Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hard-earned goal: In quest to play, KU soccer’s Salazar tackles grueling course load

Kansas University sophomore midfielder Liana Salazar completed over 50 credit hours in one calendar year to make herself eligible for the 2013 KU soccer season.

Kansas University sophomore midfielder Liana Salazar completed over 50 credit hours in one calendar year to make herself eligible for the 2013 KU soccer season.


It was the summer of 2012, and Liana Salazar sat in Kansas University soccer coach Mark Francis’ office, finding it hard to look away from the future that awaited her.

The Colombia native, recently finished with her freshman year at KU, had just learned that she would not be eligible to play in the upcoming season. The NCAA had denied Salazar an academic waiver — one that in previous cases had been granted to KU’s international students who, like Salazar, needed to focus solely on English language classes in their first semesters of college. Salazar’s path to ensured eligibility, without the need for another waiver, was written up on Francis’ chalkboard.

Salazar needed to take 51 credit hours over the next 12 months — in essence two full years of classwork in one.

Francis knew it was a commitment some athletes wouldn’t be able to make. Phil Lowcock, KU’s coordinator for international student-athlete support, had done the math and told Salazar to think about it for the night.

Salazar showed up to his office early the next day.

“I’m all in. I’m ready,” she said. “I want to do it.”

A grueling schedule

The worst part was the psychology class.

After completing 15 hours last fall, Salazar enrolled in an online course through a junior college during the first week of winter break — one that would only last a week.

Tests for the class were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while the papers were due on Tuesday and Thursday.

For those five days, Salazar had her head in her psychology book from the morning hours until 11 or 12 at night.

“I remember when I got back home (to Colombia), I told my mom that my brain hurt,” Salazar said. “It was because I had read so much that my brain was so tired.”

The craziness was all part of the class cramming needed to get Salazar back on schedule academically.

After starting with the 15 hours in the fall — and the psychology class that wasn’t covered by her scholarship — she added on 17 more hours in the spring, plus three more juco hours out of her own pocket.

The challenge was more than a beefed-up schedule, though.

Salazar, who has competed for the Colombian national team in both the World Cup and Olympics, started her fall semester without full fluency in English after growing up in Spanish-speaking Bogota; she actually completed her final Applied English class at KU during the fall of 2012.

Every task required additional time. Salazar would go over reading assignments three or four times to take in all the information. When scheduled with tutors, she’d constantly ask about certain phrases and words to make sure she understood correctly.

And every writing assignment was a process. Salazar would first write something and give it to her tutor, who would help her organize her thoughts and talk her through grammar mistakes. Salazar would follow with a second draft, then a third and sometimes a fourth.

Each paper she wrote ended up taking about 20 hours.

Persistence pays off

Salazar’s biggest supporter remained a few thousand miles away.

There were many times she’d video chat with her mother, Mireya, to tell her she was tired and ready to come home.

Mireya’s message was always the same: “Keep working. You’ll see the results pay off next year.”

It didn’t help that Salazar was able to practice but not play, and she also was left in Lawrence when the team traveled to away games.

“The fact that she was told, ‘You’re not going to be eligible while you have to do all those hours,’ that would crush a lot of students,” Lowcock said. “She was able to find a way to keep a smile on her face and keep plugging.”

That persistence was needed for her most challenging months.

Salazar signed up for 13 credit hours this past summer — the equivalent of taking 26 credit hours in a fall or spring semester.

After taking a class in the morning, Salazar would work out with her team, then immediately head back to KU for tutoring. She remembers telling teammate Haley Yearout, with some seriousness, that she was going to die.

Yearout, along with other teammates, did their best to offer encouragement. Francis would hold his fingers an inch apart when he saw Salazar, reminding her just how close she was to being finished.

Finally, in mid-August, Lowcock made his way to the KU practice field, where Salazar had just finished a shooting drill.

The grade for her final class — a direct study focused on how international students’ lives are changed when they come to the United States — had just been posted.

Salazar had received an A.

The midfielder grabbed Yearout to give her a hug, then a few seconds later broke down in front of her teammates on the practice field.

The official paperwork came the day before KU’s first game. Salazar received an email from the compliance office, congratulating her on being added to the team’s participation list.

Not only had Salazar become eligible, she’d also gained acceptance to the business school and had earned a spot on the KU Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.

“In my 20 years,” Lowcock said, “I have never seen a more committed effort by any student.”

Standout on the field

Francis has high expectations for Salazar, who stands out not only because of her crafty dribbling but also her imagination, which allows her to find teammates who might not even know they’re open.

“She’s a dynamic player,” Francis said. “She’s definitely going to make us better offensively.”

An example came last week. After receiving a cross from teammate Caroline Kastor, Salazar powered up her right leg, rifling the ball into the left side of the net past the Illinois State goalkeeper.

The goal was Salazar’s second of her sophomore season — the first that wasn’t a penalty kick — and she immediately dropped to her knees to celebrate, pointing both index fingers to the sky.

Her mother was right. The hard work was worth it.

“Now I’m playing,” Salazar said, “and I don’t regret a thing.”


Chris1955 9 years ago

Wow. What an amazing story of endurance and persistance. Congratulations to Liana!

I do wonder what the NCAA rationale was for imposing this sort of ruling. I bet you can't find another example of this type of NCAA behavior directed at another women in all of Division 1 Women's soccer. At times, I have wondered whether I'm paranoid for thinking the NCAA has it in for KU. This article leads me to believe that I'm not crazy.

The NCAA has consistantly invoked ridiculous rulings on KU athletes in recent years. I'd like to know what the real story is between the NCAA and KU.

Andy Godwin 9 years ago

A true student who is also an athlete. Someone with this type of work ethic and commitment has to succeed in life. Glad that she is a Jayhawk.

Stephen Johnson 9 years ago

Whether it's in soccer or something else, Liana is going to be a success. Discipline, hard work and persistence.

Displayhawk 9 years ago

That my friends, is the true definition of the words "student-athlete". Sounds to me like she has more determination in the tip of her middle finger than Marquel Combs has in his whole body! Thank you for being a Jayhawk Liana, and best of luck in the future!

KGphoto 9 years ago

Awesome! Truly amazing. I would write more but I don't have the time or the energy. : )

clevelandjayhawker 9 years ago

51 credit hours...thats about 2 years for this guy.

Does the NCAA only hire form missery?

texashawk10 9 years ago

Between 12-16 hours is a normal semester load so 51 may be on the lower end, but it is within the range of 2 years worth of classes.

ccarp 9 years ago

Forget one week of boot camp, this sounds like hell! Way to dig deep and see it through! Rock Chalk!!!!

Calm_in_the_Realm_of_Insanity 9 years ago

This is something ESPN-type media should focus on. Incredibly inspirational!!

Tony Bandle 9 years ago

I know a squad that could use some heart and guts....can she block??

Liana, congratulations on your dedicatiion and tell your Mom to come to Lawrence. We always like to have cool moms around!!

flyingfinn 9 years ago

Some of the cry babies that have left the football team should read this story!!!!

mmac 9 years ago

Congrats on all the hard work.. .it pays off!!


As a former international student-athlete I was just curious why she had to take so many classes to remain eligible? I know she isn't a native english speaker, but the number just seems very very high.


jayhawkinnc 9 years ago

Wow. All I can say is.....BRAVO!!

Jerry Rockhold 9 years ago

CONGRATS,,,,Very cool & though I don't know you, I RESPECT & ADMIRE you. You kept your "eyes on the prize" and reached your goal. PROUD of you, Liana. :) BLESSINGS to you. RCJ, GO KU!!!

Brad Farha 9 years ago

What a tremendous story. Very inspiring, and a testament to what we can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance. Rock Chalk Liana Salazar!!!

Jack Jones 9 years ago

Another terrific article/story about a Jayhawk student (being the operative word)/athlete. Thank you for introducing us to the amazing person(s) behind the names on the rosters of our teams. Not only do these articles give me the opportunity to know a particular individual ~ it serves as a reminder that each and every one of our student athletes are so much more than just what we see on the field/court/pitch. Liana, you are indeed an amazing young woman, and an incredible inspiration to so many others. As others have commented ~ I, too, am sharing your "story" with friends and relatives ~ and suspect it will continue to be passed along. My very best wishes to you during your time with us, and for all the years ahead.

texashawk10 9 years ago

Anybody know what happened to the other Colombian girl that came to KU the same year Salazar did?

Bryce Landon 9 years ago

There are no words I can offer to adequately express my admiration and respect for this young woman.

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