Features Life Sports

The Modern Renaissance Man


Squadron Training Commander. Gifted student. Future pilot. Student faith group leader. Athlete. If you thought these were all different people, you’d be wrong. UNC rising senior Colin Schilly is all of these things and more.

Schilly is what you’d call a modern day Renaissance man – he does it all. When he was a kid, his dream was to be a major league baseball player. “That was the only thing I ever wanted to do for a while, until I discovered biology,” he says. “And then astronauts, then the military, and here I am.” While he doesn’t see himself in the MLB league anytime soon, he has kept playing the sport his whole life, most recently with the UNC Club Baseball team.

So when his busy schedule makes things hectic, Schilly knows he has baseball to look forward to for blowing off steam. “Baseball is my stress relief – guaranteed I’m going to have an hour and a half each day that I’m just having a good time and hanging out,” he says. “If I didn’t do baseball, I would have an extra eight or so hours a week, but it’s something that I need.”

We’ll get to baseball a little bit later, but first, there are other things to do.

5 a.m. Wednesday

Most people are still sleeping, but Schilly is already beginning what promises to be a busy day. He wakes up at 5 because he has to be on campus for ROTC physical training at 6, which is usually some variety of strenuous or strength-building exercises. Most people wouldn’t be interested in waking up before dawn for PT 2-3 times a week, but it’s right up his alley. After all, among his accomplishments in the program is his perfect score on the fitness test.

When he was 10 years old, Schilly watched a man receive the Medal of Honor on television, and briefly considered joining the military as a future career possibility. The thought didn’t resurface until his freshman year at UNC, when he met people who were part of the University’s Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, pushing him to think about his future a little bit more and consider the program as an option. He also began to realize his dream of becoming an astronaut, and the military seemed like the perfect way to get to space.

He decided to join the program the second semester of his freshman year, and hasn’t looked back. His superiors quickly recognized his work ethic and skill set, and he eventually received a national scholarship through the Air Force – from which he receives paid college tuition and a stipend each month. Working his way up from his first year in the program, he now serves as a Squadron Training Commander, responsible for training first-year cadets to understand the basics of ROTC.

His counterpart, Maggie Adams, believes joining the program later than most people allowed him to figure himself out first. Since then, she has witnessed his growth and development in ROTC firsthand — and even thinks that the program has benefited him on the baseball field.

“It’s been cool to watch him break out of his shell the past couple of years,” Adams says. “He is quieter in the background when you first meet him, but when you understand him as a person, he is so strategic in how he acts and talks. Whether he’s actually presenting or just talking with you as a friend, there’s a lot going on in his brain, and he’s probably thought a lot about what he’s going to say and how he’s going to portray himself to you in that moment.”

Schilly just landed a spot in the prestigious pilot program, meaning that he will have to pass a flight physical and then go through several rounds of training to fly aircraft for a 10-year Air Force commitment. The challenge of the program doesn’t scare him, though – it motivates him to do well that much more.

“For me, it’s about controlling the things I can control – that’s something baseball has taught me. Whenever I would make a team, I knew that I could play with the guys, but it was a matter of showing that I was good enough,” Schilly says. He believes he can do almost any job, he just has to prove his ability and willingness to work hard – a sentiment he thinks may pass as a little arrogant, but that’s mostly just in his head.

8 a.m.

After PT, when the rest of the world is just now heading to work, Colin cooks himself breakfast and listens to music.  Besides club baseball practice, it might be his favorite time of the day. He loves being around people, but also really values his alone time, considering himself neither an introvert nor an extrovert. Don’t ask him about his Myers-Briggs type either – he couldn’t care less.

What he’s listening to could be anything from Muse or Queen (his favorite bands) to show tunes or Céline Dion. He has countless Spotify playlists that he usually chooses from based on his mood of the day.

Schilly knows himself very well – something that really came to fruition when he got to college. “What you like and what’s important to you says a lot about you, I realized,” he says. “Since I got to UNC, I’ve been starting to come into my personality. Embracing the fact that I love Broadway musicals and meeting my best friends who have the same sense of humor as me, all of that combined has taught me about myself.” He’s pretty much always having a good day and loves making people laugh with his sarcasm. The fact that his interests stretch over such a wide spectrum makes “Renaissance man” one of the first things people associate with him.

Daniel Petrucci, one of Schilly’s housemates, has only known him for a few months, but he already agrees with that classification. “I think he’s very versatile – I thought Colin might be very straight-edged and ROTC-focused, and not have many other interests,” he says. “But I was surprised to see that he loves Hamilton; he was in a musical his senior year of high school. I also grew up playing baseball, so we connect on that. So, he’s a modern Renaissance man, I think.”

“He’s like, ‘if something is challenging, then I want to try it and master it,’” his sister Haley says.  “That kind of feeds into the whole Renaissance man thing – if he does something, then he wants to be good at it, and he is. He competes with himself more than anyone I know. Like when he ran a marathon a few months ago, he sees this version of himself. He’s like, ‘I could know more, I could learn more, I could be better, stronger, faster.’ And he is going to keep working until he gets there.”

10:10 a.m.

Schilly is off to class, which is a mix of biology, Spanish and Air Force courses. Science classes have always come easy to him, but Spanish takes a little more work, which is fine, because he likes the challenge.

After graduating in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology (that comes with a chemistry minor) as well as Hispanic Studies and Aerospace Studies minors, he will begin his career with the military, then hopefully transition into being an astronaut. At some point during his career, he may go to medical school. Nothing is off the table.

Ultimately, Schilly’s final destination career goal is to be a high school biology teacher — something that stems from his love for teaching, longtime interest in animals and plants and a fascination for how things work in nature.

In between classes, he sneaks in a workout at the gym (because PT earlier was clearly not enough) and then heads back to class.

4 p.m.

ROTC meetings take up the first half of Schilly’s afternoon, but then it’s time for his favorite part of the day – baseball. A full hour and a half to do what he loves and practice with his club baseball teammates is exactly what he needs after a long day. Don’t be fooled, though, because Schilly and baseball haven’t always had the rosiest relationship.

“Growing up, baseball was a staple in my life and always my favorite sport. But me and baseball have a love-hate relationship,” he says.

The Schillys are a baseball family – Colin and his brothers all played in recreational leagues growing up and they follow Major League Baseball. He started playing when he was three, constantly practicing in his backyard when he wasn’t playing rec ball. When he tried out for the middle school team, he didn’t make it and was devastated, but decided to keep playing in the rec league.

High school tryouts in ninth grade were another swing and a miss. Schilly ended up playing travel ball instead, frustrated by the popularity contest and favoritism that made up his high school baseball team. He wasn’t giving up yet though, reluctantly trying out again in tenth and eleventh grades after the coach encouraged him to, but still didn’t make it. At that point, he was playing for fun, but wasn’t in an organized league. “I didn’t hate the sport, I hated the system,” he says. “But I kept playing, kept hitting off the tee and throwing from time to time. Grew a few inches, which is nice.”

Haley first witnessed her brother’s love and dedication for baseball at an early age. She’s impressed with how it has grown over time, remembering when he would spend summers practicing in the driveway with a training net and going out to hit and pitch with his older brother, Tyler. She took it personally when the politics of their high school athletic department got in the way of him making the team. “Colin worked so hard and loved it so much, but it didn’t have to do with passion or skill or anything. It was this hierarchy of our high school. He had this fire lit for baseball and then he just wasn’t able to play, and it was the saddest thing ever.” She admired his dedication to keep trying out year after year. “He knew he was good enough the whole time, but I know that shaped him and how he approaches failure and perseverance. And now, I’m so glad he plays on the club team [at UNC] because he just wanted to play baseball, and now he can.”

Senior year of high school came and went without a tryout, and then Schilly was a freshman at UNC, where Tyler was the president of the UNC Club Baseball team.

“I almost didn’t try out for the club team, but then I was like, you know, I’m going to try it out. There’s a chance I don’t make it, and then I can go with one of my other interests, like musical theatre,” he says.

He felt a little rusty during the tryout, but he made the team (without his brother’s help, he might add) and began to rapidly improve. Now, he’s at the top of his game – and he loves it more than ever.

UNC Club Baseball is a student-run organization. Some of the players could play NCAA Division II or III college baseball, but they’d rather have fun playing in a more relaxed, yet still competitive setting. The team is part of the National Club Baseball Association, playing in a conference with schools from the east coast with 10-12 series in the spring and a few out of conference games as well. Their biggest rival is the East Carolina University Pirates, who consistently finish at the top of their division – but Schilly and the UNC club team beat them this year at their matchup.

Schilly began his role on the team as a first-baseman, but has recently pitched as well. In addition to that, he runs the team’s social media accounts, which give him an outlet for his clever wit. His teammate, Jackson Cabell, says the team appreciates him for his multifaceted role. He was impressed with Schilly from the start, when he saw him play during tryouts. He had no idea that he didn’t play in high school until Schilly told him.

“In club baseball we do a lot of joking around, but we all want to win too, so Colin gets involved with the shenanigans, but he’s also a great baseball player on the field,” Cabell says. “This is his first year pitching and he’s doing really well as a lefty pitcher, which is exciting to see. He’s always been strong at the plate, but he’s just made a really good transition from playing the outfield to first base. Very supportive of his teammates and friendly with everyone too, and new guys on the team feel more comfortable because of him.”

UNC Club Baseball beat two top ten-ranked teams in the 2019 regular season (Maryland and Florida), which helps their playoff chances for a potential wild-card bid. The jury’s still out on whether or not they’ll make a postseason appearance, but they have high hopes. Even if they aren’t able to keep playing, for them it’s mostly just about having fun. Like Schilly, most of the guys on the team are not just involved in baseball on campus.

“That’s why we don’t take it super seriously, because people prioritize school and are able to stay involved with other things on campus…but when we get onto the field, we want to win, and Colin is definitely one of those people [who can do both],” Cabell says.

His current walk-up song to bat is “Tom Sawyer” by Rush, because “it’s filthy. I do it to feel cool. It gets me hype.” And when he’s pitching, it’s “What’s Up Danger” from “Into the Spider-verse.”

Other than his walk-up music to get him hyped up, Schilly says the guys on the team are really good about supporting each other. “I made a pretty awesome catch about a month ago, and it got super hype and they were all high-fiving me. But we also make fun of each other,” he says. “When it comes down to it, you are by yourself out there, but everything is still as a team, you’re moving for this team. We’ll scrap for each other.”

Schilly is glad he decided to try out and gets to do what he’s passionate about in college. When asked what he brings to the team, he has to think about it for a second, but reluctantly and humbly says, “I think I’m one of the best fielders on the team, if not just a pure set of hands. I don’t know if there’s anyone better than me at catching balls in the outfield and stuff.”

“I love being on that team,” he says. “It’s nice to go to baseball and be with a bunch of people who like the sport too, and who will know what I’m talking about if I make a sports reference. And baseball is just a beautiful game – it requires a very unique skill set. I feel like it just takes a natural hand-eye coordination and ability and that just kind of fascinates me.”

5 p.m.

Time for dinner and some more time to himself.

While he eats he might check up on the latest baseball news, especially with his hometown team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Schilly was born in St. Louis, but moved to Charlotte when he was six, where his family still resides. He is one of five kids – he has two older sisters, Kelci and Haley, an older brother, Tyler and a younger brother, Caleb. He loves the Cardinals so much that he regularly sports special-edition Vans sneakers printed with their logo.

Growing up as Schilly’s older sister (by one year), Haley knows him better than almost anyone – and she thinks his loyalty is his most prominent value. “He has loyalty not only to his family and friends but also to his country…just this dedication. He will not ever let you down, he’s such a good listener and such a loyal brother and friend. He’s super empathetic and good at knowing how people feel – he cares really, really deeply about his friendships, his family and different things – and he always, always wants to do the right thing.”

He’s not always serious, though. In fact, Haley says that “even though he has become more thoughtful and a matured guy, he has always been a goofball and a weirdo.”

6 p.m.

Schilly usually can’t focus on homework in the afternoon, so he waits until the evening to get started. Sometimes he works at home, but today he’s headed to the Newman Catholic Student Center to get some studying done. The activity center at the church serves as a great study spot for students, and it’s a particular favorite of Schilly’s. While he’s there, he might even sneak in some time to pray in the chapel.

His faith is extremely important to him, something that has only grown during college with the help of Newman. Schilly got involved with Newman and campus ministry during his freshman year when he was encouraged by his siblings, Tyler and Haley, to come to one of the social events. Since then, he’s been on the annual retreat every year, serving as a leader for the past two years. He co-hosts a small faith group every week, which focuses on reading and discussing Scripture as well as connecting with other Catholic students. He doesn’t stop there – he also sings in the choir at Sunday mass and occasionally leads the congregation as a cantor.

“Religion gives me my purpose in life,” he says. “Newman is great because it allows me to connect with people on that level and have people to talk to about faith.”

Sophomore Alex Pinder, a member of his small faith group, says that Schilly was integral in making his transition to college a smooth one. Pinder immediately connected with him over their similar Catholic school backgrounds.

“Colin sticks out to me at Newman because he takes his faith into his own hands,” he says. “He shows not only me, but the people around us, that it’s okay to practice your faith in your own way.”

“He does a lot of different things but they all fit together into one person…he’s a jack of all trades,” he says. “He’s a very unique guy – active in the Newman community, skilled on the baseball field and a man of many talents. There is probably nothing he can’t do.”

9 p.m.

Home again, and time to relax. By now, all of his housemates are most likely home and all hanging out together. Depending on the night, he’ll watch “Brooklyn 99” with his housemate and best friend Jeffrey Davidson, catch up on hockey (the St. Louis Blues are his favorite) or scroll through Twitter to get his daily dose of baseball news and other happenings.

“He takes his schoolwork seriously, as well as his commitments to things, like religion, baseball and ROTC,” Davidson says. “But he’s a funny guy too, has a very sophisticated sense of humor similar to mine – which is why we get along so well.”

Davidson shares a room with Schilly, whom he considers to be very low-maintenance and easy to live with. They talk about anything and everything, including Schilly’s baseball games and Major League Baseball current events to random, hypothetical comedy bits they like to make up. He’s the first person that Davidson wants to talk about his life with.

He hasn’t been to a club baseball game yet, but he jokes that he’s heard Schilly has “quite an arm” on the the pitching mound. “In all seriousness, his passion for baseball is unparalleled,” he says. “I know he really loves baseball, and it’s cool that it makes him happy.”

“My friends that I live with are home base – I never get tired of hanging out with them and I’m able to be the most myself with all of them,” Schilly says.

Because of his jam-packed schedule, Schilly is early to sleep, early to rise. He has to be well-rested to keep up with everything on his to-do list.

As for how he balances everything he’s involved in, Schilly says it’s all about prioritizing. “It’s committing to actually doing stuff when you say you’re going to do it,” he says.

So what’s the next activity for the Renaissance man to take on? He could learn another language like he did with French two summers ago. Maybe he’ll pick up a musical instrument – though he has already dabbled in bass guitar. “If Colin told me tomorrow that he was learning to play the tuba, I would not be at all surprised,” says Pinder. If he had the time to try out a new hobby, he says, he would probably try dancing or explore musical theatre more. He’s been drawn to that ever since his theatrical debut as Papa Bear in “Shrek: The Musical” senior year of high school. Maybe he can squeeze it in his schedule somewhere, but if not, he’ll continue listening to Broadway soundtracks and busting a move with his friends. There aren’t many hobbies he wouldn’t be interested in trying, except for golf – he’s not a huge fan of the sport and not naturally inclined in it, according to his own assessment.

He’s heard the Renaissance man term before, and he knows that he’s good at a lot of things – but he keeps those thoughts to himself.

“I’ve been blessed with a combination of abilities and I want to make the most of them,” he says. “I’m confident, but I never go anywhere with that arrogance.”

Schilly may not know exactly how the next few years will pan out, but if it ever stresses him out, he knows he has baseball to turn to.

“There’s nothing more relaxing to me than just watching a baseball game or going to throw,” he says. “No better feeling in the world than hitting a baseball.”


Features Sports UNC

Erin Matson: A Phenom on the Pitch

Freshman First Team All-American. National Champion. Member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team. Featured on SportsCenter with a Top 10 play. ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. The list goes on.

Erin Matson is only 19 years old and she has more field hockey accolades than you can fit in a trophy case. You would think with that kind of experience under her belt, her ego would match her status. But Matson is as humble as she is talented, learning from an early age to keep her ego in check.

“I kind of don’t like…like, this makes me uncomfortable, talking about myself,” Matson said with a laugh. “I guess it was learned from [my parents], they never would like really boast me up or anything. I guess I kind of learned from them to kind of keep a level head and not really be too cocky.”

She was born in Delaware but grew up in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with her brother Sean and parents Jill and Brian. Her mother, a former field hockey player for Yale, introduced her to the sport when she was six.

“I was best friends with this girl in my grade and we went to this camp together when we were six,” Matson said. “I just sort of fell in love with it.”

That love grew into a passion for Matson, who continued playing on prestigious WC Eagles club team through her childhood and into adolescence. It was then that UNC field hockey coach Karen Shelton first watched her play by a stroke of luck. She was visiting her brother, and they went to watch Laura, her niece who played for the WC Eagles, at one of her games.

“My brother’s like saying, ‘You’ve got to see this other kid,” Shelton said. “She was in like fourth grade, and she was so good.”

From there, Shelton kept her eye on Matson as a potential recruit, keeping in touch with her and inviting her to the UNC summer field hockey camp with her niece.

“We got Erin interested in North Carolina from a very early age,” Shelton said. “We didn’t bring her here, but we offered her to come to camp, so she came to camp like in the sixth grade. She loved Carolina the moment she stepped on campus.”

Matson remembers the camp to be like any other kids’ summer camp with popsicles and slip ‘n slides, but also very field hockey-focused. She and Shelton’s niece were the youngest girls there by far, but their skill level classified them as elite players and qualified them to play among the older girls that the camp was originally marketed for.

Four years later, Matson committed to UNC in the tenth grade. The college recruitment process formally begins when a prospective athlete enters ninth grade, which means coaches cannot contact them, but athletes can contact coaches.

Matson knew that UNC was the right choice to prepare her for the rest of her career.

“I realized UNC was the place for me, because they could get me there, they could prepare me to be that player, [Coach Shelton] knows where I want to be, and I think it’s important to have people like that in your corner so they can push you and make you that player,” she said.

Before she got to UNC, though, she had the rest of high school to finish. After playing on her high school team for two years, she tried out for the indoor national team as a first stepping stone towards her dream of being an Olympic player.

Next, she participated in a program called Futures, which was training for a tournament of the same name. She finished out her time with Futures by making the U17 team, the next step to getting noticed, making the U19 and U21 teams and advancing to the women’s national team.

“So for me, I made U19 first, and then U21,” Matson said. “[Dutch gold medalist] Janneke Schopman was the U21 coach for me. So when the women’s team coach retired, she became the coach and kind of took our core group of U21s up with her.”

Matson still remembers the moment she found out she had made the national team like it was yesterday. She was training at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California, when she received a call from Schopman.

“I think I was sitting on the dock or something, relaxing, and Janneke called me and asked if I wanted to come to New Zealand with them to play in a tournament over there,” she said. “That would be my first break with the national team – so I was like, ‘Of course, like oh my gosh.’ I called my parents right away, I remember crying.”

Since then, Matson has traveled with Team USA to South America, Europe and Africa, to name a few. After a successful first two years with the national team, it was time to play for UNC. During her freshman year season, she made a successful first impression, helping lead the team to its first national championship in nine years.

“I remember the last 10 seconds,” Matson said. “Everyone always tells you, like, ‘The game’s not over, until it’s over.’ And then the horn blew, and I threw my stick down, and I just ran to whoever was closest to me and gave them a big hug — I couldn’t even tell you who it was. And I’m a crier, so I cry at happy things. So I was crying, people were hugging. I don’t think we dogpiled — like, fell down — but I think we all just kind of clustered.”

Matson said the biggest focus for the team this year was to avoid settling. She cites their cohesiveness and constant striving to do better each day as keys to their success.

“I think for us the recognition of not becoming complacent, like it’s okay if we’re not generating a lot of attack, that doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to handle it, that kind of mindset allowed us to keep a forward look instead of plateauing,” she said.

The national championship wasn’t the only bright spot during the season for Matson, who was featured as a SportsCenter Top 10 clip for her play against Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament final. She had a second chance to score after she went for the goal, the ball went back to her and she shot it in for a backhanded goal. She remembers it as being surreal, receiving a text from her father that she was on TV.

“It just kind of happened – it was a great corner call and a great play,” Matson said. “I just reacted and then next thing I know, my dad texted me that I was on SportsCenter, so that was cool.”

There’s been one person besides Matson’s parents that has been there to see all of her field hockey milestones – current UNC teammate, Romea Riccardo, who has known Matson since they were ten years old.

“We ended up playing on the same club team together, and then our high schools play in the same conferences, and we just know each other from that and playing club together,” Riccardo said. “So and then we ended up committing to the same school, and we’ve been friends since.”

Riccardo enjoys being able to help her friend improve as a player, citing her ability to make Matson uncomfortable on the field because she has known her for so long. She loves being able to connect with her on a deeper level than just field hockey – she said they support each other through everything.

“We were ecstatic [to be playing on the same team in college] – being able to play with a friend that I’ve played with since I was younger, reconnecting, was just an awesome experience and moment,” she said.

Matson feels the same way, looking back on their younger years together fondly and now enjoying playing with Riccardo at UNC.

“We were close then and then we kind of separated for a couple years. And now obviously we’re like this close [intertwines fingers]. She’s great,” Matson said. “We help each other out and do favors. She’s supportive. I think it’s important to just kind of have your person and know who it is so you can vent and relax and do whatever with them.”

Knowing Matson for almost ten years has allowed Riccardo to see her development as a player and a person, and Riccardo praises her for her passion, drive and friendship.

“When she plays she cares so much about the game and making sure you’re getting better and the team’s getting better,” Riccardo said. “She’s very like, serious [on the field] and off the field she’s like a totally different person, being friendly and more laid back than [in] the game of field hockey, I guess.”

Matson is looking forward to the next season at UNC, but in the meantime, in between practices and workouts, she’ll relax by going to the beach, listening to music, spending time with family or watching her boyfriend’s [UNC baseball player Tom Caufield] games at Boshamer Stadium.

One of Shelton’s concerns, though, is that after a fabulous freshman season, Matson will fall into a sophomore slump.

“She can be one of our best players ever, she’s that good,” Shelton said. “I don’t want her to have a sophomore slump – you gotta stay hungry and humble and hardworking.”

But Shelton isn’t too worried. She knows Matson has a good head on her shoulders and always has. She can’t say enough good things about her, both as a player and a person, calling her well-respected, a game-changer and uncannily skilled.

“She’s very diligent about her workouts, her schoolwork, her nutrition, sleep. And being with the national team, they insist upon it, so she’s had the ability to grow into her body but to mature intellectually, from a field hockey IQ point of view,” she said. “She’s really smart, she’s really fast, physically strong, and technically outstanding. She’s got it all.”

So after a whirlwind freshman year, what’s next for Matson? Of course, her next three seasons at UNC await, but she hasn’t put her Olympic dreams on hold. One thing is for sure, though: her career won’t end after college.

“[The U.S. national team is] hopefully going to qualify for Tokyo in 2020, and then we have another World Cup in 2022,” she said. “And after that, I’ll be graduated for Paris 2024, so that’s the next couple steps.”

Through it all, Matson will keep her head steady and composed, which she attributes to her parents and her coaches. She said her parents have always kept her grounded and thinking about the next step in her playing career.

“I think I’ve always had good role models – my parents, my coaches, I mean, Coach Shelton holds me accountable. Also, I’ve never really felt the need to be cocky or showy,” she said.

In fact, Matson has a three-part plan for excellence as a player: humility, making your teammates look good, and sacrifice.

“I genuinely believe that you cannot become great— I mean, you have to have a certain level of confidence, but there is a limit, and I think knowing that you’re still one player on that whole field with a ton of other girls is a big part of it,” she said. “I also think people underestimate the power to make your teammates look better instead of just yourself. And going back to sacrifices, it’s what you do when people aren’t watching, and I think a lot of people don’t realize the time you have to put in if you want to be great, outside of practice, outside of lifts – and I think all three of those are just a little bit of what you need.”


Features Sports UNC

From the NCAA to the NWSL: Getting to Know Alex Kimball

“AK, are you ready to be a Royal?”

When Alex Kimball received that phone call that was years in the making, it was the easiest question for her to answer. The UNC veteran midfielder was recently drafted to the Utah Royals, a National Women’s Soccer League team. She is no stranger to royalty, however, after earning the nickname “Inca Warrior Princess” from her coach, Anson Dorrance. Though Kimball struggled with a hip injury that sat her out for her junior year season, she never lost her warrior mentality that has set her apart from other players since the beginning. Like she has always been, Kimball is ready for another challenge.

Kimball has called Chapel Hill home since 2001, playing for her school soccer team at Chapel Hill High School and at the club level with Raleigh CASL. But she got her start earlier than that as a two-year-old in the 4 and up league in Salt Lake City, where she was born. She played until middle school, when she decided she needed a break.

“I got really burnt out when I was about 12 or 13,” Kimball said. “Because competitive soccer is a lot…and as a little kid I was like, ‘I’m so sick of this.’”

Her hiatus didn’t last long. After playing softball for a year, she was itching to get back to soccer. Once she entered high school, she got serious about playing on the collegiate level. Her coach, Cindy Parlor, a former Tar Heel and Olympic gold medalist, made her feel like her dream could be a reality.

“She told me the year after [my break] that if you’re serious about this, you can play for Carolina,” she said. “So then I kicked it into gear a little bit. That’s when I was like, ‘I want to play college soccer.’”

When she moved to Chapel Hill, Tar Heel footballer Jessica Maxwell was her neighbor and babysitter, which inspired her dream of one day following in Maxwell’s footsteps and playing at Carolina. Fast forward to the varsity soccer team at CHHS, and Dorrance was coming to watch her play. He immediately noticed her go-getter attitude and her promise as a player.

“When you run into Alex Kimball, basically you get hurt,” he said. “You do not screw around with the ball if Kimball is bearing down on you.”

She agrees, emphasizing her work ethic as one of the strongest aspects of her playing style.

“Coming into Carolina, there’s always going to be girls who are better than you, who are faster than you, who are stronger than you,” she said. “But for me, my mentality was like, ‘You’re never going to outwork me. Whatever drill you get put up against me in, I’m going to make your life hell.”

Kimball was aggressively recruited by Wake Forest, but in the end Carolina was impossible to say no to.

“It’s almost like an unsaid – it’s something you can’t explain until you experience it, but for me it was always a dream to come here,” she said. “Not only are we number one, but I knew the kind of family environment that I was going to get from Carolina. The connections and your development as a human is so much better here.”

While she knows she could have played more minutes at another school, she wanted to choose a school that made her the most successful player, and Carolina was it. Kimball heard a quote with the concept of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable” and realized that Carolina was going to put her under pressure, make her uncomfortable and develop her into the most dynamic player she could be.

Arriving at Carolina, she quickly became known as “AK 47,” a play on her youth soccer club nickname and new jersey number. That wasn’t her only nickname, however, with Dorrance calling her a “brick and an aggressive savage.” He also calls her his “Inca Warrior Princess” because he believes that nothing can ever hurt her. Her teammates began to recognize her as an unstoppable defensive presence and an intimidating force to opponents.

As she began her collegiate career, she played intermittently her first two years, but her injury prevented her from continuing to develop as a player. Her left hip was weakened from a torn labrum her junior year of high school, and its condition worsened as the intensity of collegiate soccer continued.

By the end of her sophomore year, her hip was worsening, and she went into surgery to repair her torn labrum. Doctors weren’t optimistic about the future of her soccer career. Wake Forest orthopedic surgeon Dr. Allston Stubbs basically told her to hang up her cleats. But that wasn’t the final word for Kimball – she ended up getting her surgery with Raleigh Orthopedics and vowed to return to the field.

“He was like, ‘you should just stop playing – your hip is gonna be like this forever,’” she said. “And I’m just like, ‘whatever man, new doctor.’”

She got back on the field in 2016, but complications from her surgery soon followed and led her to redshirt her junior year – a devastating reality she had to live with while her teammates continued playing.

“After [the 2016 Final Four run] my hip was just torn to shreds…so I redshirted the next season. Gave my hip time to heal, and I was rehabbing really hard.” Kimball said. “It made me so upset and sad, just watching training and knowing I am not able to play to my full capacity was hard.”

Despite her setbacks, Kimball’s spark never died out. She never once doubted that she would return to the field, though her family was concerned. They wanted her to be healthy down the road, not just for her college career. Her high pain tolerance and stubbornness pushed her through the pain with her family supporting her no matter what.

“They just wanted me to be happy at the end of the day,” Kimball said. “But they were definitely looking way more long term that I was. I was just focused on my college career and finishing that out strong.”

Her time to shine came later as tragedy struck, when star player Alessia Russo broke her leg during a game vs. Wake Forest. Kimball subbed into the game for Russo “pissed off” and ready to play.

“I’m already very protective of my teammates,” she said. “You can bang me up, you can mess me up all you want. But when you touch one of my teammates, it’s like a whole different level.”

With Kimball stepping into big shoes, she was determined to give her team everything she had in Russo’s honor.

“I’m like, ‘listen, I’m not Alessia Russo, but I’m Alex Kimball and I’ll give you everything Alex Kimball has,’” she said.

Though Kimball was happy to be getting playing time, she couldn’t help but feel heartbroken for Russo. One night, she received a text from Russo, who offered her some words of encouragement.

“I think I figured out why I got hurt. I think it’s because you deserve the biggest opportunity of your time here,” Russo said. “I know you have the potential to kill it in the NWSL – you really deserve to be seen and prep for the draft in January.”

Fully backed by her team and Russo, she contributed heavily to the success of the team for the rest of the season. Whenever she stepped on the field, she kept Russo in her heart and mind.

So when Kimball received the call in January from Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey, she partially had Russo to thank for the opportunity to be drafted. She cited her senior year playing time as her best opportunity to prove herself as a player.

She wasn’t sure she would be drafted to Utah, though, despite that being her top choice after training there last summer. Coach Dorrance failed to mention her when he responded to an inquiry from Utah’s assistant coach about potential players from Carolina. That was upsetting, she said, but only made her want to work harder.

Her hard work paid off. Now, it’s back to Utah for Kimball, who will work with the team during preseason and hopes to be officially signed as a player. Dorrance said that if they sign her, and he thinks they will, they’ll never let her go.

She gets to go home, surrounded by her family, who lives there.

“I’m excited, but my family is probably 100 times more excited than I am,” she said. “It’s definitely hit me a little later that wow, I get to go home.”

But more than anything else right now, she finally feels like she has come into herself.

“As a soccer player, as a person, there’s so many elements that you get here at Carolina,” Kimball said. “I just realized that I’m in an emotionally, physically, spiritually stable place. My body’s actually working for me right now and it feels good – everything has been clicking into place. I’m just really happy.”

Learn more about Alex Kimball here.