Citizen Athletes

Citizen Athletes

Varsity sports offer lessons in teamwork, discipline, perseverance and leadership — applicable in competition and in life.
By Pauline Oo; Photos by Richard Fleischman

DURING HOCKEY SEASON, NICKI Mosbeck SP’14 is on the ice six days a week — in intensive practices Monday through Thursday and two-hour games on Friday and Saturday. Tack on workouts in the weight room and travel time to games, and hockey looks like a part-time job for this Wildcats co-captain.

In lieu of an hourly wage, however, Mosbeck — and the nearly 180 student-athletes competing in 12 sports at St. Catherine University this academic year — earns priceless lessons that inform her life. “Sports can teach us perseverance, determination, teamwork,” says Joe Kolar, a marathon runner and St. Kate’s campus minister for social justice.

“Athletics helps students learn how to pick up a teammate when she is down,” he adds, “or give 100 percent in the big game even though they might be struggling with something personal off the field.”

Wildcat student-athletes play for the love of the game, without the benefit — or obligation — of an athletics scholarship. “It’s fun to be in an atmosphere with people who are there for the same reason,” says Mosbeck.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), student-athletes as a group graduate at higher rates than their peers and feel better prepared for life after college. That appears true at St. Kate’s.

“The overwhelming majority of our student-athletes perform at an extremely high level academically,” says Eric Stacey, St. Kate’s director of athletics. Compared with the overall student body, “they have had a higher retention rate, higher graduation rate and higher average GPAs every year for over a decade.”

Many student-athletes at St. Kate’s are involved across campus — and often take on leadership roles in multiple areas. “I am always proud of how much spirit and vibrancy our student-athletes bring to the community,” Stacey says.

Kristina Poss SP’14

  • HOMETOWN: Shoreview, Minnesota
  • SPORTS: Cross country, track and field
  • PROUDEST ATHLETIC MOMENT: In her first 10K of the 2013 season, she ran the second half of the race faster than the first (known as negative-splitting) and claimed St. Kate’s No. 4 all-time spot.

SHE HAS RUN IN THE DARK and frigid cold, and when mud and rain threaten to slow her down. But Kristina Poss, who will graduate this May as one of the top runners in St. Kate’s history, just keeps on running.

“The best races are the ones in which I'm in a pack with my teammates, where we put forth our best,” says Poss, a chemistry major who competes in distance events such as the 3,000-meter steeplechase and 10,000-meter races. “It’s empowering to set a personal record. And that feeling pushes me to do more — in running and life in general.”

Poss has amassed numerous athletic awards since running competitively in middle school, including successive Academic All-Conference honors. She is co- captain of the Wildcats track team and a resident advisor (RA) at Georgia apartments on the St. Paul campus. She’s also an Antonian Scholar — with a perfect 4.0.

“Kristina is definitely a go-getter,” says Heidi Anderson-Isaacson, director of residence life. “It takes a special person to balance three very demanding roles — student, athlete and RA.”

In 2011, Poss collaborated with James Wollack, assistant professor of chemistry, on a 3M-funded organic chemistry study. That summer (and this J-term), she assisted in infectious disease research at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. She participated in the Mayo Innovation Scholars Program in 2012, and the research associate program in the Emergency Department at Hennepin County Medical Center the summer between her sophomore and junior years.

“I’m sure I learned time management from my parents,” says Poss, who volunteers at Carondelet Village and as a Eucharistic minister in Our Lady of Victory Chapel. “They had to be well organized to raise three kids who are very involved.”

Although her younger sister chose to play Division 1 basketball in Colorado, Poss wanted a different athletic and academic culture.

“I felt St. Kate’s would provide me with a strong foundation to attend medical school and eventually become a physician, as well as give me the opportunity to compete as part of a team,” she says.

Poss, former president of St. Kate’s Medical Interest Group, is heading to medical school this fall. “I’m interested in emergency medicine and internal medicine,” she explains, “so I’m considering a dual residency.”

And, yes, she’ll still be running. 

Nicollette "Nicki" Mosbeck SP’14

  • HOMETOWN: Emo, Ontario
  • SPORT: Hockey
  • PROUDEST ATHLETIC MOMENT: Being named a captain of the Wildcats hockey team — a role she calls "extremely humbling"

GROWING UP ON A TOURIST RESORT in remote Canadian wilderness wasn’t all fishing, hunting and water sports for Nicki Mosbeck. The American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting major had to help with cooking for guests as well as loading, and unloading, her dad's bush plane.

“There was something new to do every day,” she says of the family business on Clearwater (aka Burditt) Lake in Ontario, Canada. “But I’ve learned to appreciate it.”

Mosbeck, a walk-on forward and senior captain for the Wildcats hockey team, left home at 16 — like her two older hockey-playing brothers — for Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. The Catholic boarding school in Saskatchewan is known for producing some of the world’s best hockey players.

“We were traveling all the time to games in bigger cities — usually by bus, sometimes five hours one way,” she says. “If I had an English assignment due tomorrow, it was still due tomorrow. The teachers were not going to be fooled with a line like, ‘Oh, I had hockey.’ I quickly learned how to be independent and responsible, and how to manage my time.” 

Mosbeck, who has earned Academic All-Conference honors, still uses a traditional (paper) planner to stay organized.She also eats apples to stay awake. “I’ve been told they have natural caffeine,” she explains. “I’m not a coffee drinker.”

In addition to games and practices, this student-athlete works at the information desk on the St. Paul campus and is active in the Wildcat Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, Best Buddies, ASL Club and new-student orientation. Last fall, Mosbeck served as an Assistantship Mentoring Program (AMP) teaching assistant for two “ASL and English Text Analysis” classes taught by Professor Laurie Swabey.

“Nicki is passionate about learning and not afraid to take risks in order to learn,” says Swabey. “She can prioritize and keep things in perspective, and has a respect for Deaf people and the Deaf community.”

Two Deaf teammates taught Mosbeck ASL in high school, specifically hockey signs. Recently, she shadowed interpreters for local hockey and basketball games through an internship with SportSign, a company owned by Terry Schwankl SP’96.

Mosbeck dreams of interpreting at the Deaf Olympics. “I’m not going to get rich from it,” she says. “But I would get to interpret for the sport I love and see other people have the opportunity I had to play the game.” 

Elly Leyva SP’16

  • HOMETOWN: San Jacinto, California
  • SPORT: Soccer
  • PROUDEST ATHLETIC MOMENT: Earning a spot on Mexico's 2012 Olympics soccer team — but Leyva chose to finish her senior year of high school instead. "I try not to think about it as a 'what if.'"

WITH SOCCER COACHES AS PARENTS, it’s no wonder Elly Leyva and her younger brother became soccer players. “We’re known as a soccer family,” she says.

In her first year at St. Kate’s, this forward played in 17 games and scored three game-winning goals — including the lone one in the Wildcats’ first-ever win over the Carleton Knights. Leyva earned All-MIAC Honorable Mention and was named Wildcat Rookie of the Year.

“Soccer has given me a close family and group of friends,” says Leyva, who started playing at age 6. Her parents, both from Mexico, currently coach youth teams at Hemet Juventus Futbol Club in Southern California. 

Although Leyva isn’t a fan of Minnesota winters, she wanted to play at St. Kate’s because of Coach Chris Citowicki. “He has an international perspective of soccer,” she explains, “and some serious plans to improve the University’s soccer program. It was exciting to know I was going to be part of that.” (Read an interview with Citowicki in the October 2013 SCAN.)

Leyva is majoring in occupational science/pre-occupational therapy and hopes to blend patient care with more international travel. A first-generation college student, she went on Campus Ministry–organized trips last year to Georgia, Colorado and El Salvador. Her Central American experience opened her eyes to the inequality, injustice and poor infrastructure that can befall a nation after decades of internal strife.

Now, Leyva is one of three social justice student coordinators in Campus Ministry who plan a variety of social justice- and faith-based opportunities for the University’s student body.

“Elly is a great fit for this role,” says Joe Kolar, campus minister for social justice. “Her energy and enthusiasm allow her to connect with students who may be exploring social justice issues for the first time.”

During soccer season, Leyva takes all her classes in the morning — so she can fit in work, homework, individual training, team workouts, games and job- or soccer-related meetings the rest of the day.

“My schedule is really crazy,” she concedes, “but I’m so blessed and thankful for the life I have. Soccer is important, but so is school. My parents have always stressed that hard work outside of soccer shows in soccer.” 

"I love the challenge of seeing what I'm capable of." — Kristina Poss SP'14

"I love the challenge of seeing what I'm capable of." — Kristina Poss SP'14

"I've learned how to be independent and responsible, and manage my time." — Nicki Mosbeck SP'14

"I've learned how to be independent and responsible, and manage my time." — Nicki Mosbeck SP'14

"My parents always stressed that hard work outside of soccer shows in soccer." — Elly Leyva SP'16

"My parents always stressed that hard work outside of soccer shows in soccer." — Elly Leyva SP'16

Digital Extra: See more images from this photo shoot.

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Amy Gage

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Pauline Oo

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Laura Reidell M'12

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