Michaella Arteta can be described in many ways, but the best word to describe this student-athlete is “leader.” A senior captain on the women’s soccer team, Arteta has triumphed as a 49er and will lead her team and other fellow athletes this season both on and off the field.
Why did you choose to attend UNC Charlotte?
I chose UNC Charlotte primarily because of its location. It's two and a half hours away from my home in Raleigh, North Carolina, and is close to uptown and NoDa. I also love the Queen City because it's beautiful and spilling with opportunity. I also chose UNC Charlotte because of the soccer program. We have great athletic facilities and a lot of support from the Athletics Department. Finally, I think the campus is very pretty and the sunsets in Charlotte are spectacular.
How did you get involved in soccer? Why do you enjoy the sport?
I began playing soccer when I was 6 years old because I wanted to beat my older brother Joshua. I played on my own team until I worked my way up to his team. He eventually decided he didn't want to play anymore, but I continued because I loved it. Over time, I continued to excel in various leagues. I wanted to be a professional like Megan Rapinoe.
As an athlete, there is nothing like scoring a game winning goal, winning a match and playing well together as a team. Winning and having a good season is fun! I have been super fortunate here at Charlotte because Coach John Cullen has always believed in me and pushed me to be my best.
How do you juggle being a successful student-athlete?
Being a student-athlete is difficult to manage. You don’t really have the option to miss practice because you have too much homework or a big test, and sometimes you have to miss class for practice or a game. This is how it is for every sport at every school. I struggled with this my freshman year, but I was able to catch on. I feel full support from my coaches in the classroom. We have tutors and academic advisors, and the coaches check in on our grades, too.
To be a successful student-athlete you need to have an agenda or calendar where you write down what you have to do. Goal setting is really important, and if you want to do well in the classroom and on the field your social life is going to suffer a little bit. If you want to be a serious athlete, you won’t have the energy to be out late or have the time to just do nothing and hang out with your friends. Instead, you should be getting extra reps out on the field.
What are some of the challenges of being a student-athlete and how have you overcome them?
Playing D1 soccer has been my goal since I was in kindergarten. Being a student-athlete is not as easy as I expected. I imagined having fun, playing the sport I love and my teammates being some of my best friends, but it is all very difficult to juggle. As a student-athlete, you want to do well in the classroom, on the field and also have a social life, but balancing all three is hard, and something is going to give.
Last year, as a junior, I experienced some stress managing school, sports and extracurriculars. I was juggling all the new COVID-19 protocols, soccer, school, friends, a job, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and I led a team bible study on top of all of that. I wanted to do all of these things, be involved and make a difference, but it became too much with the pressure of all these different deadlines and expectations. That experience taught me a few lessons.
This year I am choosing to take some things off of my plate to find a better balance. I am going to be vice president of SAAC, and I am going to be partnering with Elevation Church to lead a women’s bible study with all the female athletes, instead of leading something by myself. As far as soccer goes, I will be a team captain this year.
Another challenge is that things can become very hard when your performance (individual or team) is not going your way. When players don’t meet expectations, the coaches have the difficult job of guiding athletes to be better — which can be mentally taxing for players. That is something a lot of athletes aren't prepared for when going to college — I know I wasn’t. You need to have thick skin in this environment. But it is all worth it. You come out a stronger, better person.
What does it mean to be an All-Conference and All-Region women’s soccer player? What about an All-South Region Women's Soccer Scholar-Athlete? What do these accolades mean to you?
I am so thankful for these awards. My first reaction was, “Oh my goodness, I wasn’t expecting it.”
I remember as a freshman I always looked up to Megan Greene, a former women’s soccer athlete. She won so many awards and was so good at soccer. Honestly, I never thought I would win an award because it takes a special soccer player who stands out. To me, being an All-Conference and All-Region soccer player means hard work pays off. I am not the best soccer player; I am just a hard worker. I try to be as fit as possible and always work as hard as I can, even after experiencing five knee surgeries. Every day I get to step out on the field under this coaching staff and with my team is a gift and a blessing. That makes it worth it, and these awards are just the cherry on top.
How did COVID-19 impact last season, and how did you adjust?
Last year was really tough with COVID-19. We had a shorter season in the spring, which meant we had all fall to prepare. I was always ready to do the extra work. Twice a week, I was doing extra running and drills in the morning.
A big part of my success had to do with two things. This year I found what it meant to play with freedom. I learned a lot about my identity in Christ before my identity as a Charlotte women’s soccer player. This helped me to perform better, because I was doing it for an audience of one and that was Jesus. My coaches had a lot to do with my success. Having coaches who instill belief in you is empowering as an athlete. I went from playing defensive midfield to playing center forward this past year. I remember at the beginning of the year being told I had to earn this position. I knew if I wanted to be our center forward, I was going to have to work hard. I feel both excitement and pressure for this fall because there are high expectations, but I am ready for the challenge!
What is the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), and how did you get involved?
I am a big fan of the SAAC. I always compare it to student body government because it's very similar, except it's for athletes.
Freshman year, my entire team went to the meetings, and there was always free pizza, so I went. I learned that SAAC is a way to stay informed about what's happening on campus, have a voice and also be active in the community through volunteer opportunities.
During my sophomore year, Chris Everett, director of student-athlete development, told me to run for the executive board because he saw something in me. I am so thankful he sought me out. He taught me about servant leadership — loving and serving others.
After being nominated for the executive board, I became the assistant director of student wellness. I worked with the director of student wellness and my teammate, Brenna Murray, to start a program called Niner Fire, which is run and facilitated by student-athletes. It's a hang out once a week, where athletes connect with others from different sports to share common stressors. This was really fun to do because it brought inter-athlete connectedness back during COVID-19.
After last year, Brenna and I made a plan to run for president and vice president of SAAC respectively, and it worked! I am really excited for the new role. Brenna and I have been working closely with the executive team on plans for the upcoming year.
What advice do you have for incoming freshmen and transfer students?
Get involved! Don’t just be a student at UNC Charlotte. Find a club, sport, Greek life or something on campus to be involved with. It is so fun to find a community in school. And, of course I have to encourage you to go to all the athletic events as much as possible!
Who has most influenced you at UNC Charlotte?
Chris Everett! He invested in me so much as a student-athlete, and I have so much more confidence because of him.
What is your favorite spot on campus to study?
Athletes have study halls, so I like to go to Judy Rose Football Center because the lighting is really nice, my advisor is there and it's always really quiet — unless the football players are in there.
What are some other interesting facts about you?
I love to serve others. Being a business management major, I am very interested in leadership. Everyone has their own form and style of leadership. I am learning what mine looks like, and it has a lot to do with serving others.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience as a 49er?
I am super thankful for the 49er family we have. Once a 49er, always a 49er!