

“It’s really cool to be able to go up there and have people from the same place, the same school," Stephens said. "Knowing that Jacob Smith went there and Xavior (Williams) went there and loved it. That’s very reassuring to me. I know I am making the right decision going there where all those people went and they all loved it. They are super high-caliber athletes. That is very reassuring to me, especially coming off the injuries. I’m super excited to be able to compete at this level.”

Stephens is looking forward to learning the ropes from Todd, as well as competing with her again.

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"I’m so excited to be able to be her teammate again and compete with her," Stephens said. “I’ve talked to her a little bit and to her mom. She really likes UNI, also, so I feel like we have another thing. I feel like we have similar personalities, so if she really likes it, I feel like I will like it, also.”

“I’m so proud of how she’s responded to her high school career. It’s just great for her to be able to continue jumping and take her talents to be able to jump at a really high level," Gurius said. “I know she’s going to come in and be a heck of a high jumper right out of the gate. They’ve got themselves a really great kid and a great jumper.”

Matt Levins is a sports reporter for the USA TODAY Network in Burlington, Iowa, who has covered local sports for 31 years. Reach him at mlevins@thehawkeye.com.