Ares Boira Lopez gets the most out of her UMSL experience

by | May 14, 2018

The native of Spain is leaving UMSL with a degree in psychology, a homecoming crown, two trips to the NCAA national women's golf tournament and memories to last a lifetime.

Ares Boira Lopez, Tritons women’s golfer and this year’s homecoming queen, is graduating from the University of Missouri–St. Louis with a BA in psychology before pursuing her master’s at Illinois State University. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Golf used to be a chore for Ares Boira Lopez.

Her parents first put the clubs in her hands when she was 3. By the time she was 7, she was one of the top golfers in her age range in Spain.

She also started to dread hitting the links.

“It was a lot of pressure. Sometimes I felt like, if I didn’t do well, I would disappoint my parents,” Boira Lopez said. “It’s kind of a boring sport, too, kind of slow. So, as a kid, it’s really hard to enjoy: be focused for so many hours, be quiet, skip fun. It wasn’t the best for me.”

When Boira Lopez was 15, her parents gave her the option to quit. She couldn’t bring herself to give up golf.

“I’d had it all my life,” Boira Lopez said. “I discovered that freedom – that choice for me to go instead of my parents pushing me – made it more enjoyable. I guess, also, when you grow up, you can find more joy in golf. The more mature you are, the more you appreciate nature, that it’s a relaxed sport, that there’s no rush. It’s almost a break from everything going on in life.”

Golf gave her the opportunity to leave her native Spain and play competitively in the U.S. while she earned a BA in psychology at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. It also gave her a readymade community once she came to live in a country she had never even visited and a platform from which to get involved in campus life and become homecoming queen this semester.

Boira Lopez says she likes to leave a mark everywhere she goes. Consider that a goal attained.

“I’m so thankful to be here,” she said. “I always thought I was really lucky that I got this chance and that, after getting this chance, I had such a great experience at UMSL.”

UMSL stood out early in Boira Lopez’s college selection process because of the university’s academics and the success of the women’s golf program. Former coach James Earle also took an extra step during the recruitment process: He set up a Skype session for Boira Lopez with the Tritons golfers, so she could start getting to know her possible future teammates. Coaches from other schools kept the intercontinental video chats one-on-one.

Still, Boira Lopez had little idea what to expect once she chose UMSL and flew to St. Louis for the first time. She based most of her initial expectations on popular movies about American colleges that made their way to Spain.

“You think of college a lot as kind of wild, lack of control, partying,” Boira Lopez said. “When I came here, that definitely changed.”

Who has time to party while they’re studying and playing a sport full-time, especially a sport such as golf, which holds tournaments during both the fall and spring seasons?

Boira Lopez quickly found a niche with her teammates and other UMSL athletes. It helped that they were all sharing similar experiences. She especially identified with her fellow international students, who were also adjusting to life in a new country.

“We’re all seeking these special relationships and friendships that help us in not feeling lonely when we’re so far from loved ones,” she said. “You build a lot of special connections that I think are for life. We all understand each other, too. A lot of times, other students might not understand the pressure on us.”

On the course, Boira Lopez served as a key player on a UMSL squad that made the NCAA Regional round all four of her years on campus and advanced to the NCAA National Championships her final two. She logged a career-best 77.5 stroke average as a senior this year and won two events.

In the classroom, she discovered an interest in psychology that she never knew she had. Boira Lopez started at UMSL as a business major, but after taking General Psychology with Teaching Professor Jennifer Siciliani, she changed course.

“I just thought it was amazing,” Boira Lopez said. “Now I know that part of it is she’s so passionate when she teaches that she makes you want to study what she does. That, I loved.”

Associate Professor Stephanie Merritt hooked her on industrial-organizational psychology during a five-person seminar course, and Siciliani and Merritt both helped Boira Lopez accentuate her strengths during the graduate school application process.

She’ll start pursuing her master’s at Illinois State University in the fall. She hopes to continue on to a PhD and become a leadership coach.

“She is that rare combination of empathetic and compassionate, as well as just super strong and fierce,” said Siciliani, who also taught Boira Lopez in Evolutionary Psychology. “She has a very strong character and ethic. She’s insightful in the classroom. She participates. She’s supportive of her peers. And I can’t get over how brave it is for somebody to leave their country of origin and come be a phenomenal student-athlete and a phenomenal example of a student.”

During her time at UMSL, Boira Lopez was involved with the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Triton Health Educators, a student group that raises awareness and offers education about preventing unhealthy behavior on campus.

Those two organizations sponsored her successful run for homecoming queen in February. Her group won the CANstruction competition to benefit the Beyond Housing Pagedale Family Support Center. Members of her athletic family also pitched in as backup when she performed songs such as Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” at the Lip Sync competition.

“Athletes are hard workers. We’ve learned competition brings the best out of us,” Boira Lopez said. “With homecoming, you get involved, you compete in a healthy way. And, while you compete, you’re giving to the community.

“It was really good to feel part of UMSL outside of athletics. It’s not much about my name, but about a start for other athletes to keep doing that every year.”

Her parents flew over from Spain to watch her compete at the NCAA Regional Tournament, which ran from May 7-9 in Big Rapids, Michigan. It was first time they had been to the states to visit since they helped her move from her hometown of Lleida – nestled in the northeast corner of Spain, about 120 miles south of the French border – into her new home across the Atlantic in the summer of 2014. They also got to watch her walk across the stage and receive her diploma during UMSL spring commencement on May 12 in the Mark Twain Athletic Center.

Golf created an opening for Boira Lopez at UMSL, and she made the most of it. She doesn’t see herself playing professionally once her college career is over, though she does plan on continuing to compete as a hobby.

It’s time to leave her mark on something else.

“I’ve seen how coaches for athletes can boost or influence our performance,” Boira Lopez said. “Just like in athletics, in the workplace, CEOs, managers and supervisors can really make a difference on the employees’ experience in the company. I want to train them to help employees improve their performance and be satisfied and happy.”

David Morrison

David Morrison