Student athletes Kristen Speerschneider and Erin Dulek refuse to give up, no matter what the challenge. And that spirit fuels their athletic triumphs as well their academic accomplishments.
“Athletics really test your endurance, your mental willpower, your relentlessness,” Dulek says. “Those are all things that can help you in other parts of life, too.”
Speerschneider, a senior Biology major and captain of Alverno’s basketball team, remembers her disappointment freshman year when the Inferno missed the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament by one point in overtime. That just reignited her desire to make it to the tournament. Not only did the team make it, but it had its best season in school history during Speerschneider’s junior year. This year, the team earned a No. 3 seed, its best placing yet, and hosted a NACC tournament game for the first time ever.
“I’m really proud of how far our team has come,” Speerschneider says.
Meanwhile, Dulek, a junior Psychology major and captain of Alverno’s softball team, started her freshman year pitching 99 strikeouts. She was determined to crack 100, but then a broken ankle forced her to miss half of her sophomore season. This year, she managed 117 strikeouts, and now she’s setting her sights higher.
“I would love to throw a no-hitter,” Dulek says. “It’s only been done twice before, so I could add my own signed ball to Alverno’s showcase.”
But both women have also made their mark in the classroom. Speerschneider, who is graduating with honors, often tutors classmates and had her pick of doctoral physical therapy programs. She’ll start her graduate work at Midwestern University in Downers Grove, Ill., this fall.
“The skills I learned in basketball — teamwork, dedication, work ethic — all of those transfer to the classroom. The fact that we’re students first is really emphasized here,” says Speerschneider, who spent two years on Alverno’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee. “We also do a lot of group work in class. It helps me be a better leader on the court and in the classroom.”
Last fall Dulek studied abroad in England, fulfilling a dream that also meant giving up her spot in the fall softball season. This year she was accepted into Psi Chi, the international honor society for psychology students, and she plans to pursue her doctorate in clinical neuropsychology. She also gives tours as a student ambassador and will be a peer advisor for 10-12 incoming students in the fall.
The 8 Abilities were one of the things that first attracted Dulek to Alverno, and the Abilities have influenced the way she approaches athletics as well as academics, she says.
“I try to establish a supportive environment, and if I see tension between teammates, I try to resolve it without bringing it up to the coaches,” Dulek says. “I’ve used communication, problem-solving and analysis to try to find effective ways to work through these walls that are sometimes put up.”
Speerschneider says that Alverno’s focus on communication has helped her become a stronger player.
“Being a better communicator is so important, especially in basketball. It’s helped me learn different ways to communicate with people because not everyone communicates in the same way,” Speerschneider says. “I think I’ve always been a leader, but refining my leadership skills, being able to help my team in the best way possible, and the overall environment of wanting to succeed and doing the best that you can, just translates to both areas.”
Both women are from small towns in Wisconsin and found a family away from family at Alverno. That was never more apparent than when Dulek’s mother died last year after a 16-year battle with breast cancer.
“It was a rollercoaster of a year,” Dulek says. “My whole softball team and my coach and even the athletic director came to the funeral. It was truly so amazing to see so much support from the school.”
Speerschneider has also relied on Athletics staff and teammates during tough times. “My freshman year there was a point when I was considering leaving because I was so homesick,” she says. “And Athletics was able to take me in and be my family away from home. Because Athletics supported me when I needed it, I decided I wanted to do whatever I could to support Athletics.”
Speerschneider, who works for the Athletics Department, helps other teams with everything from shagging soccer balls to scoring volleyball games to prepping the softball field. Dulek also pitches in, announcing games and working the concession stands during other sports’ games.
With that kind of energy and dedication, it’s no surprise that both women have accomplished as much as they have.
“I always told myself, I don’t want to leave Alverno with any regrets, both on the court and in school,” Speerschneider says. “And I’m not.”