UNC transfer comes home to Virginia to play the sport she loves
BY ZACH SEAY STAFF WRITER
Imagine achieving your dream only to be forced to give up the sport you love. This feeling would be devastating for most, and it was a reality Mason graduate student Jewel Christian had to face after her freshman soccer season at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“My track coaches came to me and told me, ‘after this year, you’re done,’” said Christian. “That was heartbreaking. It is every little girl’s dream to play [soccer] at UNC.”
At Woodbridge Senior High School in Woodbridge, Virginia, Christian excelled at both soccer and track.
She played varsity soccer for the Vikings all four years, receiving the Golden Boot award in 2012 and 2013 for most goals scored on the team. She was also selected as MVP both of those years.
Christian was named First Team All-District, All-Area, All-Region, and All-Met in 2012 and 2013 for soccer, and was a captain from 2012-2014. However, it was her success on the rubber that caught the attention of the Tar Heels.
She was a member of the 4×400 meter relay team that competed in the Virginia State Championship in 2013. In 2014 she won the Virginia Indoor State Championship in the 500-meter and was ranked second in the event nationwide.
By committing to UNC to run track, Christian was presented with the unbelievable opportunity to also play for their women’s soccer team, which has won a record 21 National Championships and whose notable alumnae include Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Tobin Heath.
“[Playing for the program] was amazing,” Christian said about her time there. “I was playing against top teams that I never dreamed I’d play against. I was very nervous coming in because going there is a big deal and the players are top notch, but they were really welcoming and Anson [Dorrance] was an amazing coach. I was very grateful for that opportunity.”
Under Dorrance, who has led the Tar Heels since the creation of the program in 1979, Christian learned to play an aggressive style of pressing and “running until you can’t run anymore,” she said.
“I realized that if you do that, teams are going to be scared of you and you’re going to put them under a lot of pressure,” she said. “I think that’s the main thing that stuck with me the most, especially coming here.”
Christian played in 17 games, starting one of them, as a freshman at UNC, recording two assists in 359 minutes of action. She helped the Tar Heels to a record of 14-4-2, including a 9-0-1 mark in ACC play and a Round of 16 finish in the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship.
The following summer Christian’s track coach informed her of their desire for her to focus on track.
“It was very tough,” she said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I talked to my roommates who were on track with me and they [said that] ‘we support your decision no matter what.’ They’re the biggest reason why I was able to make it through college running track without soccer.”
Christian’s college career at UNC cemented her a place in school history. At the Music City Challenge in 2018, Christian ran a leg of the 4×400 team that finished third at 3:37.19, the fourth-fastest time in school history.
Her favorite collegiate track moment occurred at the 2018 ACC Outdoor Championships in May where her 4×400 team placed third with the fourth-best time in UNC history at 3:34.97.
“We made the podium and we got our medal,” said Christian. “We had been working so hard toward that and it was really relieving.”
In pursuit of her master’s, Christian returned to northern Virginia and ended up at Mason, whose soccer team recruited her out of high school. With one year left of eligibility, she reached out to the team to see if there was a place for her.
“Just knowing I had that opportunity, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try to go out for it,” said Christian. “I thought, ‘if I’m going to do my master’s here, I might as well try my best to see if I can do it and what happens, happens,’ and it ended working out for me.”
Christian has made a smooth transition to the Mason team.. “Our core value and philosophy is that everybody that comes into our team should feel like they’re coming into a family where they’re being welcomed with open arms,” said head coach Todd Bramble. “She’s a really vivacious young woman, she’s got a huge personality and big smile, so it was easy for her to integrate into the group.”
Having not played collegiate soccer in the past three years, Christian wasn’t sure of her role within the team, but she wanted to be there to provide any kind of support that she could offer.
“All I wanted to do was just help the team as much as I can,” said Christian. “I know in those three years I lost a lot of my touch and knowledge of the game, so I really wanted to try to get back to the level that I was at and even higher than that.”
“That shows in the enthusiasm she brings to practice every day and the passion that she brings out onto the game field as well,” said Bramble.
Christian has started in nine of the team’s first 11 games and has notched four points as a forward.
Her first goal came against James Madison after she took on a defender down the left side before cutting inside and firing from near the edge of the box.
“I saw it hit the back of the net and I was just so excited,” said Christian. “Seeing my teammates run to hug me and congratulate me was a feeling that I love so much. I was so happy to be back in the sport that I love and doing something I love. I can’t be happier at this point.”
At UNC, Christian discovered their Sports Administration program and realized it was something she would want to pursue.
“From there I just fell in love with the marketing advertisement of sports,” said Christian. “I didn’t know how much it actually went into sports and how it helped teams and brands until after I took those classes.”
Now that she’s in the sport management concentration in the sport and recreation studies master’s program at Mason, she has an idea of where she’d like to be following graduation.
“I really want to work in sports marketing advertisement and I want to do it for the WNBA,” said Christian. “I really want to help out in the WNBA to get that brand name more out there and make more people aware of them so they could come to more of the games and make them more popular.”
For now, Christian has her sights set on winning the conference tournament and getting back to the NCAA Tournament, a destination the one-time champions haven’t been to since 1997.
“I think that would be the greatest thing ever. I’d actually cry tears,” said Christian. “I know the girls would love it, and just seeing the teamwork this hard and being so passionate about something like this… we’re determined to get it.”