Current Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2014 13:08:47 -0400
In her freshman year, North Carolina’s Loren Shealy became the school’s first student athlete to be named a Robertson Scholar. The next year, she was the second leading scorer on the 2012 NCAA Tournament runner-up field hockey team.
But her most recent accomplishment — Sports Illustrated’s Female College Athlete of the Year — might be her most impressive one yet.
Early in the spring, SportsIllustrated.com executive editor B.J. Schecter and a group of his colleagues began a search for the perfect college athlete — one who embodied the best qualities of both academics and athletics.
By the end of their search, they found Shealy.
“We were looking for somebody that really had that balance,” Schecter said. “We saw that Loren demonstrated the best of both worlds.
“She seemed to excel in everything she did.”
Coach Karen Shelton said she didn’t even know about the award until Shealy was announced as a finalist, but she wasn’t surprised to hear that Shealy was the winner.
Shelton, who encouraged Shealy to apply for the Robertson Scholars program, said she stays closely connected with her players’ academics.
“Loren is an exceptional student athlete,” Shelton said.
“When you have an exceptional student athlete and they get nominated for awards, it’s not surprising.”
But Shealy wasn’t quite as confident in herself as her coach was. She said she wasn’t sure what, exactly, the award meant and didn’t know anything about the selection process.
“I never expected it to be me … I was shocked,” Shealy said. “A lot of other people that were nominated are just incredible athletes.”
But this award wasn’t just about being an athlete. It was about having the complete package, and that’s what Schecter said he and his fellow editors were looking for.
“There are so many outstanding athletes and, more importantly, student athletes that people are not going to see or hear about,” Schecter said. “There are plenty of awards out there that recognize the best player in each sport.
“We wanted this to be everything and be unique.”
In the eyes of the Sports Illustrated editors, Shealy — who graduated high school a semester early to come to UNC and get a jump-start on training and academics — epitomized the criteria because she wasn’t just coming to North Carolina to be an athlete.
She was coming to be a student, too.
“I thought it would be a great way to challenge myself academically,” Shealy said. “But I wasn’t really focused on that. I was focused on my first year of eligibility.
“I really wanted to make an impact in that first season … it paid off.”
And Schecter said that’s just what this award is all about.
“It’s not just a scholar athlete,” he said. “It’s not just the best athlete.
“It’s a combination of both.”
And this year, it’s Loren Shealy.