Nov. 20, 2013
By Adam Miller,
Asst. Director of Athletic Media Relations
Many student-athletes have endured the hardships and inconveniences related to life changes at a young age. When that adversity is thrown their way, they are forced into the choppy waters and have the choice to sink or swim. For East Carolina soccer goalkeeper Saundra Baron, she is doing everything she can to not only swim, but build her own ship, too.
Baron was always ahead of the ball during grade school, which began with her skipping the third grade after she was a little ahead of the curve academically. The drawback came about six years later when Baron was a 16-year-old high school player from Greensboro, N.C., that wasn’t getting as many looks from college as the 17 and 18-year-olds on the soccer field.
Despite being a member of the Trinidad & Tobago Women’s National Team, it wasn’t until May of her senior year that she received offers from Louisville and Coastal Carolina, and made the choice to go attend the latter to be closer to home. Her decision might have made the casual reader squint or raise their eyebrows, but when you add the fact that her mother, Shirleyanne, was suffering from lung cancer, the closer to Greensboro she could be made all the sense in the world.
In her freshman season as a Chanticleer in 2011, Baron was the starting goalkeeper in 16 of the team's 19 games. Coastal Carolina finished the season with just two wins and two ties, but that was the last thing on her mind. Her parents came for a visit in the middle of the season to see her play and spend some time with their daughter, but they brought more bad news: Saundra’s father, Joffre, was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
The season eventually came to an end, and so did her playing time at Coastal Carolina. Baron did not play during her second year, redshirting the season. On November 24, 2012, nearly a month after the end of her redshirt season, Baron received the kind of phone call no one wants to get. Shirleyanne had lost her battle with lung cancer. Saundra opted to transfer.
“My mom wanted me closer to home,” Baron said. “She wanted me to be happy and the last place she gave her blessing to before she died was ECU.”
East Carolina wasn’t simply picked out of a list of schools in the state of North Carolina that had a women’s soccer program in need a goalkeeper, but there was a connection to head coach Rob Donnenwirth, who coached Baron at the Olympic Development Program.
“It was a fresh start, a new place for me to go in-state that was closer to my dad and it was a school with a great program and athletic history,” Baron said. “I just wanted to wipe the slate clean and prove to people that I could become the goalkeeper I always knew I could be.”
After beginning classes at ECU during the 2013 spring semester, Baron claims that the transition to East Carolina was difficult, leaving behind all of the relationships she built in her first two years of college and recuperating in a relatively unfamiliar place. The funny part is, one wouldn’t even know she was the new kid on the block if they took a moment to observe how she carries herself and the positive demeanor she composes – especially on the field.
“It was hard trying to find a place to fit in with the team because when I play I’m really loud and vocal. I’m a presence, so I didn’t know how people would react to me both on and off the field. I’m used to people looking back at me on the field saying: ‘Who is that kid in the back yelling?’ It was hard for me to shake that off, but this is who I am, who I have to be and how I’ve always played because that is what got me here.”
Baron’s outgoing personality has assisted her transition into a new university off the field, too. Her interests lie within her faith, which has led her to develop new friendships with student-athletes from various different sports at ECU. One of those student-athletes is senior football player Trent Tignor, who leads a weekly student-athlete bible study group every Thursday night.
“It’s a small group, and the most we’ve had attend is about 25 people. We all get our bibles, pick a passage for the night, read it and discuss. Everyone feeds off of each other and it’s one of the positive reinforcements I have.”
Positive reinforcement is something everyone needs to maintain a balanced state of mind. It is faith that drives Baron, and it is something she holds near and dear for obvious reasons.
“It’s all about the belief that my mother and father instilled in me because there was a time where those were the only two people who believed in me. God has given me so many opportunities and it’s up to me to make the most of them. He’s put adversity in my life to make me stronger and become a better person.”
Despite the passing of her mother just short of one year ago, the relationship with her father has never been stronger. Baron makes every effort to spend time with him, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. On October 6, the final evening of fall break, Baron returned from a road game at UAB at 11:30 p.m., got in her car and drove two and a half hours to Greensboro to be with her dad.
“I’ll always make time to go see him. He’s the most important person in my life. He is the voice of reason in my head when I want to be the stubborn person that I know I can be. When I have a bad game or a bad practice, I’ll call him and question whether I can still be the soccer player I want to be. He tells me he didn’t take me to all those practices, games and fly me all across the country for a player who wasn’t worth it.
With Baron’s vocal presence and determination, ECU may have received its own blessing through the leadership she provides.
“I want to make history for ECU Soccer. East Carolina is making so many strides in areas like football, basketball, tennis and a ton of other sports, and I want women’s soccer to be one of those focal points.”