With fall sports still uncertain due to the pandemic, it can be hard for athletes to look ahead — and especially hard to reflect on their time as Tar Heels.
But Eva Smolenaars, a two time national champion with the North Carolina field hockey team, and Alex Milligan and Emmeline Fisher, both leaders on North Carolina cross country teams, shared how their time at UNC changed them and what they hope to leave behind.
Hard work was a common theme between the athletes, and each spoke about their work ethic and how it paid off for them in their ascent to the top of their respective sports.
Milligan said the increased level of competition between high school and college pushed him to work harder.
“Talent gets beat by people that work really hard and that’s definitely true at the college level,” Milligan said. “You can’t just rest on your laurels — you have to be driving the next day.”
On the field hockey team, Smolenaars was a key part of leading the Tar Heels to 46 consecutive wins over the last two years. For her, hard work was the biggest part of creating a team culture.
“What I always try to emphasize on with my younger teammates is that hard work, in my opinion, is the most important part because we’re a team and we count on each other,” Smolenaars said. “So you can never really quit.”
Fisher transferred from UNCW after the 2017 cross country season. She said UNC pushed her out of her comfort zone and helped her grow as both an athlete and a person.
“Here at UNC, everyone wants to be the absolute best that they can be, and so that’s just been the biggest thing for me,” Fisher said. “Being surrounded by such a positive environment has made me want to be even better.”
Each athlete said they wanted to be remembered for their hard work and being a team player, rather than individual achievements.
Milligan, who came to UNC in 2016, said he believed both the men's and women's cross country programs made strides this year to be a future powerhouse in the ACC. He said he wants his legacy to be that of a leader who helped plant the seeds for future success.
“(I want to be) someone who helped drive the change and helped push this program to the next level where it looks like it’s going to be,” Milligan said. “I just want people to remember I was there when it started to get good again and I was one of the guys who helped drive it there.”
Fisher said she wanted to serve as a beacon of hope for future runners that hard work can help an athlete achieve anything
“I worked really hard and if you believe in yourself and want to be good you can get there,” Fisher said. “I think for me when I came in, I wasn’t a top runner when I came in, it took me awhile and I felt I definitely had to work really hard to get to where I’m at.”
As a leader of the field hockey team, Smolenaars said she wanted to be remembered for her selfless, team-first mentality.
“I hope that they remember me as someone who was a leader on the field, but also was willing to dedicate extra time and effort for it and wants to become the best player possible,” Smolenaars said. “I think it’s important that my teammates feel like they can always come to me and know I’m a team player and that I will always be with them on the front line to work my ass off.”
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