Senior student-athletes appreciate experience


Unca Athletics

UNCA Men’s Tennis Player Leo Bierbaum returns a ball in a match.

Israel Garcia-Perez, [email protected], Sports writer

With graduation right around the corner, senior student-athletes reflect on their time at UNC Asheville. 

“After attending UNC Asheville for four years now, I’ll finally be graduating. It’s crazy to think when I got here in 2018, how fast graduation would come,” said Leonard Bierbaum, senior on the men’s tennis team. 

Like Bierbaum, there are many international student-athletes who will be graduating in May, all from different countries with different reasons on why they chose UNCA. 

“I got recruited by the men’s tennis assistant coach at the time, Austin, who played a big role in my decision to come to UNCA. I came here for the great tennis team and coach who have been a big part of my time at UNCA,” Bierbaum said. 

Just like there are student-athletes who knew about UNCA before attending the school, there are also student-athletes who came to UNCA without knowing anything about the university or the sports program they would be a part of.

“I knew a bit about college soccer before through friends who have attended other universities. None of my friends attended a school in the Big South Conference, so it was totally new to me. All I had in mind was that it is a great opportunity to pursue a good education while playing the sport you love,” said Sean McGinty, senior on the men’s soccer team. 

According to student-athletes, being close to downtown Asheville and having the city-type life very close by made them feel comfortable when coming to UNCA.

“I really loved that downtown Asheville is very close to campus with a variety of amazing restaurants and venues. I grew up in large cities all my life, so having some sort of resemblance to that always felt good. I also like the mountains, where I often go hiking, or if the weather is nice, tubing down the French Broad is always relaxing,” said Claudia Prieto, senior on the track and field team.

Along with the city, many said the welcoming nature of the sports programs made student-athletes feel at home. 

“My head coach on the men’s soccer team played professionally in Germany, so knowing about where I’m from and knowing my language definitely helped me settle in. My teammates also helped me settle in with the culture of the program,” McGinty said. 

There are student-athletes that want to pursue graduate degrees  at different universities, while other student-athletes will continue to chasing their dreams of playing professionally. 

UNCA Men’s Soccer Player Colin Daughtery, center, celebrates a goal with his teammates.
(Unca Athletics)

“I am going to graduate school for a Masters in Finance, either at Fordham University in New York City or at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles,” Bierbaum said.

According to Colin Daughtry, senior on the men’s soccer team, he will be staying in Asheville and playing for the Asheville City SC in the United Soccer League 2 division. 

“After being in Asheville for four years now, I’m starting to make it like my second home. I’m from Raleigh, N.C., so I’m not too far away from home. Being able to stay in Asheville and play for the local club will definitely be a great experience for me,” Daughtry said. 

With many years as a student-athlete and spending time with  teammates almost every day, memories are created that last forever. 

“I have two favorite memories. First, winning the 2021 regular season title and, second, all the team dinners on away trips while playing board games. These are memories that will always stay with me,” Bierbaum said. 

According to Prieto, staying on top of academic responsibilities right from the start is what she would advise an incoming freshman to a team to prioritize. Prieto said it will make life a whole lot easier down the road, making it easier to focus on both school and sports equally

“Enjoy every moment because before you know it, you’ll be graduating. Time flies, so don’t take training sessions or games for granted. You meet different people from all over the country and world, and it is something you might not experience again after school.  For some, this is the last time they’ll play their sport competitively,” McGinty said. 

Graduating student-athletes will take part in UNCA spring commencement on May 7.