This year, Wake Forest is marking an important milestone: 50 years of women in Demon Deacon athletics. To help celebrate, we asked several athletes how they embody leadership and character on and off the field.

Anna Brylin (Tennis) on Leadership

“Being a part of my team has made me a better person because it’s made me less selfish. You have to be selfish to be good at tennis because, unless you’re playing doubles, you’re basically the only one out there on the court. Once I got to college and to Wake, I’ve learned that I have to put people ahead of me on this team, even if it’s not in my best interest. I have to do things for the team that are in the team’s best interest.

“Tennis is going to end at some point. I’m not going to be playing it forever. And people are going to remember you the way you treated them, and the relationships that you made, rather than just the amount of wins that you had. And so I’d much rather be a good person, help others, be willing to go out of my way to help my teammates and my friends, and even maybe people I don’t know. I think I’ve learned to value relationships a lot more as a result.”

Ali Schragger (Dance) on Positivity:

“As a leader on the team and as an upperclassman, you have to be really positive even during those mentally and physically challenging times. I know that people are watching me as a leader, and I know that if I am very pessimistic about something, that everyone else will also be pessimistic, and our team will not perform as well as we should.

“One of our Student Athlete Advisory Committee initiatives last year during COVID was to create kind notes. So I wrote probably a hundred of these notes that said little kind messages, and each SAC member wrote those notes and then we put them in little goodie bags. We handed those out to each athlete. I think that was a great way to spread positivity during COVID when there were a lot of mental health struggles during the peak of finals season and the sports season. The kind messages were a great way to keep people positive.”

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Eleanor Winants (Hockey) on Connection:

“We really try to focus on having one-on-one lunch dates. Going on walks. Doing a social hour. Trying to catch up with someone. Going to get coffee with someone who’s not maybe in the same class as you, or someone you don’t see every day. We really try to focus on that and, in the end, what that does is really help our team as a whole. It’s not as cliquey as it is when you’re hanging out with the same people every day.

“We’ve really focused on that in the past year. It’s really paid off, and it really shows on the field too. It’s a compliment when people tell you that your team looks really connected out there. That’s really because we focus so hard on trying to build those relationships on and off the field.”

Sophie Faircloth (Soccer) on Role Models

“Over the summer, I worked these two soccer camps with a group of 6-year-old girls. I don’t think you truly realize the impact that we have on the younger generation until you’re actually working with them. Coaching those girls kind of blew my mind, because a lot of people say, ‘Oh, the younger kids are always looking up to you.’ But you don’t really realize it until you’re interacting with them. They want to know everything that you did when you were their age. They want to do everything that you do now. They want to know what you’re doing. And they want to be just like you. You’re always being watched, so you need to kind of display your best self at all times.”

Madeline Rehm (Track) on Perspective

“I think one of the biggest things that I’ve learned here is that your performance doesn’t really determine your self worth. I think in cross country and track especially, if you have a bad race, it’s easy to be, like, ‘Oh my gosh, nothing’s going well in life.’ And then once you start stressing, it’s a snowball effect. But I think in my time here, I’m growing and realizing that not everything’s gonna be perfect. Imperfection is perfection. It’s just really important to just love yourself, and I think it makes you a better athlete and person.”

Sydney Smith (Cheerleading) on Honesty

“I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned at Wake as a student and on the cheer team is knowing how to critique yourself. I would say that I could do better with my leadership skills. I feel like they’ve grown being at Wake in different arenas and different things I’ve been involved with on campus. Last year as a freshman, I feel like I didn’t really speak up that much. If I had ideas, I might kinda relay them through some of the other upperclassmen, because I just didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all and things like that. But that’s something– a part of being a leader like you can’t really be afraid of that. You just have to respectfully state what you think would be a good idea and keep it moving.”

Megan Merril (Volleyball) on Humility and Sacrifice

“The biggest thing I’ve learned while being an athlete at Wake is a lesson in humility. I’ve learned that there’s always someone who’s going to be better than you on and off the court, but that doesn’t mean that I stop trying to be the best that I can be, and the best, period.

“I think being a part of any team, especially the volleyball team, has taught me sacrifice and the power of it. I’ve had to give up a lot, but I’ve made those choices, and I stand by them, and I think it’s made me better. I’ve learned how impactful that those choices are, and how much it can help a team and make me a better teammate overall by just giving up little things here and there, and big things especially. It just makes the team kind of come together, a little bit.”

NOTE: These quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.