My Carolina Experience: Danielle Spalding
By Zoya Johnson, GoHeels.com
The following words from Danielle Spaulding, who came to Carolina in 2006 as a top-ranked softball recruit, reflect the views of a person who was looking for a perfect fit when it came to choosing where she went to college. Primarily, she was looking for a strong educational foundation and an athletic program to match.
"When I was narrowing my search down to schools that I wanted to go to I had three things on my list," says Spaulding. "First, I wanted to go to school outside of California. Second, I wanted a place where there were four seasons weather wise. Third, I wanted a great academic school.
"The first school I went to was Illinois State University. I loved the school and I loved the girls but I had to take a step back and think to myself, 'if I wasn't an athlete here would I enjoy being here as a student or as a resident?
"Once I came (to UNC) for a campus visit I completely fell in love with everything. The brick buildings that seemed to trip me every time I walked across campus, the oversized trees that seemed to make all the roads look the same, the huge school spirit for athletics, the colors, and, of course, Anderson Stadium was stunning in itself. I never thought I would go completely across the U.S. but when I went on my visit to UNC I just knew."
Spaulding came to Carolina with a mindset to work hard on the field and in the classroom and to become a better person. She left high school as a three-time Gatorade player of the year and departed UNC as a three-time NFCA All-America so she didn't lack for talent or a strong work ethic. In fact, Spaulding remains one of the most decorated Tar Heel softball players in the program's history. Named as the 2010 ACC Pitcher of the Year, she became the third player in ACC history to earn three individual league awards. She was also the most valuable player of the European Cup the summer after her junior year and led the Austrian Sharx to their first-ever championship in Milan, Italy.
Another reason Spaulding's decision to come to Carolina seemed so fitting was due to its nationally-ranked athletic training program. Spaulding wanted to pursue athletic training as a way to stay close to the game of softball when her career was over. But as her career progressed, she realized she was meant to pursue something else.
She began her classes for the exercise and sport science's athletic training degree and realized she was not passionate enough about the field to be able to commit the extra hours required for the major in conjunction with her already strenuous athletic schedule. From there she decided to pursue a general exercise and sport science degree but really did not know what she wanted to do with it.
There was always coaching as Spaulding had been teaching private lessons with athletes looking to improve their pitching and hitting from the time she was in high school. She realized very early on that she was a talented coach and relished the connection that she got with her athletes, even more so when they succeeded at what they were working on and as they continued to succeed with every lesson. Regardless, she still was unsure that coaching in a team atmosphere was something she at which she would excel.
"When Beverly Smith and Janelle Breneman left the staff after my four years, I decided to help as a student coach for my fifth year. Although there were difficulties coaching my old teammates they were really respectful. I will always appreciate them for that because it turns out that I love coaching. I love working with the individual athletes keeping in mind that you are all working towards one goal."
That experience sparked in Spaulding a love for team coaching and solidified her decision to pursue it at the colligate level. She went on to coach at Texas A&M University and then the University of Redlands in California where Spaulding started as an assistant and is now the head coach.
Spaulding talks about how coaching allows her to give back to a game that gave her so much, while preparing young women for their lives on a much bigger scale. "My coaches and the people in my life at UNC made such a huge impact on who I was as a person that I wanted to give back and be that 'someone' for other people. This is why I decided to get into coaching. I wanted to be an inspiration to young women and I wanted to help them grow and flourish in the real world."
Her future as a coach is undoubtedly bright. It seems fitting that someone with so much passion for the game and its future would be involved at this level and it is comforting to know the values she holds true in her approach to the game and its progression are not only great for the sport but for the athletes she will be working with for years to come.
With how strongly Spaulding feels about the impact that Carolina had on her life and career it only makes sense to ask her what words of advice she would give to an incoming freshman. "Going into your freshman year can be scary all but don't hold back because you're scared. You have to trust that your upbringing and your future as a UNC student has allowed you to make the best decisions possible.
"If you want to have an experience with a lot of history and experience a winning tradition then UNC is the place to be. There is a true family atmosphere with so much support within the athletic department. Even when you are all the way across the country or even the world, people know the colors of Carolina Blue and White. It is an honor to be a student athlete at UNC and it is always a great day to be a Tar Heel."
Simple words from a student-athlete who left Carolina better than it was when she arrived and who continues to give to a sport that made her the person she has become.