Accomplished student-athletes lead UMSL Athletics to new heights

by | May 6, 2024

The past two years have witnessed a string of successes for UMSL Athletics led by student-athletes who shine in the classroom as well as in the arena.

 

Story by David Morrison

In November 2022, the University of Missouri–St. Louis volleyball team won its first-ever NCAA Division II Regional title and reached the national semifinals. Just four months later, the Tritons men’s basketball team won the second regional championship in program history and played in the Elite Eight for the first time in more than 50 years. This past November, the UMSL men’s cross country program qualified its first-ever athlete for the NCAA Championship meet, and in December, the volleyball team went back to the national semifinals for the second straight year.

These past two years have witnessed a string of successes for UMSL Athletics – some unprecedented – led by student-athletes who shine in the classroom as well as in the arena. Here are the stories of six of those athletes.


Matt Enright

Men’s basketball player Matt Enright (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Matt Enright
Men’s Basketball

As a senior at Webster Groves High School – less than 15 miles from UMSL – Matt Enright helped lead his team to a state championship. He was supported by a sizable cheering section of family members and friends along the way. When it came time to choose a college destination, Enright wanted to chase that feeling.

“Through that process, I was able to see how much joy it was for my family to be a part of my journey,” Enright says. “If I had to leave that behind, I couldn’t do it.”

As a freshman last season, Enright stepped straight into a starting spot on a seasoned Tritons team, one that won the program’s first regional title since 1972 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight. As a sophomore this year, Enright is the team’s leading scorer and most prolific 3-point shooter.

He wants to play a crucial part in leading his team back to the bottom of the dogpile he found himself in when the Tritons defeated McKendree University for the regional crown in March 2023.

“Everybody was so happy because we all knew how much work we put in to get to that point,” Enright says. “I think anything’s possible for us, regardless of what the circumstances around it look like. That’s the sort of mentality that I’m able to bring to the table.”

Enright channeled that positivity into creating his own basketball training business, Endure Hoops, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. What started as training two youth players in his driveway turned – with some inspiration and guidance from St. Louis native and NBA trainer Drew Hanlen – into a business numbering 50 clients.

Enright feels he is growing as a person and a budding entrepreneur during his time at UMSL, where he’s a business major.

“I’ve always had that entrepreneurial mindset of ‘I’m going to figure it out,’” Enright says. “I can’t imagine what it would be like anywhere else. It’s special to be able to continue playing in my hometown.”


Women's volleyball player Caitlin Bishop

Women’s volleyball player Caitlin Bishop (Men’s basketball player Matt Enright (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Caitlin Bishop
Women’s Volleyball

All the normal things – coaching style, team atmosphere, campus feel – enticed Caitlin Bishop to join the Tritons volleyball team from her home in the Kansas City suburb of Lansing, Kansas. The UMSL College of Nursing also lent a sizable assist for the Tritons’ future setter.

“I’ve always been interested in nursing,” Bishop says. “I’ve always loved to be the one to help people get better. I’m not going to be playing volleyball for the rest of my life. Getting a degree from a good school is very important to me, too.”

Although the sophomore, who is majoring in nursing with a minor in psychology, has yet to start clinicals, she thinks she would be a good fit for the emergency room or neonatal intensive care unit.

“I like intensity and in-the- moment things, so I think those would be good for me,” she says.

Her play on the volleyball court certainly supports that hypothesis.

As a freshman, Bishop started all 32 matches for a Tritons team that won the program’s first regional title and advanced to the national semifinals. Bishop followed that up this past fall by earning conference and regional Player of the Year and first-team All-America honors for UMSL as it repeated as region champion and national semifinalist and finished with a 34-2 record.

With two years left to play, Bishop wants to do her part to leave a legacy.

“I hope to make a name for UMSL volleyball and get my degree but also have fun and make lots of lifelong friends,” she says. “We’re all best friends off the court, hang out with each other and know each other like the backs of our hands. That really helps us out on the court, communication-wise, and with wanting to get better, have these goals set for us and achieve them.”


Jada Holloman

Women’s soccer player Jada Holloman (Women’s volleyball player Caitlin Bishop (Men’s basketball player Matt Enright (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Jada Holloman
Women’s Soccer

The defining moment of Jada Holloman’s young Tritons career came thanks to a slippery surface at the University of Illinois Springfield in October.

Holloman and her teammates bested suboptimal field conditions for a 1-0 win over the Prairie Stars that snapped a seven-match losing streak against UIS.

“That was a big turning moment in our season. We came together and fought so hard,” says Holloman, who transferred to UMSL from Division I Loyola Chicago in August. “The bus ride home was an amazing vibe and atmosphere.”

Holloman tied for the team lead in goals during her first season with the Tritons, who posted their best conference record since 2016. The team had 16 first-year players – 13 freshmen and three transfers – on a roster of 28, leading Holloman to believe the team has the ability to grow exponentially next fall in her final year of eligibility.

“This year was a lot of building connections and getting to know each other and the way we play,” she says. “It helped coming in with other players to share that bond of being new to the school.”

Holloman is a biology major on a pre-physician assistant track, with an expected graduation date of May 2025. While she has been a biology major throughout her undergraduate career, the pre-PA track was not available to her until she arrived at UMSL. She first learned about PAs during her Medical Explorers hands-on learning experiences at local hospitals when she was a student at Willard High School in Springfield, Missouri.

“PA felt like something where I can be hands-on and help people,” Holloman says. “There is not a lot of slacking off allowed – at all – in a biology degree, especially when you’re in your junior year and you’re getting into harder classes. All my teachers are very helpful and always there to answer any questions I have in supplemental instruction sessions, just a great supportive team.”


Men's cross country runner Benjamin VandenBrink

Men’s cross country runner Benjamin VandenBrink (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Benjamin VandenBrink
Men’s Cross Country

Coach Steve Picucci’s recruiting pitch to Benjamin VandenBrink centered firmly on the chance to make some history. VandenBrink, coming out of Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience in St. Louis in 2020, would be a part of the first UMSL cross country team since the program went dormant in 1983.

He took the opportunity and ran with it, becoming the first runner in Tritons history to qualify for the NCAA Championships this past November. VandenBrink wants to make a return trip this fall, and he wants the rest of the team to come with him.

“We’re competing at the highest level of the conference as a program and individuals,” he says. “That says something about where the program has gone in four years. From nothing to where we are now has been a huge improvement, a dramatic change. What I and the team are laser-focused on is qualifying for Nationals as a program. This is our shot to go after it before we lose some seniors that have become a big part of the program.”

VandenBrink has one more season of eligibility left in both cross country and track. In the classroom, he graduated with a finance degree in December and has entered the UMSL MBA program.

He first became interested in business after starting his own lawncare and landscaping company as a high-schooler. During his undergraduate career, VandenBrink started working full time as a mortgage loan officer, in addition to his school and sport obligations.

“The MBA is going to help me do my job as a loan officer better but also open other future opportunities for my career, whether that be management positions in real estate or lending or a different direction in the world of business or finance,” he says. “I’ve had high-level, top-tier professors who brought a lot of real-world experience into the classroom. I feel like I have secondary experience in a lot of different areas that I gleaned from having experienced professors for four years.”


Men's tennis player Jose Mayorga

Men’s tennis player Jose Mayorga (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Jose Mayorga
Men’s Tennis

A native of Quito, Ecuador, Jose Mayorga has been playing tennis since he was 7 years old. Mayorga is now in his final year of eligibility at UMSL, and he is preparing himself for a post- graduate life when the sport he has known so well will recede to a hobby.

Mayorga anticipates that it will be a strange feeling. Luckily, he has a plan once he graduates this May with his degree in civil engineering from the UMSL/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program.

Mayorga has worked for the past year and a half as an intern at POWER Engineers and anticipates his role with the company to grow after graduation.

“I like structures: buildings, houses, everything that goes into them,” he says.

Mayorga is continuing a family tradition by pursuing civil engineering. His emphasis is in structural engineering, and his eye is drawn to the aesthetics of projects.

“I grew up in the industry: my grandfather is an architect, and my father has always been passionate about real estate,” he says. “The classes you take in the UMSL/WashU program are more specialized in your degree. All the projects are very interesting and real-life, situational problems.”

On the court, Mayorga has progressed to become the Tritons’ No. 1 singles player as well as part of the team’s No. 2 doubles pair with sophomore Joshua Mackey, a native of Ireland.

As he looked toward the final months of his competitive tennis career, Mayorga was focused on making lasting memories with his adopted community at UMSL.

“My favorite moments are the friendships I have been able to gather with my team,” he says. “My goal for this season was to make the best out of it. I feel like I had never been this prepared before to play and compete.”


Women's swimmer Zara Konstapel

Women’s swimmer Zara Konstapel (Photo courtesy of Patrick Clark/Athlete’s Eye Photography)

Zara Konstapel
Women’s Swimming

Zara Konstapel believes in the value of pushing herself to try new things.

That certainly applied when she made the decision to travel more than 4,000 miles from her home in Doetinchem, Netherlands, to study and swim at UMSL. It applied when she took on the role of emcee at the Litmag launch party in the spring of 2022 and when she added a communications minor because of her love of writing. Now, she works part-time at a marketing firm and will be taking on a marketing position at Fieldpiece Instruments after graduation.

It continues to apply now, as the senior English major received special permission to take a graduate-level Horror and Rhetoric course to help finish out her degree.

“It’s funny because I’m a rom-com gal,” says Konstapel, who is graduating in May with English and French degrees. “I am enjoying it; it’s really outside the box. Sometimes, I feel like you have to do things that are outside your little bubble.”

Konstapel has also made a habit of pushing her limits in the pool during five years at UMSL. In March 2022, she became the first Tritons swimmer to ever earn first-team All-America status, with a seventh-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke at the NCAA Championships. She repeated as a first-team All-American in the 100 breaststroke last year and was an honorable mention All-American in the 100 this year.

She has also helped the medley relays and UMSL swim program reach new heights, with the Tritons earning a top-25 national ranking in February.

“I have loved every single second of it,” Konstapel says. “It’s really exciting making a team on the other side of the world, with two coaches you really don’t know – aside from Zoom meetings – and you take that leap. It’s worked out really well for me.

This story was originally published in the spring 2024 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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