In the stillness of the pre-dawn morning, alarm clock sirens break the silence for an elite group of SMU Cox students who seize these sleep-defying moments to hit the track, the court, or even the books. Each year, several dozen female athletes are enrolled in Cox School. These women embody the competitive spirit of SMU through their pursuits in volleyball, basketball, tennis, soccer, rowing, swimming and equestrian sports. Often waking between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. to put in four hours of training before a full day of classes, these athletes put most of our jam-packed calendars to shame. Following their afternoon classes, they plow into homework, group projects and perhaps even more practice. Meanwhile, otherwise carefree weekends tend to be dominated by games and competitions.

“I take advantage of all 24 hours of the day,” says soccer player and accounting major Mary Meehan (BBA ’20). “It takes a lot of self-discipline and a strong work ethic.” On the road, she and her teammates share the experience of being a college athlete. “We often work together in the airport, on the bus or plane and in the hotel lobbies when traveling for games. It’s helpful having other people on the team that are taking Cox classes.”

Time management is a critical skill that serves them well. Soccer teammate and finance major Hailey Bishop (BBA ’20) admits, “Honestly I think it’s almost easier to manage when you have less time. I’m always busy and my time is split either working for school or practicing for soccer.” Volleyball player Kendall Patterson (BBA ’20) prioritizes her time with extreme care. “I keep a planner and write out all of my practice times, assignments, travel schedules and exam dates.” This skill is critical since she is pursuing dual degrees in marketing as well as sport management.

“The toughest lesson I’ve had to learn in college is that it is ok to say ‘no,’” says swimmer and Cox accounting major Ashley Mercadel (BBA ’19). “Learning which opportunities to take advantage of has made college life a lot easier.”

Life Coaching

All athletes interviewed said they were first students, then athletes. Even if their athletic passions initially brought them to SMU’s campus, it was often the academic reputation that closed the deal. Tennis player and Cox double major (finance and economics) Sarai Delfina Monarrez Yesaki (BBA ’20) said that during the recruiting process, she spoke with SMU’s head coach about the tennis program. “I liked their work ethic and their plan for the team.” Interested in business, she inquired about Cox. “I was very excited for what SMU had to offer. After my initial visit, it was a no-brainer.” Volleyball player and marketing major Montana Watts (BBA ’20) already knew about SMU Cox’s academic reputation; however, she said the coaching staff was also a huge reason for committing to SMU. “They truly care about my growth, not only as a player, but as a woman.”

SMU’s coaches are supportive and empathetic to the women’s challenges because they’ve usually been there themselves. “Our graduate assistant Caitlin Nolan has motivated me to be a better player,” shares Watts. “She made great achievements when she played in college and is my role model in that sense.” Equestrian Nora Gray (BBA ’19) adds that her assistant coach Megan Southam (MBA ’18) is a prime example of hard work, “She’s currently pursuing her MBA at Cox, coaches us and works another job. Her work ethic and attention to detail keep me motivated.” Gray believes the teachers and athletic staff at SMU go “above and beyond” to make sure student athletes succeed.

Even faculty fulfill student coaching roles. “I have had a very good experience with Cox professors. It feels good to know that they generally care about me as a student and that they support me as a tennis player,” explains tennis player and accounting major Anna Luisa Perez Lopez (BBA ’19). “I have had some of them come to my matches and it’s always exciting to show them that part of my life.”

An International Draw

Perez Lopez hails from Oaxaca, Mexico, and is following a family tradition of tennis dating back to her great-grandfather. Like most athletes, she found relationships and friendships made at Cox to be lifelong benefits.In addition to time management, Perez Lopez found other life skills such as dealing with pressure, staying humble and unparalleled discipline. “You need to know how to control your emotions and be a beast at the same time!”

Swimmer Agata Magner (BBA ’20) is another international student who came to Cox to pursue athletics and academia. “The first time I ever thought of studying in America was after reading an article about a Polish swimmer who went to the United States to train and study. I started thinking about the future and realized that it was possible to pursue my athletic goals while getting a great quality education.” She chose SMU because it had everything she was looking for — “outstanding academics, a great swim team and a perfect location.”

Whether Magner stays in the U.S. or returns to her native Warsaw, Poland, the finance major believes that the education and network at Cox will prepare her to succeed. While living in America, she has learned about a multitude of other cultures through other international swimmers at SMU. “There are girls and guys coming from countries like Croatia, Lithuania, Hungary, Seychelles, Germany, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Columbia, Israel, England, South Africa and China. It was very exciting to learn about so many cultures that I was not familiar with before coming to SMU.”

Good Sports

The lessons and life skills that these athletes learn in competition will serve them well as they pursue future endeavors — particularly when applied in a competitive marketplace.

Swimmer Kelcie Winters (BBA ’19) relates, “I hold myself to a very high standard, but failure is inevitable. Rather than let failure crush me, I have had to learn to use my failures to become stronger and more resilient.” Kathleen Charron (BBA ’18), captain of the women’s swim team, says, “My strength in sport is my work ethic. I have always been willing to put in the hours and work required in this sport. I trained in the off season and I’ve sacrificed social functions to put in the yards, miles and time.”

One shining example of taking athletic prowess off the field and into the boardroom is Craishia Millines (BS ’15, MSM ’16) a track and field athlete during her time at Cox. Millines explained what she likes most about her sport, “I love the fight given day in and day out, owning what you did wrong, celebrating and capitalizing on what you did correctly. I love how bold and revealing the sport is — if you’re not on top of your game, you will be quickly exposed. The clock does not lie.” Today, Millines has a successful career in the bankruptcy field and has this advice for current student athletes, “The help offered to a student athlete is abundant, all you have to do is capitalize on it. Aspire to be great in all that you do. Continue to push through even when you’re the only one doing the right thing. Remember your path is bright.”

The ambition and dedication of these impressive women, combined with superb prioritization and time-management skills, will most assuredly prepare them to be winners, if not already in competition, certainly in their careers and robust, dynamic lives. Game on!