Soccer’s last home game of the season at 4 p.m. today will have the Vixens battle it out against Randolph College. More importantly, though, it’s Senior Day at Sweet Briar — time to celebrate five special players from the Class of 2018.
Before the kick-off, the Sweet Briar community will honor Jona Cumani, Alexa Dahlin, Leyte McNealus, Elizabeth Phaup and Melissa Wert for their hard work and commitment to Sweet Briar Soccer — and, in some cases, other varsity teams.
Amherst native and psychology major Elizabeth Phaup is one such multisport-athlete; she also plays on the lacrosse team. A member of Falls on Nose and Sweet Dancers, Phaup leads the weekly Bible study at Sweet Briar. She says she is going to miss fellow students, professors, coaches and staff once she graduates, but senior year has her pretty giddy, too.
“I am most excited about the higher-level classes in my major because we will go into more depth and learn so much more,” she says. “Also, I am excited to spend time with friends and enjoy the approach of graduation!”
An outdoor enthusiast, Phaup plans to take a gap year and return to Alaska, where she worked this summer as a tour guide, before applying to Lynchburg College’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.
Teammate Jona Cumani is also a psychology major and, like Phaup, plans to work in the medical field. Originally from Albania, Cumani now lives in Paxton, Mass., and says she’ll likely move “back up north.” This past summer, an internship in New York City may have laid some of that groundwork. As an events and sports medicine intern with MedPrep Consulting Group, Cumani got to plan, staff and work the New York City Marathon, among other events.
A student ambassador in the admissions office, Cumani is president of both the Campus Events Organization and the Student Affairs Representatives (StARs). She also is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success. Fittingly, senior year for her means primarily two things: “Studying the things I love and figuring out how I can take what I’ve learned at Sweet Briar and take that out into the world.”
The best part about being a student-athlete at Sweet Briar, Cumani says, is “being able to connect with people I normally would not have and playing the sport I love with some of my favorite people.”
One of those favorite people is business major and Lynchburg native Alexa Dahlin. In addition to sharing the soccer field, Cumani and Dahlin also spend time in the Campus Events Organization, of which Dahlin is the vice president, and as StARs. Dahlin also is treasurer of the Chung Mungs, a member of the Earphones, a student soccer recruiter and was a judicial representative in the Student Government Association. She also played lacrosse in 2016.
“The thing I will miss most about Sweet Briar is the beauty and serenity of the campus and the community,” Dahlin says. “This place will always hold a special place in my heart with great memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Saying goodbye is going to be tough.”
Named to the ODAC All-Academic Team, Dahlin is pursuing an Arts Management Certificate and received the Friends of Art Internship Award earlier this year. She has interned in New York City, Charlottesville and Lynchburg as a fashion merchandising, marketing, development and fundraising intern. A master’s degree in marketing is in her plans — or “finding a job in the fashion merchandising industry or the nonprofit sector.”
Like Dahlin, teammate Melissa Wert plans to attend graduate school or find a job — in her case, one that incorporates both of her majors: business and English. A native of Toms River, N.J., Wert is a four-year member of the soccer team. Her favorite thing about playing soccer at Sweet Briar? “All the laughs and fun times at games and practices.” Wert is heavily involved on campus as the editor of Red Clay and a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the Young Democrats, Sweet Dancers, Falls on Nose, StARs and the Campus Events Organization.
Fellow Vixen Leyte McNealus, of Landgrove, Vt., has her eye on law school but also hopes to live abroad one day. A history major and religion minor on the pre-law track, McNealus retired from the varsity lacrosse team last year.
“The best part about being a student-athlete at Sweet Briar is being able to represent the College in a unique way, knowing everyone in the community is supporting you,” she says.
That gratitude shows in many ways, as McNealus is involved all over campus. She is an SGA electoral officer, a student ambassador in the admissions office, president of the Earphones, a member of Aint’s ‘n’ Asses and secretary on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. And those are just her extracurricular activities. A member of Phi Alpha Delta, McNealus earned an Experiential Learning Fellowship from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges and participated in an immersion learning trip to Central and Eastern Europe focused on World War I and II in summer 2016. This past summer, she completed a communications and marketing internship at Sugarbush Resort in Warren, Vt. This spring, she is planning an internship with the Amherst Historical Society.
Graduating in the spring will be a big step, especially given all the memories McNealus has made at Sweet Briar.
“I am going to miss waking up in a place with a strong sisterhood, [a place] that is so beautiful and has so many opportunities,” she says. “Right after the closure announcement, I was in Florida with the lacrosse team. An alumna sent us each a Starbucks gift card. That made a big difference. Another sent the team an edible arrangement with a note saying ‘Wear all pink — it scares people.’
“Most recently, during the inauguration, a few friends and I talked with an alumna who was a former board member before the procession, and more alumnae joined in. I ended up sending her a note afterwards because of how wonderful it was to see that our alumnae wanted to speak with us. … Spending another year as part of such an amazing sisterhood and being in leadership positions, I am excited to see how my friends and I shape our last year. Getting a diploma [will be] a close second.”