On a trip to California the summer after her freshman year at Charlotte Country Day School, Loren Shealy made a stop at the Stanford field hockey office. The coach's assessment of her grades, which included a few Bs and As, was, in a word, meh. Hiking up 14,000-foot Mt. Shasta soon after, Shealy thought about how the opportunity to play college field hockey might slip away because her transcript didn't shine brightly enough. So she made a promise to herself: if she completed the grueling ascent, she would get a 4.0 and make the varsity field hockey team the next year. She made it to the top and, thanks to relentless hard work on both the field and in the classroom, she has been a peak performer ever since.
A versatile athlete who played basketball and ran the 800 and mile and still found time to play cello in the school orchestra, Shealy didn't just make the field hockey varsity, she caught the eye of hall of fame North Carolina coach Karen Shelton, who offered her a spot on her team. "I loved her great hands and vision," says Shelton, who has led the Tar Heels to six national titles. "It's not often you find kids that young with her savvy and work ethic."
"I really like putting a lot of effort into my skills and seeing a positive outcome," says Shealy. "It's the same with school; you study a lot for a test and you're probably going to do well."
As a sophomore last fall, the 5-foot-5 forward was second on the team with goals, third in points (the sum of goals and assists) with 34, was the most accurate forward with 71.4 percent of her shots on goal, and earned All-ACC tournament honors as the Tar Heels reached the NCAA final for the third straight year. (They lost 3-2 to Princeton.) Shealy also won the Elite 89 award, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at each of the NCAA championship sites. Her GPA in business administration? The same as it has been every semester since that Shasta hike: a 4.0.
Those achievements alone might be enough to make Shealy worthy of Sports Illustrated's inaugural College Athlete of the Year award, but there's more: She's also the first athlete to earn the prestigious Robertson Scholarship, which is awarded to 18 Duke and 18 North Carolina students every year. Aside from a full academic scholarship, a Robertson scholar takes classes at each campus and has fully funded summer "experiences," such as the life-skills camp for underprivileged kids Shealy helped run in Mississippi last summer. Most challenging for Shealy, who was raised by her dad, Tommy, a 1984 Carolina grad, to hate all things Duke, the Robertson requires every scholar to spend a semester living among the students of their biggest rival. Shealy just finished her semester "behind enemy lines," as she puts it. While she found perks to life on the other side -- she was delighted to find that Duke's dorm rooms were bigger and the class sizes smaller than UNC's --she had to bolster her already advanced organizational skills to make spring workouts at Chapel Hill while living and taking classes at Duke 11 miles (and about 30 minutes at rush hour) away. "I discovered a shortcut, which was crucial," says Shealy.
That's something she's not likely to ever look for on the field or in the classroom.