Juggling being an athlete and a college student is far from easy. The demands of integrating athletic competition, academic success and personal growth are challenging. But these four Spartan athletes and soon-to-be graduates have proven to be champions both in the classroom and in their sport.
This year, a record 182 UNC Greensboro student-athletes were named to the 2020-21 Southern Conference academic honor roll, including Katie Stettler, Jillian Felton, Stephanie Meysembourg, and Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper.
In addition, the Spartans had 68 student-athletes earn a commissioners’ medal with 16 of them earning a 4.0 grade point average, including Stettler and Meysembourg.
And outside of the classroom, the four athletes have surpassed both personal and program records, leading their teammates to victory on multiple occasions.
Learn more about each graduate, their time at UNCG, and their future goals:
Stettler’s softball career ended with helping UNCG win a Southern Conference tournament championship and participate in the 2021 NCAA Division I softball championship tournament.
It’s the dream of every athlete who competes in a sport to play at a high level and be part of a special program. The softball success was a bonus because she enjoyed being challenged in the classroom and excelling.
“I transferred here from a four-year university that was very small and did not have a competitive softball program,” Stettler said. “I wanted to play on a competitive team and loved the atmosphere here. I then learned about the kinesiology program and thought it would be a perfect fit.
“During my second year here, I took organic chemistry with an awesome professor and became obsessed with the idea of chemistry and putting puzzles together. This inspired me to add chemistry as a second major. Finally, I followed another passion of mine by adding a minor in psychology to make me a double major in kinesiology and chemistry.”
As a student-athlete, Stettler understood the demands of balancing school and playing. It was hard, but she found her sweet spot.
“Finding a balance between my classes and being a student-athlete took a lot of discipline and time management,” Stettler said. “I set very high academic goals for myself and worked hard to maintain a schedule that allowed me to achieve both my academic and athletic goals. I think the hardest part, a part that many people do not consider, was finding balance. It was difficult to reach this balance; however, once I figured out how to be a person outside of my student-athlete requirements, it made juggling everything much easier.”
Stettler was a beast on the softball field for the Spartans especially in 2021 as they set a single-season program record with 90 home runs. Stettler was a part of a historic seventh inning outburst against Elon where the Spartans hit five home runs. Stettler had 12 extra-base hits (seven home runs, three doubles, and two triples).
One of her best plays was a diving catch in right field to take a hit away from a UNCW batter. She also homered in the SoCon championship game against Western Carolina. It was one of a SoCon tournament-record six home runs UNCG hit in the contest.
However, her biggest accomplishment was being named the Pinnacle Award winner along with her teammate Jordan Gontram. That award is presented to the student-athlete on the championship-winning team with the highest grade point average.
The Powhatan, Virginia native has major plans once she earns her UNCG degree.
“I plan to be “a chemistry nerd” for a little while before applying to medical school,” Stettler said. “Once I am a doctor, I plan on pursuing psychiatry, specializing in PTSD, and working with veterans.”
Stettler has reached all her goals and made an impact during her time in the blue-and-gold. She made friendships for life and created memories that will make her smile during tough moments while pursuing her passion.
“My advice would be to find your person,” Stettler said. “Find one good friend, even among your twenty teammates, and do life with them. Get excited for them, show up for them, make memories with them, and rely on them. Building that friendship will get you through some of your toughest times here and having someone be your biggest fan, while you are theirs, is something so special. I ended up forming a few of those friendships throughout my time here and those are the friendships that will last a lifetime.”
By Rob Knox, UNCG Athletics
Jillian Felton of the women’s cross country team will be wrapping up her running career this December.
After transferring from Florida Gulf Coast University last fall, she was looking to complete her final two years of competitive running with a different experience here at UNCG.
Felton will graduate with a degree in psychology. Her goal is to work with children as a school psychologist or as a teacher.
“Learning about the brain and people; psychology has been a cool avenue to go down because not only did I learn about people, but it also gave me the option for almost anything post-graduation,” said Felton.
The native of Crystal River, Florida found it difficult to balance academics and athletics in the beginning.
“It was a learning process. For me, it was important to remember how much I loved the sport and how much I cared about my education. It is easier to work hard at something if you care about it and this was how I encouraged myself to balance it all in the right manner.”
“This season was probably my favorite because we got to return to racing normally and travel as a team. I loved being able to run together whether it was a workout at Hamilton Lakes or a long run at Salem Lake.”
Felton competed in the Southern Conference Cross Country Championship last semester when athletics returned to action. This year, Felton competed in five of the team’s six meets, including running a career-best time at the five-kilometer Louisville Classic clocking in a time of 18:48.3, which was 196th overall.
She also completed the six-kilometer East Carolina University Pirate Invitational with a career-best time of 23:30.3 placing 23rd overall. Felton ran in two SoCon Cross Country Championships as a Spartan.
“My advice to future student-athletes would be to genuinely enjoy your time as a student-athlete. I figured out this season how to let go of the pressure and just have fun with my team. It is important to have a positive outlook on the opportunity in front of you because you get to compete in the sport you love and make many relationships while doing it.”
By Denise Archetto, UNCG Athletics
Volleyball senior Stephanie Meysembourg will conclude her volleyball career after four years of wearing the Blue and Gold.
Meysembourg, a defensive specialist, came to Greensboro from Noblesville, Ind. to major in Kinesiology.
“I chose UNCG because I wanted to experience life outside of the Midwest,” said Meysembourg. “When I came to UNCG for the first time I fell in love with the campus and North Carolina as a whole. Another big reason I chose UNCG and chose to major in Kinesiology here was that I knew they had a good Kinesiology program with professors who care about our development as learners and as professionals.”
Meysembourg has appeared in 96 matches in her time as a Spartan. She has tallied 754 digs and dished out 82 assists. Behind the service line, she has notched 64 aces, including a career-high five against North Carolina A&T this season.
During her time at UNCG, was named to the SoCon Academic All-Conference team twice, the All-SoCon Honor Roll, earned the Commissioner’s Medal for a 4.0 GPA and earned the Spartan Strength Award twice. Stephanie is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Golden Chain Honor Society.
“Juggling school and volleyball had its challenges, it is no easy task by any means,” said Meysembourg. “I am grateful for the experience as a student-athlete because it has forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to grow as a student and a person.”
In her four years at UNCG, Meysembourg has made many memories with her teammates and friends. “My favorite memory at UNCG has been this year when we were SoCon regular-season champions and made it to post-season play for the first time in my career!”
This past fall, Meysembourg helped UNCG enjoy a campaign to cherish with 23 victories, which was tied for the third-most in a single-season since joining Division I volleyball.
After graduating from UNCG, Meysembourg plans to take a gap year to work and gain experience to prepare for PA school.
“My advice to younger student-athletes would be to enjoy this time and don’t take anything for granted,” said Meysembourg. “These four years go by way too fast and before you know it it’ll be you being recognized on senior night and your turn to walk across the stage.”
By Jesika Moore, UNCG Athletics
UNCG women’s soccer goalkeeper Aiyanah Tyler-Cooper will be accomplishing her dream of continuing her soccer career post-graduation in December after an impressive career with the Spartans.
“Growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, I played basketball, soccer, and did gymnastics,” stated Tyler-Cooper. “Sports were always in my life and with being a UVA fan, I knew I wanted to compete and play at the Division I level.”
Tyler-Cooper was looking for a home away from home.
“UNCG was a place that felt like an extremely inclusive environment when I first visited, and I couldn’t wait to be part of a strong foundation and be on a competitive team that worked hard each day.”
Tyler-Cooper will earn her degree in biology this year. She has always enjoyed learning about science, specifically the human body and genes.
“Honestly, juggling studies and being a student-athlete wasn’t too difficult for me, although there were times when my plate was very full. I had to balance academics and athletics from a young age when I played club soccer and traveled for basketball. The transition to college wasn’t that much different.”
Tyler-Cooper utilized the resources on campus to help her stay organized and balance the workload even more.
“Having a required study hall my freshman year helped a lot because I was able to create a good schedule for me between my classes, trainings, and games. My academic coaches and professors have also played important roles in helping me succeed in both the classroom and on the field. They were very flexible with meetings, offered tutoring, and provided great advice on how to manage my time efficiently.”
The goalkeeper has seen her name climb UNCG’s record books in a few categories. On October 22 against ETSU at the UNCG Soccer Stadium, Tyler-Cooper earned a spot at the top of the all-time career saves list and has totaled 360 saves in her five seasons. She also is tied for second in career shutouts, tallying 25, while among the SoCon she is tied for sixth with Jennifer Stillman ’06. Tyler-Cooper ranks fourth all-time in goalkeeper minutes playing 6,444:13 and fifth in goals against average with 1.08.
Tyler-Cooper started in 70 of 73 games played in her career. As a sophomore, she was named to the All-Southern Conference (SoCon) Second Team. She was nominated for the Senior CLASS Award for her work in the classroom, in the community, and on the field. Tyler-Cooper is a two-time SoCon Champion, winning in 2017 and 2018. She was named the team Rookie of the Year and Hero Sports “Hero of the Week”.
“My favorite memory in the Blue and Gold is being back-to-back SoCon Champions. We were underdogs my freshman year and then we defended our title, which were surreal experiences for me. Sharing all that joy and having the hard work pay off with all my teammates and coaches pushed me past my limits to make me better.”
Tyler-Cooper was part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), the Black Student-Athlete Association, Athletes for Activism, and earned her spot on the Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity. She earned All-SoCon honor roll accolades last year.
“Unfortunately, I tore my medial and lateral meniscus, ACL and MCL, my junior year and shortly after decided to take my medical redshirt the week before COVID-19 sent us all home. It felt like the right decision for me because of the goals I wanted to accomplish in my time being here: playing for a championship and furthering my career on the pitch overseas.”
A few weeks ago, Tyler-Cooper signed with FC Málaga Feminino and will join the team in Spain in January.
“Following a few years overseas, I plan to come back to the states for PA school.”
Tyler-Cooper, who has always had a way with words shared some advice to future Spartans, “Live in the moment and enjoy each minute through every up and down. Your college years fly by very quickly and each instance helps build you as a person and prepares you for that next chapter in life.”
These stories originally appeared on uncgspartans.com.