Falco Faces Student-Athlete and Life Challenges Head On

7 Apr

Dani's feature story pic

By Moussa Traore

Senior Women’s Lacrosse Captain, Danielle Falco has exceeded all expectations at the University of the District of Columbia, where she’ll graduate from this May.

Falco is not your conventional student-athlete. Her academic pedigree is bar none with a 3.77 GPA, and University of Maryland Graduate School is her next stop as she prepares to get her master’s degree in Education.

Falco, who is a women’s lacrosse scholarship recipient, has had one of the most tremendous personal growth and transformations you’ll ever see. She embraced challenges most would undoubtedly elude.

While her teammates were preparing for their spring season during fall, Falco was a Student Teacher – a requirement for her major, Elementary Education.

Falco’s student-teaching coordinator, Jacqueline Gartrell, had this to say about her student’s development and maturation over the years.

“I observed Danielle grow from a busy student-athlete, who, while loving education, was sometimes reticent about the actual thought of the student teaching process,” said Gartrell, a visiting scholar in the UDC Education Department.

“Danielle’s growth and maturation was a sight to see. The hurried athlete in leggings and T-shirts transformed into a student teacher with a tote bag and professional teacher outfits. However, the most important piece about her growth was in her heart, which was always full of love for children and teaching,” she concluded.

Although she was embarking on her life after collegiate sports, Falco revealed it was difficult being apart from her team for a semester.

“I was excited to get back into playing,” said Falco. “I wasn’t 100 percent, but I managed to work really hard so I could help my team in any way possible.”

One person that knows Falco extremely well is her lacrosse head coach Melynda Brown. Falco was the fourth-year coach’s first recruit back in 2013, and she described the New York native as one of the most influential and coachable players she’s ever had the pleasure of developing.

UDC M Lax v UB 3007

Falco was recruited as a goalie and served as the team’s starting goalkeeper her first three years.

“She has been fully invested for four years, getting better on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and also the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee [for which she is the president],” said the former Division I women’s lacrosse student-athlete turned coach.

“Dani is very inspiring. She is encouraging, truthful and respects her teammates, which is why she’s been voted as our captain all four years that she’s been here.”

With growth comes trust, and due to the team’s roster size this year, Falco, a three-year starting goalkeeper for the Firebirds, was approached about stepping out of the cage and operating on the field.

“Whatever the team needs.” She responded with no hesitation, showing her flexibility and willingness to help the program.

“When Coach Brown asked me about playing in the field this year, a position I briefly played in 8th grade, I knew it would be challenging, but I was willing to step up and help out my team in any way I could. And if that meant trying out a new position, then that’s what I had to do. I get to see a part of the game I hadn’t had the opportunity to see as a goalie, and I enjoy it a lot.”

UDCW17-D&E 01

Falco on the attack while playing in the field for UDC during its 6-3 victore over Davis & Elkins.

Falco’s versatility was also on display when she dutifully joined the Women’s Tennis team this year.

“Joining the tennis team has increased the level of respect I have for the student-athletes who play tennis here, because they make it look so easy.” Falco said.

Women’s tennis head coach Dickie Mahaffey lauded Falco’s willpower as she shouldered a new challenge in her collegiate sports career.

“Dani has taken on the challenge of college tennis with determination and a never quit attitude. She manages excelling in the classroom, competing on two intercollegiate teams, job interviews and applying to graduate school with ease,” said Mahaffey.

UDC’s Athletic Director, Patricia Thomas, praised Falco’s leadership and explained how the senior is bound for success in the future.

“I think Danielle was well-prepared when she arrived [at UDC] freshman year. She has exemplified leadership, hard work ethic, sportsmanship and a commitment to serve others throughout her time at the District of Columbia,” said Thomas.

“I believe achieving balance in life is extremely important. Danielle successfully balanced academics and athletics. The resourcefulness she demonstrated, particularly this year, will carry her throughout her life,” she added.



Making it Hers – How Marlena Wright Owned Her Collegiate Experience

13 Jul

By Eric Zedalis

It was the end of Fall semester 2013, a week before Marlena Wright, then a sophomore student-athlete on the UDC women’s cross country and track & field team, was to return home to Bronx, N.Y. for Christmas. She walked over to the UDC Sports Complex with her boyfriend, Phil Foster, a junior defenseman on the UDC men’s lacrosse team.

“Our grades had just come out, and I wasn’t very happy with mine. But [Phil] was, because he had mostly A’s and B’s,” Wright said. “I had mostly C’s.”

While Foster paid a visit to Senior Associate AD, Joe Lang at his office, Wright sat down outside on the hallway floor, her back against the yellow concrete wall. She began to ask herself a series of questions:

“Why? Why am I continuously putting myself and my parents in the position to be disappointed? I’m not dumb…I know what I am capable of. So why am I not even trying to live up to those expectations I have of myself?”

Wright did not have a good answer for any of those questions, and it was at that point she identified the problem.

“I was doing bad not because of anything but just because.”

When Foster walked out of Lang’s office, he immediately noticed Wright was upset. He asked what was wrong, and Wright, holding back tears, explained why she was disappointed.

Marlena Wright and boyfriend Phil Foster on graduation day May 2016. Foster graduated a year prior with a 3.25 GPA and now started his own business as a Cinematographer and Entertainer.

Marlena Wright and boyfriend Phil Foster on graduation day May 2016. Foster graduated a year prior with a 3.25 GPA and now started his own business as a Cinematographer and Entertainer.

Foster then told Wright the story of how he wound up at UDC. A Baltimore, Md. native, Foster first attended Morgan State and then Dean College before finally finding the right fit at the University of the District of Columbia.

“My freshman year of college, my GPA was a 1.9. I had professors say to me ‘school isn’t for everyone’,” Foster explained. “After a disappointing year, I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t try.”

Wright saw parallels between her and Foster’s stories, and he helped her realize there was a simple solution.

“Phil told me that if I didn’t like how I was doing, then all I had to do was just change it,” she said. “I know this advice sounds so simple, but it is often the simplest solutions to problems that we tend to overlook.”

While Foster’s advice resonated with Wright, it was perhaps appealing to her competitive side that really gave Wright the push she needed to apply herself academically.

“I challenged her that my grades would be higher than hers, and I’d graduate Cum Laude. She really took that to heart, and so I ended up losing that challenge,” he laughed. (Foster would however complete his Communications degree in 2015 with a 3.25 overall GPA)

Wright recalled taking a few classes with Foster his final year at UDC, including a photography class where the competition really began to intensify.

“I remember our first test in Photography, I got the highest grade in the class. He won’t admit it, but he was a little salty,” Wright joked.

However much the competition with Foster motivated her, Wright still had a psychological obstacle to overcome.

“This might come as a surprise to some, but I am a very lazy person. If I could just lie in front of my computer screen all day binge-watching Netflix, then I would,” she confessed. “The only way for me to overcome that laziness is to keep my whole day busy. I get a lot done when I work on a very tight schedule, because I have no time to really sit and think about how much I’d rather be watching Glee or Scandal. Realizing this, and owning it…my mindset from that point on was to keep busy.”

Next, if she was to keep busy, Wright needed the confidence to put herself out there and get involved. An admittedly introverted person, Marlena says that if not for track & field, she might not have even attended college.

“Track was my motivation to go to school, and I didn’t want to fail any classes, because I wanted to make sure that I was eligible to run. Athletics made it possible for me to come to college and to discover and find myself inside and out of the Sports Complex.”

Wright's 4x400M Relay Team at 2014 Penn Relays. They were first UDC relay team to reach a final at Penn Relays.

Wright’s 4x400M Relay Team at 2014 Penn Relays. They were first UDC relay team to reach a final at Penn Relays.

One particular moment in her collegiate athletic career completely changed her outlook and gave her the confidence to become a leader on campus. On a Saturday night, April 26th, 2014, Wright and three of her teammates became the first Firebird relay team to compete in the finals of the Women’s College 4x400M event at the 120th inception of the world’s oldest and largest relay carnival – Penn Relays. In front of a captive audience of over 49,000 at historic Franklin Field, Wright and her teammates soared to a time of 3:44.99 seconds to finish 6th place overall. Their time was over two seconds faster than their previous season-best, which was their heat-winning time of 3:47.18 run in Thursday’s preliminary round.

With that performance under her belt, certainly any fear of involvement or public speaking was put to rest.

“I often tell people that if I can run in front of thousands of people, where thousands of things could have gone wrong, then I can speak in front of anyone.”

And if that was not enough to lift her confidence, later that spring, Wright and her 4x400M Relay team of Kaydian Jones, Jerily Benjamin and Simone Grant, went on to place 4th at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships and set a school record with a time of 3:42.63. She earned her second All-American honor of that year for that performance after the same team had earned All-American status by placing 6th at the Indoor Championship back in March. Wright also was a key contributor in helping the Firebirds secure a sweep of the East Coast Conference Indoor & Outdoor Championships in 2013-14.

During this fairy tale of a sophomore season, Wright also managed to have her best academic semester to date, earning all A’s and B’s her spring semester 2014. Already in just two short years, Wright was a two-time All-American, part of three ECC Championship teams, and she had finally found her footing academically. Yet, she still felt as though she was limiting her own potential.

“Somewhere along the way, I learned that – like Muhammad Ali said – people should be judged by how they use their talent to help others and better their communities. That is the goal,” she said.

Lucky for Wright, she competes in an NCAA division designed to not only provide a life balance between academics and athletics, but to create opportunities for student-athletes to learn and gain experience that will prepare them for life beyond their playing days. Wright would come to embody the NCAA Division II’s 2015 branding moniker: “Make it Yours”.

“Marlena is an amazing example of what’s great about Firebird Athletics,” Head Cross Country and Track & Field Head Coach Alton McKenzie said. “She came in as a soft-spoken, and at times, shy young lady, and after four years, she is now a confident and super motivated woman. She has had an exemplary collegiate life, impacting our campus environment in so many areas.”

Wright (at right) hands off to anchor Simone Grant (at left) after running the 3rd leg of the 4x400M Relay at the 2014 NCAA Championships. Championships

Wright (at right) hands off to anchor Simone Grant (at left) after running the 3rd leg of the 4x400M Relay at the 2014 NCAA Championships. Championships

By her senior year, Wright was a member of 11 different campus clubs/organizations and held leadership positions in five of them. She was Founder and President of the Video Club, President of the Literary Club, Multi-Media Chairperson for the Campaign 9:30, and Secretary for both Active Minds and Students Overcoming All Risks (SOAR). She also participated in Honor Society, Women of Worth (WOW), Photography Club, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Student Judicial Board.

Meanwhile, she created and produced two athletic department video series called The Real MVP and Hammer Time, and she continued to spearhead track and cross country team and athletic department community service events.

“Marlena took ownership of her entire collegiate experience, and she became an extremely capable, outstanding young woman,” Director of Athletics Patricia Thomas said. “Her development has been wonderful to watch.”

Best of all, Wright’s self-prognosis that keeping busy would aid her academic pursuits came true – she earned straight A’s in each of her final three semesters at UDC. This, while taking 18 credits at the end of her junior year, 21 credits in the fall of her senior year, and 22 credits to finish in spring 2016.

Wright considers earning her second consecutive 4.0 semester to be her greatest accomplishment off the track.

Wright and Coach Alton McKenzie before graduation.

Wright and Coach Alton McKenzie before graduation.

“That was when I knew for a fact that I could do anything that I put my mind to. They usually say that the second win is the hardest, because now there’s so much more pressure involved. Receiving my second 4.0 was like winning our second ECC title – no one can say we, or I, got lucky. For me, getting those straight A’s was like winning a championship title, because I knew how hard I worked to achieve all that I did.”


The hard work more than paid off for Wright, who went on to earn a slew of awards this year including: the Reslyn W. Henley Memorial Award (the highest honor presented at the UDC Athletics Awards Banquet), the Excellence in Community and Character Award (the East Coast Conference’s most prestigious award for student-athletes), and the Arthur Ashe, Jr. Sports Scholar distinction from Diverse magazine. She has also been nominated for the 2016 NCAA Woman of the Year Award as of June, 2016.

As the honors and distinctions keep pouring in, Wright insists that everyone she came across at UDC had some kind of impact on her life. Still, there are a select few that stand out in her mind.

“Coach McKenzie definitely had a huge impact on me, because he was more than just a coach…he was like a father figure to me and my teammates. He was one of my greatest supporters on and off the track,” she said. “My teacher Lloyd Jones also had a great impact. He was the reason why I switched my major from Journalism to Television production. My boyfriend Phillip Foster also had a great impact on me. He was very supportive and very helpful. And my teammates, Simone and Jerily, have been there for me from the very beginning.”

Presently, Wright is working full-time with the Renewing Youth Foundation as a tour guide at the Frederick Douglas House. In addition, she is interning with Community Partners, where she focuses on fresh food access in underserved communities and mapping obesity rates. She will be creating a documentary on the Good Foods grocery store.

Wright with ECC Commissioner Bob Dranoff accepting the "ECC" Award.

Wright with ECC Commissioner Bob Dranoff accepting the “ECC” Award.

According to Patricia Thomas, an athletic administrator for more than 30 years, it is precisely because of student-athletes like Wright that her work is so gratifying.

“The beauty of the whole process is that with Marlena…the best is yet to come,” Thomas said.

Wright recognizes she has come a long way since that fateful night Foster convinced her she could make a change. Therefore, her advice for student-athletes is also simple: “Don’t put yourself in a box – don’t limit yourself. Step outside your comfort zone. Be more than a student-athlete. Make it yours!”

NCAA – Not All “Doom and Gloom”…Recent Graduate’s Experience at Career in Sports Forum

14 Aug



By Kimoy Mais

Is going to the NCAA National Office a main priority for any student-athlete? Is it on any student-athlete’s top-five list of things to do when attending school? Honestly, it wasn’t on my top-five list, and the thought had never really crossed my mind. As an international student-athlete, I was just excited to be furthering my education in the United States, and at the same time, competing in a sport that I enjoyed. Of course, winning conference championships and making it to Nationals was definitely on my top-five list, as well as maintaining a high GPA and savoring the best college experiences.


I personally used to perceive the NCAA as solely a “powerful organization, not to be reckoned with.” I thought it had a Strictly Business kind of attitude and its only purpose was to watch each school and student-athlete ever so diligently so that the instant there was any infringement upon any of the rules, that student-athlete or school would be terminated! Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little. But in my head, the NCAA was just a regulatory body for all of college sports and its main purpose was to establish the rules of the game. Well, they are that… but also a lot more!

The NCAA National office is a haven for student-athletes. It has an abundance of opportunities that it hopes student-athletes will pursue during their careers and more importantly, after graduation. Throughout any given year, the National Office will host a series of workshops and forums that are offered not only to athletic administrators, but to us, the student-athletes. These workshops and forums are all free! The National Office even provides us with career opportunities upon graduation. It’s just up to us to send in our applications!


I was given the opportunity to attend a Career in Sports Forum in June, 2015 at the National Office in Indianapolis, after being nominated by my Athletic Director, Patricia Thomas. However, gaining acceptance to any of these forums is not easy. In my case with the CSF, for instance, only 200 participants were invited from NCAA Division’s I, II and III which included over 1,200 colleges and universities. So, you can just imagine my surprise when I found out that I was a part of the selected few. Upon acceptance, everything was paid for: transportation, lodging, food…all I had to do was show up!

Man, did I have a fabulous experience! At the forum, all the participants had the chance to get more insight on all the various functions in the athletic department: Communication, Development, Sports Medicine, Internal/External Operations, etc. We then did a behavioral test to see which function would be most appropriate for our behavioral type. We also had the opportunity to attend a job fair where we got the chance to network with professionals and NCAA staff. We were provided with business cards and a fancy business card holder. I was so fortunate to meet the president of the NCAA, Dr. Mark Emmert – although, I didn’t get the chance to take a quick selfie with him like I wanted to!

The NCAA is not as rigid as I thought. They want us as student-athletes to reach out to them when we are in need, especially if you are a past student-athlete pursuing a career in sports. My advice is feel free to utilize the NCAA website or any of the NCAA staff members. They won’t be hostile or mean towards you. They want to help you!


Soccer Sophomores Fuel Firebirds Success

2 Oct

While teams are usually led by their upperclassmen, this year’s UDC men’s soccer team seems to be just a little bit different. In only their second season on the team, many of the sophomores on this year’s squad have already made a name for themselves and are key contributors to the Firebirds success so far this season. While the juniors and seniors are certainly vital to the team’s success, the current group of sophomores, especially Felix Angerer, Nenad Smiljanic, Sam Rowden, Pat Borchert, Flavio De Sousa Macedo, and Hassirou Diakite, has really taken the Firebirds to the next level through their skill as well as through their chemistry and teamwork. The secret to the sophomores’ success and cohesion, though, may not have as much to do with what happens on the pitch as much as what happens off of it.


Flavio De Sousa Macedo does a backflip to celebrate a goal against Queens as Felix Angerer and Hassirou Diakite look on.

This group of six players all entered UDC together as freshmen last year and after spending a large majority of their days together, seemed to hit it off with each other socially right away.

“It was easy to get along immediately because you were living together and spending almost every minute together,” said forward Felix Angerer.

Some of the players also pointed out that the immediate success they had on the pitch to start off their careers helped in the bonding process.

“We immediately got along on and off the field because we won our first four games of the season when half of the players in the starting eleven were new. When you win, it is easier to be friends with everybody,” added midfielder Nenad Smiljanic.

Even though the players clicked pretty early on, there were still a few difficulties in acclimating and getting used to each other, especially since five of the six players came from foreign countries and grew up speaking a language other than English.

“For me personally, it was very exciting to meet the guys last year and I think we got along right away. One of the difficulties for me was the language barrier in the beginning, but all my teammates helped a lot,” remarked midfielder and defender Pat Borchert, who himself hails from Germany. He added, “As we can see in the results of last season, we had good chemistry right away. In a team sport like soccer, with many internationals and also a lot of local players on our team, there are many styles of playing mixed together. But we also learned from each other, which made our chemistry even better throughout the season.”


Pat Borchert has become a free kick expert for the Firebirds.

In their second year together, the players have continued to gel and spend a lot of time together off the field and outside the classroom. UDC is currently 5-3-1 overall and 2-1 in the very competitive East Coast Conference. This group of six has collectively contributed 11 of the team’s 17 total goals this season. Meanwhile, they manage to stay close friends, hanging out together frequently outside of school and on the weekends.

“We have a close bond, we like to play video games, go out in the city, and play tennis,” said midfielder Hassirou Diakite.

When asked about activities they enjoy doing together, all six players mentioned playing video games – specifically, playing the FIFA soccer game…an indication of their love for soccer which further brings them together off the field. Some of the players even had the chance to go to Florida together for Spring Break last year. The players have also had some favorite activities with the whole team that they felt were the best bonding experiences.

“One of my favorite activities we did as a whole team was paintball. A couple of us also did Spring Break in Florida, which was awesome,” forward Sam Rowden said.

It is clear from talking with these players and watching the way they play together on the pitch that these six sophomores get along well and have fun together, which the players think has been has a very positive impact on their performance on the soccer field. According to Smiljanic, their cohesion off the field allows them to be better as a unit and encourages them to try harder on the field.

“[The off the field friendships are] really important. We’ve won some hard games because we were strong together and working for one another. I’m sure of it,” Smiljanic insisted.

Diakite also stressed that the bond off the field improves their play on the field because “we understand each other and play for each other.” The players have a sense for one another, know how the others play, and trust each other – all attributes that have contributed to the Firebirds’ success.

This camaraderie also has made it easy for the players to make it through some very long road-trips. The team is coming off a stretch of four straight road games which included long road trips to upstate New York to play Roberts Wesleyan and Erie, PA to play No. 13 nationally ranked Mercyhurst. The players feel that road trips like this, while allowing them to compete against some of the best teams in the country, also helps the team come together as a unit off the pitch, especially during the seven or eight-hour bus rides.

“The long trips can be fun, and the hotels are really nice,” Borchert said. “We all really enjoy when [Assistant] Coach Danny [Wadeson] plays his guitar on the bus and when we go out to eat the night before the games.”

The team even had a chance to see some sites between games. When asked about what he was looking forward to most on the road trip, Rowden had two things at the top of his list.

“Visiting Niagara Falls and of course competing,” Rowden said.


Sam Rowden and Nenad Smiljanic work up a sweat during pregame warm ups.

This strong bond has certainly paid dividends on the field as the Firebirds are 5-3-1 overall and 2-1 in conference so far this season, with two of their loses coming to two top-20 teams in the nation. The Firebirds were even ranked 21st in the country for a short time, a position they certainly hope to return to, if not improve on. They are currently ranked 5th in the East Region.

Still, with two more years left at UDC, the six sophomores are convinced that we haven’t even seen their full potential yet.

“Our bond will continue to grow if we stick together, and I believe we can expect some great times together as well as some great soccer victories. Maybe even an ECC title hopefully,” said defender Flavio De Sousa Macedo.

Look for these sophomores to continue to lead the charge for the Firebirds moving forward, this season and for seasons to come.

Firebirds’ Commitment to Excellence: 2013-14 Year In Review

7 Jul

As an integral part of the District of Columbia’s Flagship University, the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics at UDC provides experiences that enhance the comprehensive development of students. Therefore, the student-athlete experience emphasizes opportunities through academic achievement, learning in high-level athletic competition, and development of positive societal attitudes in service to community. The balance and integration of these different areas of learning opportunity provide Firebird student-athletes a path to graduation while cultivating a variety of skills and knowledge for life ahead.

Legendary former college football head coach and philanthropist Joe Paterno once said: “Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won’t taste good.” To that end, the University of the District of Columbia Athletic Department’s commitment to excellence is not without integrity in its “Life in the Balance” mission. The 2013-14 academic year was no exception.

Three East Coast Conference team championships. Four track & field All-Americans. An ECC Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year. Nineteen All-ECC performers. Certainly, these are all extraordinary accomplishments over the course of a year; however, they would not be nearly as fulfilling if not for these very same athletes’ exploits off the field and in the classroom.


Kaydian Jones was a 4x400M Relay All-American and an Academic All-American.

Track & field standout Kaydian Jones is a prime example. A Kingston, Jamaica native and Journalism major, Jones’ career is the epitome of what the NCAA student-athlete experience ought to be. Not only was she a two-time 4x400M Relay All-American (2014 Indoor & Outdoor) who helped her relay team set a school record and finish ranked No. 4 in the country this spring, she is also a Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American. Twice named ECC Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year (2013 and 2014), she also managed to maintain a 3.53 cumulative GPA, serve as President of the UDC Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and two years as Vice President of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. For her efforts, she earned the ECC and UDC’s most prestigious awards. The ECC awarded her the Excellence in Community and Character Award for student-athletes who have distinguished themselves through positive actions and behaviors consistent with the NCAA Division II attributes of learning, service, passion, sportsmanship, balance and resourcefulness. The UDC Athletic Department presented her the Reslyn Woodruff Henley Memorial Award – given to the senior student-athlete who has exhibited nobility of character, deep loyalty to fellow students or teammates, high team spirit and a demonstrated ability to inspire teammates, and who performs well in the classroom in addition to his or her athletic exploits.

Miguel Uzcategui is another case in point. A two-time First Team All-ECC Men’s Tennis performer, Uzcategui is also a two-time Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American and this year’s recipient of the ECC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award. He helped his team to a No. 2 seed in the ECC Men’s Tennis Championship, finishing with a league mark of 5-1 at the No. 1 singles spot. Meanwhile, he has maintained a 3.94 cumulative GPA over his academic career as an Electrical Engineering major at UDC.

All in all, 24 student-athletes graduated from UDC in 2013-14. Eighty-six student-athletes made the Director’s List (earned 3.0 semester GPA or better for Spring/Fall 2013), 36 made the Dean’s List (earned a 3.5 semester GPA or better while maintaining a 3.0 or better cumulative GPA), and 11 qualified for the 4.0 GPA Club.

Firebird student-athletes also participated in many community service outreach projects throughout the year. The Men’s Soccer team was particularly active in the community this year as head coach Matt Thompson, assistant coach Danny Wadeson, and the over 20 young men engaged in five different service activities. Thompson continues to foster a growing relationship with KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) where the student-athletes play soccer with young children of varying characteristics and/or disabilities. Twice, the Firebird soccer team visited St. Coletta of Greater Washington to work with KEEN this year. They also volunteered at the DC Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, Georgetown Ministry (where they visited the homeless), and completed a very successful Youth Day promotion before one of their games.

Meanwhile, women’s basketball took part in three community service projects: Overnight Adventure, Special Olympics, and Food & Friends. The Overnight Adventure was hosted by the Hyattsville, MD Department of Parks and Recreation’s “Xtreme Teen” Program and featured a number of recreational activities for close to 50 local teen girls. Starting a 12:30 a.m., for two hours, the women’s basketball student-athletes put together a basketball clinic where they ran drills and acted as referees and coaches during scrimmages. Also, during Halloween weekend, the Firebird women’s basketball team volunteered at Special Olympics DC’s Fall Sports Classic on October 30th and at the local Food & Friends on November 1st. At the Fall Classic, they supervised several local student-athletes, guiding them through basketball drills such as target passing, spot-shooting and dribbling. At Food & Friends, they renewed a relationship the program has had since the 2007-08 season by helping with everything from packaging meals for delivery to unloading and sorting canned goods and food items for the kitchen.


Miguel Uzcategui was a two-time First Team All-ECC Men’s Tennis selection and a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American.

The men’s soccer and women’s basketball team were named the co-winners of the UDC Athletic Department’s third annual Competition Cup. The winner is chosen based on three criteria: academic performance, attendance at other UDC sporting events and community outreach.

While women’s basketball accomplished a great deal off the court this year, the Firebirds also enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in program history on the court in 2013-14. They finished with an impressive overall record of 21-8, securing the school’s first ever East Coast Conference basketball championship and earning an NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament appearance as a No. 5 seed. Along the way the Firebirds were ranked as high as No. 20 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll and No. 3 in the East Region. Also, junior guard Telisha Turner and junior forward Denikka Brent were both named First Team All-ECC, Turner surpassed 1,000 points scored for her career late in the season, and head coach Lester Butler, Jr. surpassed 150 career coaching wins on Senior Night with a 76-68 victory over Dowling on Feb. 26.

Also in the winter, the Firebirds were heating up on the track in 2013-14, as the track & field team captured its second consecutive ECC Indoor Championship on February 22nd in South Huntington, NY. With just 12 athletes on the team, the Firebirds relied on their dominance in the sprint events to once again reign as conference champions. Kaydian Jones was the team’s work horse as she contributed a whopping 32 points for the Firebirds in the Championship meet. She won the Long Jump with a distance of 5.69M, won the 200M dash in 25.45 seconds, and she ran a crucial opening leg to help the Firebirds’ 4x400M Relay Team secure first place. She shared the Most Outstanding Athlete of the Meet honor with Roberts Wesleyan’s Rachel Hust.

Not only did the Firebirds win their second ECC championship in a row, but Head Coach Alton McKenzie was awarded his second straight Coach of the Year honor. His team produced 17 First Team and six Second Team All-ECC honorees across 20 different track & field events. Also, the 4x400M Relay Team of Kaydian Jones, Jerily Benjamin, Marlena Wright and Simone Grant, went on to compete at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track & Field Championships at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, NC. There, they finished as the 6th best team in the nation with a time of 3:49.40, and were each individually named All-Americans.

The momentum from its spectacular Indoor season would carry over into the spring Outdoor Track & Field season, as the Firebirds continued to get better and faster as the season progressed. The first major highlight of the season came on April 4th when the 4x400M Relay team became the first event champion at the Colonial Relays in school history with a time of 3:46.51. About two weeks later, UDC would complete the sweep of Indoor/Outdoor ECC Championships with its first ever ECC Outdoor Track & Field Championship in Queens, NY on April 19th. Once again, Jones led the way by contributing 48 (28 individually) of the team’s 158 total points. She won both the 100M and 200M dashes, finished 2nd in the Long Jump and was a key member of both the 4x100M and 4x400M relay teams which both took first place. She was named co-Most Outstanding Female Athlete of the ECC Championship meet, and she was also named the Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the second straight year.

DSC_9091The success in Outdoor Track & Field did not stop there though, as just five days later, UDC took part in the 120th inception of the world-renowned Penn Relays. There, in front of a captive audience of over 49,000 people, at the world’s largest and oldest track & field relay carnival, the 4x400M Relay team ran a time of 3:44.99 to finish 6th in the Women’s College Final.

The track & field season culminated in yet another outstanding weekend performance on May 22nd-23rd by the 4x400M Relay Team of Jones, Benjamin, Wright and Grant at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championship in Allendale, MI. This quartet shaved nearly two seconds off of their season-best time to finish 4th in the nation with a new school record time of 3:42.63. Again, they were named All-Americans for their performance.

2013-14 was a banner year for University of the District of Columbia Athletics. Best of all, the department’s extraordinary athletic achievements continue to come as the Firebirds stay true to the Division II platform – Life in the Balance.

The Firebird is indeed rising in the nation’s capital. We hope you’ll join us for the ride in 2014-15.


Inspired by Deceased Mother, Coston Overcomes Adversity to Achieve Her Goals

21 May

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Nova Coston was raised by a single mother in Queens, NY. It was from her mother that she learned a valuable lesson: “Never give up on anything just because you’re tired or hurting or bored with it. Nothing comes easy.”

Coston’s mother collapsed from a stroke and fell into a coma when she was just 19. She and her brother would have to take care of their mother for the remainder of her life.

Still, it was from her mother that Coston continued to draw inspiration as she went on to complete the Police Academy in 2001 and become an officer in 2002.

Later, she joined the United States Army in 2003 and served active duty for six years. While on active duty in 2009, she was hit by a tent pole during a windstorm and suffered a spinal fracture. After enduring months of rehabilitation, she went on to enter a tennis tournament, play basketball and even earn her yellow belt in Tae Kwan Do.

Upon completing her military service, she enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia at the age of 31.

“Obtaining my degree was something my mom was adamant about,” Coston said. “It meant so much to her, because she was told I would never learn like other children.”

Majoring in Psychology, Nova made the Dean’s List her 1st semester at UDC and has remained in good academic standing throughout her college career. Sadly, her mother died in spring 2011 during her sophomore year of college.

“I had no choice but to do what she ingrained in me as a child – complete what you start no matter how bad it hurts,” she said.

In August 2013, Coston visited head women’s lacrosse coach Melynda Brown in her office and asked for an opportunity to learn the sport and earn a spot on the team.

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Coston and Coach Brown hug on Senior Day. “Nova is a perfect example that there is more to a person than what you can see,” Brown said of Coston.

“Nova is very involved in school, and it was clear from day one that her number one priority was graduating from UDC this May,” Coach Brown explained. “But she worked very hard to earn a spot on this team. When she didn’t understand something, she’d ask questions and wouldn’t stop until it made sense. She’d make the time to come into my office and go over game tape, and she’d write everything down so she could go over it again later at home. She’d show up every day ready to learn something new.”

While earning her degree at UDC, Coston said there have been countless opportunities made available to her, but the one she most cherishes is being a member of the school’s first ever women’s lacrosse team.

“I had no previous knowledge of this sport until recently, but now I can’t let it go,” she said.

Even when she recently discovered her knee was torn in two different places and it was recommended she sit out the season, Nova opted to fight through the pain and continue playing.

“My mind does not understand not playing,” she said. “The pain meant nothing compared to being out on the field and doing what I have come to love…playing lacrosse.”

Coston was a featured student speaker at the 37th Annual Commencment Convocation of the University of the District of Columbia on May 13th, 2014. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

“Nova is a perfect example that there is more to a person than what you can see,” Brown said. “She has gone through so much but has still managed to achieve her goals.”IMG954239

Danny Wadeson Interview Feature

30 Apr


See video of Danny’s “D.C. Social Climber”

Athletics Intern Phil Kim sits down with Danny Wadeson, resident guitarist/singer at the local UDC Potbelly…oh, and also UDC Men’s Soccer Assistant Coach!

Tell us a little bit about your musical background.

I have always loved to sing, and I decided I would learn the guitar rather than the piano as I knew it would be more portable. I have no formal music training nor can I read music; however, I do love to create and test myself. I find writing and playing music an enjoyable experience and have often found it a great way to express myself and relax at the same time.

Who are your favorite artists? Favorite songs?

My favorite artist is Noel Gallagher. He was in a band called Oasis. However, while their reputation was for Rock N’ Roll, I really enjoyed their subtle melodic acoustic songs. The majority of Oasis’s songs were written by Gallagher, and I was hooked. I also love Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and the Kings of Leon. Back home (in the UK), there is a group called the Stone Roses that were extremely influential when I was growing up. I also like Johnny Marr and Paul Weller.

Word on the street is that you write your own songs. Tell us about D.C. Social Climber.

I love to create. I find songwriting an amusing way to put down my thoughts about life. D.C. Social Climber was written about how everyone in D.C. is in a rush, yet nobody really knows where they are going. Too much time is wasted on people worrying about ego and status rather than actually living their lives with little consequence for how their actions affect others. I have a few friends who often get wrapped up in the silliness that can sometimes prevail around here, so I simply wanted to break life back down to basics and poke fun at them at the same time!

How does one even get to play at Potbelly? What’s the process? Any perks? What made you do it?

Potbelly was a great location as they promote live music. I simply asked the manager for an opportunity. The perks are free exposure and the chance to perform in front of an ongoing audience. The irony is that whilst performing, I can watch people going about their day. I also get compensated with free lunch!

I always have an inner drive to better myself, and after playing in bars where you only get maybe three songs, (at Potbelly) you get the opportunity to perform a set for over 90 minutes. What made me do it… why not do it?!

When can we go see you perform there? What’s your schedule?

At present, the college coaching duties are always of primary importance. I would love to go once a week on Thursdays, provided the Potbelly’s management allow me to perform.

Have you developed a following of fans? Any funny incidents? Ever nervous?

No fans. Seeing somebody respond or take the time out of their day to listen is gratitude enough.

Funny incidents… leaving the mic on whilst warming up, tripping over wires… it’s all part of the process when learning. I guess the funny incidents are more apparent to me, because I get to watch people whilst performing! You can normally see who likes who from across the room just from their body language, and they don’t even know you are watching them! I have also had people get up on stage and try to sing with me, which can always be eventful!


UDC Athletics Staff comes out for one of Danny’s performances. See – he DOES have fans!

Any similarities between soccer and performing?

The key similarity is people… I love people and any form of human interaction is great. Coaching and playing soccer are my vocation and my passion – playing the guitar and singing are my release and balance. If I can improve any of the situations I am in and make people feel better in the process, then I guess I am affecting things for the better whilst improving my skills to communicate with people in order to get a desired response from them, be it on the field or in a room.

Ever nervous?

Yes! There are always moments as you build up experience – mouth going dry, forgetting words, missing the beat, etc. If you weren’t nervous then it would not be a test, right?

Future plans? Bigger stage? Album?

I always want to keep writing and improving. I would love to play at parties for fun in the right environments. I have enough songs for an album, however I need to learn to play in a band before I get too far ahead of myself!

The basics of songwriting, starting from nothing and conveying your thoughts via music, is a wonderful experience as you never know how it will end. With so much fabrication, the chance to put something out where you know the true meaning of the words and how you want the message to be received is something special. To touch someone through a song is a wonderful ability to have, as they can evoke so many memories. I would simply love to be able to capture people’s feelings in a situation and help them out in some way.

Thank you for your time, coach! Please continue to support Danny’s musical endeavors and also Firebirds soccer!