By Simon Brady
UT graduate athlete Shannon Sweeney is living out the dream that many nostalgic former collegiate athletes are desperate for. Formerly playing for UT lacrosse, and currently a member of the cross country team at UT, Sweeney understands the magnitude of what she’s accomplished as an athlete.
Sweeney also recognizes she’s had great support and stability through it all from those most important to her. Sweeney knew switching from Lacrosse to cross country would be an adjustment and was thankful for the support from women’s cross country head coach Jarrett Slaven and women’s lacrosse head coach Kelly Gallagher.
“Not a lot of people get the chance to represent their university in two different sports so I felt very lucky just to even be given that option,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney immediately gained her lacrosse teammates’ trust and respect at UT, as she was named captain in just her second season. With making the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) Commissioner’s Honor Roll three times and the Division II ADA Academic Achievement Award, Sweeney excelled off the field as well.
Now on a squad with the least experience out of everyone, Sweeney has had to go through a unique flip in terms of her leadership role.
“Although I may be the oldest girl on the team, I have the least amount of experience with cross country,” said Sweeney. “All of my teammates are incredible athletes, they have been so helpful and each of them really know what they are talking about.”
Sweeney’s teammate Julia Lockridge, a junior Allied Health major, primarily attributes Sweeny’s success to how strong willed and driven she is.
“Shannon is really strong physically and mentally,” Lockridge said. “She doesn’t give up ever and I think that’s what makes her so capable and good that she can handle competing in two sports.”
Lockridge went on to say Sweeney is an asset to the team and that she fits into the culture of the team, where everyone is consistently pushing one another in practices and during meets.
Assistant coach of the cross country team Linda Musante is so confident in Sweeney’s athletic ability that she felt the sky was the limit with her, regardless of which sports she pursued the most.
“Shannon also ran in high school so clearly she is one of those lucky people who is athletically gifted,” said Musante. “Her natural talent combined with a great work ethic and passion for the sport has already made her one of our top runners.”
According to Musante, the only downside to Sweeney joining the cross country team is that it won’t last for a full length collegiate career like she did with the lacrosse team.
“She’s the total package––naturally gifted, trains hard and races even harder. We are so lucky to have her on the team this year. My only regret is that we only have her for one year and not four years, lacrosse was lucky!”
Although it’s clear Sweeney has always been a gifted athlete, it’s hard for anyone to transition from a sport like lacrosse to cross country, where both entail completely different dynamics.
Sweeney spoke to those challenges, laying out her mindset in the middle of competition in each. “Lacrosse requires being able to think and make decisions at the drop of a dime,” said Sweeney. “Throughout an entire game or practice your mind is anticipating plays or where the ball is going to go next, and how you are going to react.”
As far as the intangible side of lacrosse, Sweeney understands being on the same page as her teammates is the difference between good and poor performance.
“You constantly have to be on the same wavelength as your teammates and genuinely trust them,” said Sweeney. “That aspect of it creates an incredible bond amongst everyone on the team and I really appreciated that.”
Unlike lacrosse, in cross country you’ve just got to be a good teammate by pushing each other while you compete. “Cross country is a little more individual and you need to inspire your teammates by pushing yourself physically beyond what you think possible,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney embraces being a tough competitor and battling through the that comes with cross country.
“There’s literally is no better feeling than running in a workout or race and feeling like you are going to die,” said Sweeney. “But when you look at the person in front of you or next to you, knowing they are going through the same pain that you are and somehow that makes it all easier.”
Simon Brady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org