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High school graduates often have mixed emotions about heading off to college. They are excited, yet they know they will miss their families. Many, however, are pleasantly surprised to find a home away from home. Such was the case with Jessica Greenwald, 23, a 2016 graduate of Concordia University Irvine.
When Greenwald enrolled at CUI, she had heard it was like one big family, but she was skeptical.
“At first, I didn’t really believe in that,” she said.
As I became more involved and got to know the school, family is definitely a big aspect of what Concordia is, and that’s what I like about it. In my sophomore year, I began to call Concordia home.
A major turning point was when Greenwald joined CUI’s swim team. Greenwald, who was born with cerebral palsy, said she feels trapped when she uses her walker, but in the water, she is utterly free. Greenwald swam for CUI for four years and recently earned a spot at the U.S. Paralympic Swim Team Trials in North Carolina.
It was a hard road to make it to the Paralympic Team Trials. Greenwald said she wouldn’t have made it without the support of her team and coaches. She recalled the support she received from teammates at the Pacific Collegiate Swim and Dive Conference where she qualified for the Canadian/American Challenge, which is considered a qualification meet for the Paralympic Team Trials.
“I remember the last day of the meet, when I got my cut at conference, a couple of teammates got all of Concordia’s swim team and other swim teams together to cheer me on,” she said. “It was the loudest event I’ve ever swam. The support was just amazing and everyone was crying afterward. It was a fun bonding experience.”
Still an Olympic-hopeful, Greenwald now has her eyes set on the Japan 2020 Paralympics.
I want to show people that you should not be afraid to fail and not let obstacles get in the way of dreams. You can learn through failures, try again and enjoy the journey
Meanwhile, Greenwald’s looking forward to seeing CUI become a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II university, as she continues to work on her teaching credentials there.
The NCAA is the governing body of athletic programs at more than 1,200 higher education institutions in the United States. CUI has advanced to its third and final year of the Division II membership process.
“Concordia is a great school that values community and family. Although all talents are important and make up a part of the CUI community, there is a big emphasis on sports as athletes make up one-third of the student population,” Greenwald said. She continued,
Furthermore, CUI will receive more attention from the public eye as the school participates in higher level competition, thus bringing more attention to other departments as individuals begin to hear more about Concordia. This will help the school grow and flourish to its fullest potential.
Students and coaches alike agree that becoming NCAA DII is a great choice for both the university and athletics.
Olympic-winning women’s volleyball coach Paula Weishoff, 54, returned to CUI in March 2015. The CUI family and athletic program are what drew her back.
I love the people and the program, which has been NAIA for a long time and is looking to go Division II,” Weishoff said. “And when I sat down and talked with the vice president, Gary McDaniel, who’s a good friend of mine, it just checked off a lot of boxes that I thought would be a perfect fit.”
Weishoff won a silver medal in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and she brought home a bronze medal from the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, where she was also voted the Most Valuable Player. She ranked seventh in the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
Weishoff, who said she gained so much from each experience, said it’s important to her to teach her team to be not only better players but better people.
Coaching the Eagles from 2004 to 2008, Weishoff helped CUI establish a nationally ranked women’s volleyball program, leading the team to become National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) champions in 2012.
CUI has 20 varsity sports and about 450 student-athletes. Over the last five years, CUI has won five NAIA National Championship Titles in baseball, men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, men’s volleyball, and softball.
Weishoff now embraces the challenge of helping CUI become NCAA DII. She said the university has all the tools to succeed.
Weishoff said becoming DII exemplifies CUI’s commitment to excellence both academically and athletically. The move brings higher academic standards and prestige.
“As a coach, DII means a higher level of accountability,” Weishoff said.
For the players, it brings the prestige of NCAA and through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), the ability to have a bigger voice in decisions relating to practice and playing opportunities.
A balanced emphasis on academic excellence and athletic achievement make NCAA Division II colleges and universities attractive to student-athletes. With seasons not played year-long, student-athletes are able to take part in campus life, do well academically, and foster relationships in the community while undertaking their athletic pursuits, according to the NCAA.
Consistent growth in enrollment, financial stability, notability in athletics, and academic honors and achievements have positioned CUI to pursue NCAA Division II membership, according to university officials. CUI will continue toward full membership in 2017-18. If approved, it will be the only NCAA DII school in Orange County.