Dec. 16, 2011
By Shawn Sell
College graduation for many signals the beginning of a new chapter in one's life. Often, the next adventure takes grads into "The Real World" while others choose to continue their schooling. At last weekend's Fall Quarter graduation at UC, eight graduates, who also happened to be student-athletes, took the first steps in that new chapter.
Of the graduates, each has their own plan for what their next move will be. For two, the dream of continuing their athletic pursuits on a professional level is imminent. For two others, continuing to represent the Bearcat Family in a coaching capacity is immediate. But each departs their undergrad days at UC with a story to tell, each unique to their own experience.
For former volleyball All-American Stephanie Niemer, a native of nearby Erlanger, Kentucky staying close to home proved to the right decision for her. Quite possibly the greatest UC Volleyball player ever, Niemer attributes the enjoyment and success of her career to the coaching staff that brought her to campus a handful of years ago.
"My four years at UC, I was given an opportunity I probably couldn't have gotten at other places I could have gone to play," she says. "I got to go to Brazil, Hawaii twice and I think I played for the coaches that brought the best out of me. I don't think I would have performed as well at another school. I just think the coaching staff did a good job working with me and making me better. I attribute a lot of it to the coaching staff for the great experience that I had."
Like Niemer, another local product, tennis player Lindsey Lonergan, also enjoyed her time in Clifton. But unlike her fellow Bearcat, Lonergan took a bit of a scenic route to graduation at UC.
"I played two years at Michigan State and then transferred to UC so there are a lot of differences being away from home and then coming back home to play," she says. "I think my experience was a lot better at UC because I was at home and having my family to support me and knowing more people. Overall, I had a really good experience by being at home and being a part of the UC family."
While many of the graduated student-athletes enjoyed success in their respective sport throughout their career, reaching graduation was still the number one objective for each student-athlete. John Hughes, who hopes to be playing in the National Football League by this time next year, is no exception.
"Coming to UC it was my number one goal to graduate," he admits. "I felt as if I did anything at UC whether it was football-wise or school, I had to get my degree no matter what. I also promised my Grandma coming into college (that I would)."
Hughes, who has enjoyed an outstanding senior season on the Bearcats' defensive line, is looking to take his talents to the next level in 2012, but if not, he already has a fall back plan in mind.
"I want to take my shot at the league, that's my goal," he says. "If not, with my degree I have a back-up plan. If football doesn't work, I want to try to become a parole officer."
While Hughes will attempt to go pro, one graduate that definitely is going to is Niemer. Weeks after her last collegiate match in 2010, Niemer left school to join a professional volleyball squad in Puerto Rico. At the conclusion of the season, she returned to Cincinnati to finish her marketing degree (while doubling as a student assistant coach) but just days after graduation, she was back on the Caribbean island for another pro season.
"I am returning to the same team I played for last year in Puerto Rico," she says. I was talking to a couple of different teams but the team I played for last year gave me the best situation and best offer. I am playing with two other Americans this year which is great. It is a familiar place to play and I have a year under my belt. I am excited to be returning to the same team and a familiar situation."
While Hughes and Niemer are chasing their professional playing dreams, grads Lonergan and Sam Slavik (baseball) are taking steps to launch coaching careers, while staying in the place they've called home the last four years. Lonergan, recently accepted into grad school for human resources will serve as a grad assistant to head tennis coach Angela Wilson. Slavik meanwhile, will spend the spring as a volunteer assistant for his alma mater on the diamond. Both are excited and thankful for the opportunities they've been given.
"I am really excited; there is no reason to go out in the real world yet so I am super excited to get to be in grad school and then still be a part of the tennis team," Lonergan says. "I think I will still miss it a lot and so I am excited to get to help out and be on the other side as opposed to being a player. I didn't think coaching was something I wanted to do growing up, but now that I've gotten into it, I've seen a different side of it and I really like it."
"Now that my playing career is over, I've been given the opportunity to move into the coaching aspect of it," Slavik adds. "Cincinnati has given me a real opportunity to be the volunteer assistant here and the opportunity to learn and develop my coach ability.
"Coaching has always kind of been in the back of my mind that I would enjoy it," he continues. "As graduation and the end of my playing days came, I realized that it was something that I would really enjoy doing."
On December 10th, eight UC student-athletes began the next chapter of their lives by graduating and receiving their degree. As each moves on and pursues their individual dreams and passions on campus and away, they will each continue to represent the Bearcat Family each step of the way.
2011 Fall Quarter Student-Athlete Graduates
Sam Slavik (Biology)
Tomaz Hilton (Criminal Justice)
John Hughes (Criminal Justice)
Wesley Richardson (Criminal Justice)
Lindsey Lonergan (Communications)
Track & Field
Natasha Burse (Psychology-Biopsychology)
Sharika Thompson (Communications)
Stephanie Niemer (Marketing)