DeCock: UNC field hockey player takes detour to Duke

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 16, 2012 

— As the daughter of a North Carolina graduate, Loren Shealy was raised a Tar Heel, which as much as anything else meant being raised with a certain natural antipathy for Duke – a feeling only reinforced when she decided to play field hockey for the Tar Heels.

As North Carolina prepares for the final four this weekend, Shealy is also preparing to go behind enemy lines, so to speak. Next semester, she’ll live and study at Duke as a Robertson Scholar, the first athlete selected for the prestigious dual-study program in its 12 years of existence.

“We’re always joking about it,” Shealy said. “I’ve grown up a UNC fan, so we hate Duke. Of course, (my dad) is always joking about it, but he’s proud of what I’m doing. I think it’ll be a good learning experience.”

With 16 goals and 34 points, Shealy, a sophomore forward, is the third-leading scorer for top-ranked North Carolina, which will play Syracuse on Friday in the NCAA semifinals in Norfolk, Va.

Monday, as her teammates turned their attention toward the final four, Shealy was busy registering for spring-semester classes at their fiercest rival.

Most Robertson Scholars are chosen as incoming freshmen, typically between 24 and 36 each year, but a few are chosen during their freshman year at Duke or North Carolina.

Shealy was one of four selected last spring after a representative from the Robertson Scholars program addressed a meeting of North Carolina coaches last year, attempting to attract the first athlete to the program.

Listening to the presentation, field hockey coach Karen Shelton had one name in mind: A 4.0 student who graduated early from Charlotte Country Day to enroll at North Carolina in January.

“The more they talked about it, the more I thought of Loren as the perfect candidate,” Shelton said.

Shealy’s Robertson experience began during the summer when all of the scholars gathered in Mississippi for a community service project.

A business administration major at North Carolina, she will take several classes at Duke, including a religion course in Duke’s highly rated theology program, a health-care economics course and philosophy and psychology courses. She’ll also take one class at North Carolina necessary for her major.

“It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m sure I’ll meet some really cool people,” Shealy said. “I’ve already met some of the Duke Robertsons and it’s been fun to get to know them.”

Most Robertson Scholars commute back and forth on U.S. 15-501 on a dedicated bus; Shealy plans on using a car to accommodate North Carolina’s thrice-weekly spring practices in Chapel Hill. (Shelton wondered if Shealy might be tempted to practice with Duke in the mornings and North Carolina in the afternoons.)

Shealy knows a few of Duke’s field hockey players from summer league games, but she’s more excited about the opportunity to live and study with the entire Duke student body – even, or perhaps especially, on the days when Duke and North Carolina engage in college basketball’s greatest rivalry.

“It’s exciting,” Shealy said. “We have such a huge rivalry between the two schools. I can’t wait to be walking around Duke with my UNC gear on before big basketball games. I just think it’s going to be a fun experience.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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