UNC student athlete Loren Shealy in a class of her own

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Loren Shealy is a Robertson Scholar on the field hockey team.

Sophomore field hockey player Loren Shealy is good. Team Rookie of the Year good. Seeing significant playing time in all 25 games on a national runner-up team good. But Shealy has never had an athletic scholarship.

Now she doesn’t need one.

While Shealy strives to improve on the field and meet expectations set by the coaching staff, she is busy breaking new ground in her academics.

Shealy is not only a UNC student athlete, but in spring 2013, she will concurrently be a student at her team’s opponent in its ACC opener tonight — Duke.

This isn’t some kind of NCAA violation. Shealy is simply the first UNC student athlete to be admitted to the prestigious Robertson Scholars Program.

‘Didn’t even look into it’

Instead of enjoying all the perks of a second-semester high school senior, Shealy graduated early and enrolled at North Carolina for the spring semester to begin spring practice with coach Karen Shelton’s six-time national championship field hockey program.

Because she enrolled at UNC a semester early, Shealy didn’t even consider applying for one of the university’s renowned academic scholarships.

“I didn’t even look into it,” Shealy said. “I just came to play field hockey and start practicing with the squad before my first season of eligibility — I hadn’t even thought about it.”

But as coordinators of the Robertson Scholars Program began to encourage coaches to find current first-year players interested in applying to the program, Shelton immediately thought of Shealy.

So, at the suggestion of her coach, Shealy began the application process in January 2012 and was admitted to the program three months later.

Jumping right in

The program accepts approximately 18 Duke and 18 UNC students every year. One of its main tenets is collaboration between the two institutions — from extracurricular enrichment programs to the special Robertson Express Bus that runs between the two campuses.

If the all-inclusive financial award — full tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees, valued at over $155,000 for out-of-state UNC students — isn’t enticing enough, the program also funds three summer enrichment trips.

“I’m jumping right into it,” Shealy said. “This summer I spent partially involved in what they call a community summer, so I spent it in rural Mississippi with seven other scholars. I was working in a place called St. Gabriel’s (Mercy Center), and I was doing a youth summer enrichment program.”

Though the scholarship provides structured trips for first- and second-year students, the third summer is self-designed, and students use it to explore their interests and make connections.

“I’m a business major, so I’m really interested in finance, and I’d like to be able to go abroad and do something with that,” Shealy said. “That’s where the Robertson Program really helps. They have connections all over the world.”

Past projects completed by Robertson Scholars during the summer exploration include starting an all-girls boarding school in Kenya and participating in physics research at the world’s largest particle accelerator in Switzerland.

In addition to spending time in various parts of the world, scholars must also spend the second semester of their sophomore year away from their home university.

Being a NCAA Division-I athlete with spring practice and training responsibilities doesn’t exempt Shealy from that requirement — she’ll be living and attending classes at Duke in the spring.

A Tobacco Road commute

When people hear about Shealy’s status as a dual UNC-Duke student, the first reaction is usually the same.

But will she play field hockey for UNC and Duke?
Shealy simply laughs and shakes her head.

“I’m totally Carolina all the way,” she said. “There would be no way to play at both schools.”

But this spring, Shealy will make the 11-mile commute between the two schools to attend field hockey practice once a day.

“It’s not that bad of a drive, she said. “Making it twice a day shouldn’t be too tough, but I haven’t done it yet, so I’m not entirely sure how it will work. But I’ll make sure that classes won’t fall around practice times. If I have to do workouts on my own, I can do that.”

Spring workouts are critical in building on the successes of the previous season.

In Shealy’s standout freshman campaign, she scored four goals and had two assists. She has already scored three goals this season, including two in UNC’s 6-1 defeat of Cornell on Sept. 2.

A balancing act

Balancing the workload of a business major with the grueling schedule of a college athlete is no easy feat, but it’s familiar territory for Shealy.

As a three-sport athlete at Charlotte Country Day, Shealy learned crucial time-management skills at an early age.

“Some people go home and turn on the TV after practice, and I can’t do that,” Shealy said. “I’ve got to study. I take field hockey as my time to relax and not think about school and not think about the other commitments that I have.”

This semester, Shealy is enrolled in 15 hours, including four 400-level business classes. Though she is required to dedicate a significant amount of time to field hockey, Shealy is still able to allocate enough time to her schoolwork to maintain a pristine academic record — she has earned all A’s since arriving at UNC.

The success of her balancing act hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“She definitely has a different lifestyle than the rest of us,” sophomore midfielder Abby Frey said. “She definitely has a tougher workload, and it shows. She’s constantly studying. The minute we get to our hotel, she’s in the lobby studying and doing homework.
“It’s really inspiring to see how she can manage doing all that and also being able to come here and play hockey with us.”

Shelton is also impressed with Shealy’s ability to juggle her busy schedule.

“She’s just really focused, yet she doesn’t ever appear to be overwhelmed or different,” Shelton said. “She’s just like everyone else, and I think that’s one of the most remarkable things about her.”

Shealy is a constant fixture on the Dean’s List and is on the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Shealy was named her high school’s scholar athlete of the year in 2010-11.

Academia, then athletics

Field hockey brought Shealy to North Carolina, but it will be the scholarship that keeps her coming back for more.

“Field hockey you can’t play forever,” Shealy said. “You’ve got to get a job at some point, and my coach would kill me for saying this, but I’ve always thought about academics before hockey.
“They’re both very equal in my mind, but you’ve always got to think about what’s after college. And for me, that’s going to be working, hopefully somewhere in the finance realm.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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