Her freshman year, Sofia Aidemark did not make straight As. Perhaps understandable, since the student from Sweden wasn't so fluent in English. But she thought, I can make all As.
The result? The golfing star, sporting a 3.97 GPA, became UNCG's first international student to be Phi Beta Kappa.
Phi Beta Kappa is the most prestigious honor society at colleges and universities.
Another memorable moment came in her freshman year. A teammate couldn't play, so she stepped in. It was her first tournament. I had 74 in the first round. It gave my coach a shock.
She has grown a lot in her four years the best four years of my life.
And learned a lot. Like what? I've learned about being indepenent, work ethic, a new language [English]. She has a different view now, she says.
In her final tournament, the SoCon Championship, she scored a 79 in the first round. Not so good I was kind of mad. Coach said, Come on, just enjoy it.
The next round, a sparkling 73 pushed her into contention.
But the final round began with a disappointing front nine. Her coach told her to just enjoy the back nine. She resolved that she would. She finished 11th and has no regrets. I'm satisfied.
She is embarking on a career in health communications. She wants to work with health campaigns to promote healthy eating and nutrition.
Just before commencement, she spoke of some things she has learned, on and off the course:
- Put things in perspective. I don't react to bad shots look at Tiger Woods at Augusta [where at The Masters he made plenty of bad shots].
- Don't overanalyze when putting. Don't read putts from five different angles. Just two and trust it.
- Once you're starting your putt, just worry about speed. You've found your line [already] … It's all about speed [at that point].
- Putting is the key to golf. Half of the shots are putts. So that's where you should spend the most time.
- Driving should be the easiest part of game. There's never a bad lie. You choose the height of the tee. Trees in the way? Not when driving. No excuses just hit it straight.
- I'm trying too hard if I don't hit the fairway. Hit at 85 percent of capacity. Don't try to hit it your hardest.
- In the sand? The rough? Play smart. Don't think you'll play like Tiger Woods. I have a problem with that. I think it'll go over the water and [other obstacles] and [stop] next to the flag. Coach says, Chip out onto the fairway and take the extra stroke.
- Never give up. I've had rounds with triple bogies and double bogies, and come in just over par. You can come back.
The men's tennis team had never advanced to the NCAA Tournament. This year, they made it.
First, they had to be a top-four SoCon team to make it into the SoCon tournament. They finished as the number three seed.
They advanced to the championship match, which Coach Thomas Mozur refers to as a a long, hard-fought day.
Heavy rains changed the location and time leading them to switch the order and start with singles instead of doubles matches. If one team was up 4-2 after singles, there'd be no reason to play the doubles matches. (The team winning two of the three doubles matches receives one point.)
At the end of singles against Elon, it was tied 3-3.
On to doubles.
On Court One, the Spartans won. On Court Two, the Spartans lost.
Both teams and all spectators gathered around Court Three. The third and fourth seeds, Yaroslav Litus and Jacob Wright, were locked in 4-4 nailbiter against Elon. First team to eight would win the set. The SoCon championship and a trip to the NCAAs hung in the balance.
We usually line up at the last match as a team, and cheer them on, Mozur says. But there's usually not this much riding on each volley.
It was very exciting.
Litus and Wright surged to an 8-5 victory.
It was an exciting way to win. It came down to the wire, Mozur says.
In the NCAAs, the Spartans faced tennis powerhouse Georgia at Georgia. The Bulldogs won handily. But the Spartans had been part of a special season.
We've just steadily improved Mozur says. If you keep year after year plugging away … something good was going to happen.
Mozur says the challenge is to position themselves as a top-tier SoCon team every year. Now our goal is to stay in this position.
When a softball pitcher starts off a game with two straight strikeouts then gets the third hitter to fly out to left field, that's a good start.
Pitcher Amber Harrell gets congratulations from her teammates as they all gather with Coach Herzig coming off the field. She takes a spot at the dugout beside assistant coach Vanessa Oakes Williams. Williams holds the team record for strikeouts in a career. At least she will for about five more minutes. She gives Harrell a high-five.
UNCG scores two then the nine head back to the field. Coach Herzig, as she always does, meets the pitcher at the mound. She speaks with her, pops the ball into her glove. The infielders gather at the mound.
A tip. Strike one. A check swing. Strike two. Struck out looking. The strikeout record is tied.
Strike one, the batter getting a pitch she evidently did not expect. Ball one, outside. Ball two, outside. Foul tip on a fastball. The next one's in the dirt, full count. Next pitch, fouled down the third base line toward the Western Carolina coach, Christine Hornak '98, who holds the Spartan record for career ERA and the single-season record for strikeouts.
Harrell zips a fast one. Strike three. The crowd stands, as they hear Ladies and gentlemen, that strikeout was the record-setting 566th of pitcher Amber Harrell's career, making her UNCG's new career strikeout leader. Congratulations, Amber Harrell! Herzig and her teammates gather around her for a brief moment.
In the stands, her mom, Karen Harrell, surrounded by other moms, had been diligently keeping her scorecard. Donny Harrell stands with other dads along the rail. They accept pats and congratulations from the other parents. Why didn't I have my camera out? is the first thing Karen says. She'd charged it in the car all the way from Georgia, where they'd left at 6 a.m. for the weekend series. Oh well. She knows she'll get a picture or video from someone.
Harrell retires the side and is greeted with a big smile and high five from Vanessa. More congrats from teammates. As the first hitter comes up, Donny steps down to the edge of the dugout for a quick word and a hug.
Then he rejoins the fathers.
Amber returns to her usual spot beside Vanessa. An 82 degree spring day. A big lead. Slight breeze. Surrounded by teammates you bond with, caring coaches, loving parents, supportive fans. In four weeks she'll graduate.
At that moment, she does not know the team will finish on a hot streak, advancing into the SoCon tournament. And then will spend her commencement day reaching the final round for the first time ever. That though the team will finish as runner-up, she will be named the tournament's most valuable player. She'll finish her career with 657 strikeouts and the season with 214, the second-most in a single season.
On this April day, one thing is top of mind with the Spartans. It's still early in the game there's a lead to protect.
The Spartan wrestlers have never had an All-American.
But boy, did they come close in March.
The season's story begins with a large group of underclassmen, pushing the upperclassmen to be at the top of the game as Coach Jason Loukides describes it, a large group of hungry people [giving] a push from behind.
This is a team that finished third at the SoCon two years ago. It finished second at the SoCon a year ago. This year they took the title their first.
Three wrestlers earned bids to the NCAA tournament: Ivan Lopouchanski, Victor Hojilla and Byron Sigmon. Andrew Saunders, who'd finished in third place, got an at-large bid.
Four wrestlers going to the NCAAs was the largest number for the Spartans since 2006.
The Spartan advancing the furthest at the NCAAs was Saunders. He is from Illinois, where wrestling in front of big crowds is common. He'd wrestled there since age 8. It was crazy, he said, referring to the crowd, but I wasn't nervous.
He lost once on the first day, but I came back my second day. One of the three matches the second day was against the Chattanooga opponent who'd cut short his run at the SoCon. This time, I reversed him and pinned him a big win for me. The next opponent he beat 7-6. But now he faced the local favorite, Phil Keddy of Iowa. The winner would be All-American.
15,000 [were] watching 11,000 were from in town, Loukides says. They were cheering the local guy. Saunders came up 9 points short.
He was really strong. I'm working on getting stronger, says Saunders.
When it comes down to it, it's you. An opponent. And the mat.
The way I see it, it's an individual sport, Byron Sigmon says. If you compete the best you can, you'll help the team out. It's just you and the other guy.
Saunders agrees. It's more of an individual sport first. It's you out there, he says. But it's a team sport too. You're doing workouts and weightlifting together. You start to make good bonds, close friendships.
Loukides explains that watching teammates win exerts a positive pressure for you to excel. So does seeing teammates joining you for 6 a.m. training sessions. Yet, ultimately, unlike with many other sports, your success or failure isn't dependent on what a teammate does.
You control your own destiny, Loukides says. The crowd can cheer, teammates can shout encouragement, but … Your manhood is on the line. It's you. You have to take responsibility.
Know almost nothing about rugby? More than half of UNCG's players over the years were in the same boat until they joined the club team.
I'd never played before, says Spencer Dockery.
How many have never played? Probably a majority, says Mike Rando. I just came out. I didn't know how to play. I had no idea what I was doing. He's had two broken wrists, a separated shoulder, and he loves it. There's nothing else like it.
Rugby's a rough sport, like football without the pads. The intensity itself is part of what creates your bond with teammates, Dockery explains.
It's a bond that extends beyond the rugby pitch. We bust our (behinds) and then we go out. There's the camaraderie with teammates and with other teams. They often have a meal with the opposing team. Rugby is in their blood as well.
Every Homecoming Weekend, one of the biggest events on campus is the Alumni Game. Players fly in from all over the country and a few from abroad, says Andy Stacy. The team was founded in 1977, and there are lots of stories to tell over refreshments and roasted pig. About that one time a team came from England and the epic victory for UNCG. About the founding members. There's a lot of folklore, Dockery says.
And then there's the game itself, where the older guys mix it up with the younger ones. At the end of the evening, they're bruised, spent and smiling.
The club team this past year did its share of smiling too. In the fall, they swept through the N.C. Rugby Union tournament to become state champions in their division, defeating the Duke team for the title. In the spring, they won the Dogwood League trophy, going undefeated until they lost to the defending divisional national champion, Coastal Carolina, in the South Championship tournament in Nashville.
They have a great coach Jeremy Linne. And UNCG Rugby Alumni President Jim Wilkie '79 organized the purchase of equipment like a scrum sled, uprights (goalposts) and a scoreboard.
They practice three days a week and play on the weekend. My whole schedule revolves around it, says Crawford Miller.
They're a band of brothers. Miller hears the old stories and knows I'll be a part of that.
I'll keep in touch with these guys the rest of my life, Dockery adds.
See details at the UNCG Men's Rugby web site
Last year, men's basketball took on six Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
What do you do for an encore? The Spartans are taking on seven. And one will be the defending national champion, Duke.
Four of the contests against ACC opponents will be at home, in the Greensboro Coliseum.
The Spartans will host Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami and Florida State as part of their home schedule.
For season ticket information, email the UNCG Athletics Ticket Office.