Sami Sandau balances many roles.
She is devoted daughter and sister.
She is a full-time student and loyal teammate on the Montana State Billings women’s soccer program.
But always, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Sandau is “Mommy.’’
Win or lose, good game or bad game, Sandau knows waiting on the other sideline is her biggest fan: Her smiling son Koby.
Sandau, a senior at MSUB, is juggling the triumvirate of student, athlete and motherhood.
And with the help of a supportive family, teammates and a coach who wouldn’t let her walk away from soccer, Sandau is fulfilling each responsibility.
“My balance in life is so much better,” said a reflective Sandau. “There were a lot of times when I debated whether or not to continue playing soccer or not. Sometimes, there doesn’t seem to be enough time. For play with Koby, for homework … everything. All you can do is go on, then go to bed. Tomorrow is another day.”
Those long days almost bring her to tears. However, Sandau doesn’t cry any more. Those had already fallen when her self-described, “carefree,” lifestyle took a dramatic turn her freshman year.
Sandau came to MSUB in the fall of 2007 after an all-state career at Billings West. She followed her older sister Brittney on the field for the Yellowjackets.
On a cloudy Saturday morning in early October, Sandau found out she was pregnant. Later that afternoon, Brittney shattered her leg in a game against Seattle University.
“It was a pretty bad day,” Sandau said.
She shared the pregnancy information with just a few, including her grandmother Joey and freshman roommate and teammate Lauren Anderson.
“I didn’t tell anybody else at the time,” she said. “My parents were busy with my sister’s broken leg and her being in the hospital. I didn’t want to trouble my parents with it.’’
It was a week before Sandau broke the news to her parents. “It was hardest telling my dad,” she said.
An emotional Sandau also wasn’t much good on the field in the following games to her team at the time. “I was a head case,’’ she admitted.
MSUB head coach Don Trentham noticed and called Brittney Sandau to give her younger sister a pep talk. Brittney told Sami to tell Trentham of the situation.
At a hotel room in Salem, Ore., the night before MSUB was scheduled to play Western Oregon, Sandau knocked on Trentham’s door.
“At that point I just wanted it out there,” she said. “I was on a mission.”
After summoning assistant coach Ally Stroup, Trentham turned to Sandau.
“OK, what do you want to talk about?” he asked.
“I remember the words just coming out. ‘I’m pregnant,’ ” said Sandau. “I was hysterical.”
The team was planning on leaving for dinner in 10 minutes. “This is going to take more than five minutes,” Trentham said. He then sent the team to dinner without him, Stroup and Sandau.
She scored a goal the next day. Sandau estimates she was around two months pregnant.
Sandau received permission from her doctor to play out the rest of the season. She also took on her sister’s number to honor her sibling, whose career had abruptly ended.
“Life happens,” Trentham said. “It was a very changing moment for all of us. As a person, you always have challenges, whatever they may be. Sami will always be part of this program and now Koby is part of the team.”
Normally confident and fearless, Sandau was increasingly hesitant during play.
“I was more timid,” she said. “It’s definitely something in the back of your mind. I became more leery.”
As were her teammates. Every time Sandau threw her 5-foot frame into the physical fray, she could hear a chorus of concern.
“I was never much of a partier, so that wasn’t much of a change,” said Sandau of her pregnancy. “But it was hard to be pregnant and living in the dorms when everybody else was out having fun. I cried for a long time. It was hard to imagine that I was not going to have a ‘normal’ college life.
“One night when I was crying, my dad (Chuck) said, ‘You’re not going to miss anything. You’re just taking a different path.’ It definitely grounded me as a person.”
James Koby Sandau was born May 15, 2008, just under five pounds and a month premature.
“It was tougher when he was younger and would cry all night,” said Sandau of school and motherhood. “You just get through it.”
Now Koby is a blond-haired, brown-eyed happy bundle of energy who likes baseball, football and loves his soccer. His best friend might be his eighth-grade uncle Noah. And Koby receives plenty of attention from a whole team of soccer players.
It was Trentham who searched the Internet and prepared a list of successful college athletes who returned after having a child. And it was Trentham who allowed Sandau to come back at her own pace the next fall for her sophomore season.
“I give Don all the credit,” she said. “He never once gave me the option of not playing.”
After Koby was born, Sandau returned to the soccer field in the summer and played for a coed team. It didn’t go as planned.
“I remember crying,” she said said, managing a smile. “You feel slow, you feel like you can’t move. That was kind of depressing. I didn’t understand how I was going to play college soccer again.”
Sandau came to fall camp that August trying to play catch-up.
“I was not in the shape the other girls were. I was always behind in the fitness drills,” said the 21-year-old. “But Don never held that against me or said anything. He worked with me until I was back to normal.”
Sandau estimates she returned to full speed the following spring.
Since Koby’s arrival, her days start early and end late. Sandau gets up with her son, attends classes, comes home to change for practice and returns home. Her mother Carrie watches Koby during the day, and if needed, Sandau will call a teammate for help.
“I’ve got plenty of options,” she said.
“Road trips are the toughest,” Sandau continued. “But now he’s at an age where he can talk to me on the phone and tell me about his day. I can’t say enough about my parents and family (which includes another sister Mattie) for all their support.”
Sandau, who is no longer involved with Koby’s father, plans to graduate in another year with a degree in elementary education with a minor in childhood development. On the field, she ranks among the top 10 for career goals and assists, is part of the first four-year group of players to have a winning record for their careers and is on a team that is within reach of making the NCAA Division II national tournament for the first time in the program’s 15-year history.
“I’m proud of the whole experience,’’ said Sandau. “Of being able to finish four years of college soccer, having my son. The whole thing has been very rewarding. You gain perspective. Do I need that new shirt or does he need diapers? I don’t regret anything and I wouldn’t change anything.”
And when things are the toughest, there is Koby, at mom’s games.
“I like seeing him on the sideline,” said Sandau, her face lighting up with pride. “I can hear him shout, ‘Mommy,’ and see him jump up and down.’’
His presence also helps temper the tough losses.
“You have to get over the losses faster. There are other aspects in life,” she said. “I’ve had some ups and downs in life, just like my soccer career. But as soon as the game is over, I’m mommy again.”
And sometimes, there is an upside to the end of a long day.
“I definitely like night time,” Sandau said. “That’s cuddle time.”