MILWAUKEE – Today at the Mount Mary University Commencement Ceremonies, five four-year student-athletes will be handed their well-deserved diplomas in their respective fields. In those four years, these Blue Angels worked through countless obstacles. Each was consistently tested in the classroom and on their fields of play. The uniqueness of these students' achievements magnifies when considering the foundation and lasting impressions these five graduates will leave behind as they receive their degrees today in the Bloechl Center.
NCAA Division III Institutions separate themselves from the rest of the collegiate sports by supporting the philosophy not to allow any additional scholarships to student-athletes based on their athletic performance or abilities. As Chairman of the Division III Presidents Council Jeff Docking states, "We often neglect to acknowledge just how hard these student-athletes work… Perhaps most impressively, these students are not doing any of this because of athletic scholarships."
In 2014, these brave young students came to Mount Mary University to not only work towards a sheepskin, but also to prove their heart and determination on the field of play. While Sarah Amoroso (Wauwatosa, Wis.), Rachel Barker (Milwaukee, Wis.) and Payton Hintz (Almond, Wis.) began their collegiate careers practicing in the Bloechl Center for the volleyball team, fellow Blue Angels Becky Onan (Grafton, Wis.) and Lucy Vue (Milwaukee, Wis.) started off practicing a few hundred feet away on Mount Mary Soccer Field.
That first year all five battled through a higher level of competition than they were used to while also acclimating themselves to the new demands that come along with being a full-time college student. The extra practice, additional assignments in class and long travel for away games were just a few obstacles the new Blue Angels had to overcome. Luckily, these special few were appreciative to earn the opportunity in front of them.
"One of my favorite memories was my first time traveling to Michigan to play against Finlandia," said Lucy Vue, a four-year starter for the soccer team. "I was looking out the window of our bus and I noticed how incredibly breathtaking the view was. There were so many beautiful tall hills of trees that were of every color of autumn. It was in that moment that I was extremely grateful to even have this opportunity to be in college, to play soccer, and to travel; I knew in that moment that playing soccer would be the best part of my undergrad experience."
After the dust settled on that first season, two of those five Blue Angels decided to continue competition throughout the year and play a second NCAA sport.
"The hardest time I had here was my freshman year coming into the basketball season," said Becky Onan, a four-year player for both the soccer and basketball teams. "I tore my ACL the summer before my senior year of high school playing basketball. But coming back into the basketball season my freshman year of college was hard because I had to get over the emotional roadblock. I had to constantly reassure myself that my knee could hold up. I kept telling myself "if I can play two season of competitive soccer I can make it through this first basketball season."
Not only did Onan work through her injury, the two-sport student-athlete was able to earn multiple all-association awards from the Association of Division III Independents in both basketball and soccer. Hintz followed suit as she earned honors in both volleyball then finished her freshman season earning an award for her work on the softball team.
During their sophomore seasons, it was announced that Rachel Barker would be the first ever recipient of the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation 4 for 4 Scholarship. The young Blue Angel got to meet the Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and his wife Billye Aaron at Turner Field and was quite appreciative of the chance.
"I was humbled and honored to not only be selected as one of the recipients for the Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Scholarship this year, but also given the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Ga., to meet the Aarons themselves and receive this generous award." Barker continued, "Being a student-athlete is a difficult commitment to juggle, but knowing that your hard work does not go unnoticed is so rewarding. The Aaron's generosity is something that I will never take for granted."
In that second season, all five student-athletes were given the opportunity to join the Great South Athletic Conference in the final season for the all-women's sports conference. Hintz, Barker and Amoroso all earned all-academic awards while playing on the volleyball team. Hintz repeat her work in the classroom through the season to earn an all-academic award in spring on the softball team. In addition, Onan earned a spot on the GSAC All-Conference women's basketball team.
All five were able to compete in MMU's first ever post-season tournament for their respective sports. While the closing of the GSAC was unfortunate, it allowed the Blue Angels an opportunity to taste the post-season and further their collegiate experience.
The junior season saw an uptick in performance and team play across the board. The volleyball team had their most wins in a season since the four began play, and saw Hintz return to the AD3I All-Association women's volleyball team at the season's end.
Vue and Onan were part of the record-setting soccer team. Along with multiple awards, the team defeated more NCAA opponents in 2016 than in any other season and tied the program's record for wins.
Onan returned to help the basketball team also tie the program's single season record for wins and earned her way back onto the AD3I All-Association women's basketball team.
The spring of the 2017 season saw the softball team set the program's all-time record for wins in a single-season going 14-21.
In their respective senior seasons, the five put it all on the table for their final year in collegiate play. The volleyball team continued to build. Amoroso and Barker led the Blue Angels defensively in front of the net, while Hintz delivered all over the court. Hintz finished the year leading the Blue Angels in assists and was second on the team in service aces. Both Hintz and Amoroso made it to the AD3I All-Association women's volleyball team for their work in 2017.
Vue and Onan came up one win short of tying their single-season record for wins in their senior year on the pitch. Onan finished the season on the AD3I All-Association women's soccer team.
Although a transfer-student, it cannot be ignored the long-lasting impact of Jori Galles (Waukesha, Wis.) on the cross country team in the spring of 2017. At the 2013 NCAA Championships Blue Angel Emily Barker ('14) set the MMU six-kilometer record at 23:34.3. Four years later at the same locale, Galles set a new record for the Blue Angels finishing with a 23:13.7 time. The impressive season saw Galles chip away time in every race while leading MMU in every event.
Onan then went on to help her basketball team tie the school's record for wins in a single season. In addition to the team record, Onan set nearly every career offensive record for the basketball program: points, assists, total rebounds, defensive rebounds, blocks, steals and minutes played.
In the spring, senior Amoroso continued in her second year as Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President. After a successful Polar Plunge, the MMU chapter of SAAC focused their efforts on the annual Special Olympics Red Carpet Ball. Each year, the ball brings in generous donations for Special Olympics Wisconsin and 2018 was no different. The ball saw a superhero twist to the night, and as always was filled with Blue Angels.
Hintz finished her softball career in magnificent fashion. With the combined 12 RBIs in her last week of play and a number of extra base hits, Hintz finishes the season leading the Blue Angels with 25 RBIs, seven doubles, one homerun, a .356 batting average and a .525 slugging percentage.
"My favorite memory is my last softball game of my career," said Hintz while talking about some of her fond memories at MMU. "Driving two doubles in one game felt amazing, and I will always remember looking over to the dugout and seeing my teammates cheer. I wouldn't trade that moment for the world."
All Mount Mary Blue Angels work hard in order to achieve success, but these small few have done something very few people have done. A remarkable achievement to walk across the stage for the final time, in the familiar Bloechl Center, and be handed their diplomas after competing in collegiate athletics for all four years.
Thank you, Sarah, Rachel, Payton, Becky, Lucy and Jori, for all you have done for Mount Mary University and all the future Blue Angels! Good luck!