Celebrating Excellence and Opportunity

Celebrating Excellence and Opportunity

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – For Amy Audibert, it felt like a very full-circle moment.

On Sunday, the newest member of the Miami Heat’s broadcast team returned to her alma mater where, between playoff games, she had the opportunity to reconnect with the coach who’d guided her through her journey as a Hurricane a decade ago. She spoke from the heart about her experiences at Miami and how all of them prepared her for where she is today.

And like many in attendance at the ninth annual Celebration of Women’s Athletics, Audibert was awed by the accomplishments and achievements of the 11 student-athletes honored at the event for their work in the community, their efforts in the classroom and their excellence in competition in each of their respective sports.

“These are amazing student-athletes,” said Audibert, a former Hurricanes basketball player who served as the emcee at the event. “For me, this place was where I really started to become who I was, and I started having dreams about what I might want to do…I got here because of everything that happened here and I come back, and it still feels like home. What I have now is because of this, so I want them to live in that moment and knowing what they’re doing is not about four years. There’s a way bigger purpose and it’s years and it’s your life.

“I want them to really embrace that.”

Many of the student-athletes in the room are already heeding that advice and thriving at Miami.

Destiny Harden, one of the honorees at this year’s Celebration of Women’s Athletics, helped lead the Hurricanes to the first Elite Eighth berth in program history, was recently selected by the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Draft and has already earned a degree in criminology.

Fellow honoree Mia Vallée, a diver, is an NCAA national champion and has a 3.8 GPA while pursuing a marine biology degree, while track standout Moriah Oliveira has won multiple ACC championships as a Hurricane.

Also recognized Sunday for their all-around excellence were tennis student-athlete Alexa Noel, rowing student-athlete Alyssa Bacchus, soccer student-athlete Melissa Dagenais, volleyball student-athlete Janice Leao, swimming student-athlete Zorry Mason, track and field athlete Hannah-Sophia Hall, golf student-athlete Sara Byrne and cross-country student-athlete Daphnee Lavassas.

Each has been a force during her time at Miami and three – Harden, Mason and Oliveira – joined Audibert on stage to share not only some of their experiences as Hurricanes, but to give advice to some of the younger student-athletes in attendance.

“The first thing I would say is to be patient and have patience. Don’t mind trying to sit behind somebody and just know that your time is coming,” Harden said. “It’s just the beginning of your journey. If you continue to grind hard and you work hard and believe in yourself, you can do something nobody else has done.”

Said Oliveira, “I think the biggest advice I could give to younger girls is something that I heard the other day in a leadership meeting…And it was that you need to have some kind of internal motivation to keep going…You can’t just want external recognition and all these other things, but you need to have something that drives you and you need to be passionate about what you do. I think that’s the best advice that I could give, other than just being yourself.”

Said Mason, “I think for me, the advice I would give would be to just have trust. You have to trust in where you come from and have trust in the fact that you are destined to be a Miami Hurricane and have trust in the environment that you’re going into and how much better you’re going to make it just by being there. And then you also have to have trust in your teammates and your coaches to make you better, but also to make them better. I think it’s just all a big circle of trust.”

And while Sunday’s event celebrated the accomplishments of 11 student-athletes in particular, it served, too, as recognition for some of the pioneering women in the South Florida, including former University of Miami president Donna Shalala, Laurie Silvers, the chair of the University of Miami’s Board of Trustees and Miami-Dade mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who in 2020, became the first woman elected to that office.

Another group of pioneers recognized Sunday? The Hurricanes women’s basketball team which just last month put together a historic run through the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time.

The Hurricanes opened their tournament run by overcoming a 17-point deficit in a victory over Oklahoma State. They then followed that with wins over top-seeded Indiana and fourth-seeded Villanova, wins that head coach Katie Meier said would not have been possible if her team hadn’t worked together and each player hadn’t brought the best version of herself to the court.

“We got a whole bunch of new fans. I know you guys were already on, but we had a whole bunch of media and new fans…and what they said with real gratitude was ‘Golly, we love how hard your team plays. They play with joy,’” Meier said during a speech at the event. “I’m here to tell you today that yes, there is strength in numbers. There’s a strength when women come together, and they lift each other up.”

As much success as the Hurricanes have had this year, though, the goal is to always keep providing more opportunities for Miami’s student-athletes moving forward.

That’s why in the last year, the athletic department launched a leadership academy for female student-athletes and why more than 400 attendees came together to raise about $700,000 for women’s sports and the Together 4 Her campaign at Sunday’s event.

“It’s hard to put into words what this event means. I know what investing in our female student-athletes can do for young people,” said Jenn Strawley, Miami’s Senior Deputy Director of Athletics. “To see that people have recognized that, to see them celebrating our female student-athletes in a really powerful way for their amazing accomplishments makes a huge difference…It makes me smile and it’s something I’m incredibly proud of…

“For young people to be able to see the mayor of Miami-Dade County is a woman and she’s here supporting them…to see Laurie Silvers, chair of our Board of Trustees, to see Donna Shalala our former President who served in both the Carter and Clinton administrations…along with so many other strong women, to see what you can be…that’s what creates opportunity and that’s what gives young people to the confidence to dream what they can be. I have no doubt that what we do and what we provide transforms their lives. Giving them that foundation I know they are going to go out into society and make our world a better place.”