CHICAGO – College athletes typically leave their athletic careers with lifelong friends in the form of their respective sport's teammates.
So, when a particular foursome of University of Chicago fourth-years walk across the Commencement stage Saturday, they'll be leaving as an anomaly, of sorts. That's because these Maroon student-athletes instead created their own bond across very, very different athletic endeavors.
Four years ago, Anna Girlich (swimming & diving); Tali Naibryf (track & field); Jordyne Prussak (softball); and Naomi Weiner (women's soccer) were randomly assigned as roommates in UChicago's Max Palevsky Residential Commons.
"We all knew we wanted to live with athletes, but I think we wanted to branch out a little bit from our team," Girlich said, looking back at the summer of 2015.
Within a month, the four, hailing from Orland Park., Ill., Weston, Fla., San Clemente, Calif., and Washington, D.C., had decided to live together the following year – and never questioned it again.
"Our conversation was never, 'Are we going to live together' it was 'we need a new apartment," Prussak said with a laugh, describing the group's move from Max P. to an apartment at 55th and Drexel sophomore year, to their eventual two-year stint on Woodlawn Ave near campus.
"I think once we moved into the apartment second year, the four of us became more of a unit instead of the two and two even though we were all friends to begin with, but it definitely got a lot stronger," Girlich said, noting the suite-style apartments in Max P. that created a slight divide.
"And now, they're definitely like my three best friends on campus."
The four could not recall any major disagreements (except perhaps the guinea pig 'experiment'), but noted that was likely due to the mutual respect of each other's sport commitments.
"Something we probably bonded over was the evening before the first day of season, we understood that all the lights had to be off, who was carbo-loading before the first day, because it was something that we could all relate to because in a few months, the next person would be doing it," Weiner said.
Having friends on different teams also created a sort of buffer for when each would come home after a tough day at the pool, track, or on the field.
"I think we're each other's outlets because we're not on each other's teams," Naibryf said.
The four attended each other's events when possible, and even attend some sporting events (i.e. diving) for the first time.
The creation of a different type of athletic family also allowed for not only a unique support system, but a celebration of success – and there was much to celebrate:
- Naibryf, who walked on to the Maroons' track & field team as a freshman, made her first-ever NCAA Division III Outdoor National Championship meet and made it count this past May, earning All-American honors as part of the third-place 4x400 relay.
- Girlich, who began her career as the 2016 UAA Women's Diver of the Year as a first-year, capped a stellar four years with her first All-American honors this past March, earning 12th in both the 3-meter and 1-meter events.
- Weiner, a three-year all-UAA Academic selection, was a four-year member of the highly successful women's soccer team, which went 66-18-2 in her four seasons, including two NCAA Final Fours (and an appearance in the title match), four NCAA Tournament Appearances and a University Athletic Association Championship.
- Prussak, a four-year starting pitcher for the Maroon softball squad, was a part of two NCAA Regional Teams and finished career tied for fifth in saves.
"I think it's nice that all four of us being student athletes and living together, that we all have this understanding that it is all very time consuming it is all very hard, but we all see how hard each other are working no matter what we're doing," Prussak said.
Added Weiner: "I think also in general, what's true for the athletic community here is each athlete chose the University of Chicago for a reason – normally the combination of the academics and the chance to play a D3 sport, and sort of have that balance in your life.
"Obviously we have that in common, but I also think it's true with all the athletic community here and I think it bonds us in a way that we chose this school for a reason, especially having played four years all together, it's just nice to be graduating with that accomplishment."
What's next, then, for these four? Oddly enough, they're all staying in Chicago (though only two – Prussak and Weiner) will room together.
Prussak (B.S., Molecular Engineering), Girlich (B.S., Molecular Engineering), and Weiner (B.A., Economics) all completed their course work during winter quarter and are set for jobs in the city – Prussak at Beghou Consulting as an associate in life science and biotechnology consulting, Girlich in a corporate management program at Kraft Heinz and Weiner as a business analyst in the strategy and operations group at Deloitte.
Naibryf, who will walk with both a B.A. in Public Policy and Psychology (which she completed last year) and a M.A. in the Committee on International Relations (she's a joint B.A./M.A. student) is headed to LEK Consulting to work as an associate.
Regardless of where they end up, though, they know they will always have the experiences and memories of support and the friendship of each other, as Maroon student-athletes.
"I think for me, I'm eternally grateful, and not just for the athletic department but the community of these women and the Women's Athletic Association, they've been incredible support systems, and I think when I look back, I couldn't have done it without all that support," Naibryf said.
I mean every time I'd come home, I'd be like my leg hurts, and Jordyne would be like, 'Oh, I just finished my ice bag, do you want to use it?'" she added with a laugh.
"Just that support carried through our personal lives when we were home too, and I think that was just an invaluable experience."