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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

Eyes on the future

Like the big "E" at the top of an ordinary eye chart, Sheri Levack knows what her future looks like. Armed with the diploma she received in May, she's ready for the next phase of her academic life: optometry school at IU's Bloomington campus.

Levack wants to work in brain imaging, most likely in a hospital setting. It's her life's goal, and goals are important to the Portage, Ind., native. After all, they're the way she's tracked her life as an IUPUI Jaguar women's soccer standout for the past four seasons.

The slender senior knows the path isn't easy. "I've got a lot of work ahead of me, but that's never been a problem for me," she says with a determined smile. "I can't wait!"

Youthful determination

That "can-do" attitude is typical for Levack, according to those who know her well. She has been one of the best students in the Purdue School of Science at IUPUI throughout her college career, though she admits to occasional moments of doubt.

"To be honest, I was VERY intimidated when I came first came to IUPUI ," she says.

"I knew there were a lot of tough (academic) programs. I knew the medical school raised the bar for all our schools and students."

But it didn't take long to allay those concerns, thanks to IUPUI's support system.

"Everybody was so helpful, from other students to my faculty and my advisors," she says. "It wasn't long before I was happy with tough classes — they really challenge you! And our faculty are really willing to help. They work hard to help their students succeed."

And succeed Levack has: she earned academic all-conference honors from The Summit League (previously the Mid-Continent Conference) in all four of her years at IUPUI . She has been on the top-10 academic list for studentathletes every semester on campus, and has been honored by ESPN The Magazine and the USA Academy Collegiate All-American Scholar program, as well.

Academics are key

Levack is a big part of IUPUI's longrunning academic success story. The women's and men's soccer wprograms both were honored by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for team grade-point averages surpassing the 3.0 mark for 2006-07. IUPUI was the only school in The Summit League to earn the dual distinction.

"We all emphasize doing well," Levack says. "To us, it's simple; you're putting in a lot of time anyway. Why not go for an 'A' in every class?"

She learned that lesson early at IUPUI.

"My first road trip, we were on the bus or in our hotel rooms, and the older players all flipped open their books or their laptops and started to study," Levack recalls. "Reading, writing, talking about coursework — to me, that obviously was how things are done."

She helped pass that message to younger Jaguars, too, says women's head coach Chris Johnson.

"A few years ago, we were flying west to play Southern Utah," he recalls. "We played on Saturday, then caught an 11:59 p.m. flight from Las Vegas to Minneapolis for our next game. A lot of the players turned out their lights to catch some sleep. A few just relaxed, reading magazines. And there was Sheri, her light on and a chemistry book in her lap, doing homework the whole flight. The other girls noticed that, and it makes a difference when your best players set that kind of example."

For the coach, Levack's dedication was no surprise. "She's very mature — way beyond her years," Johnson says. "Her priorities have always been in order, and her teammates noticed that even when she was a freshman. They looked up to her right from the start."

Levack comes by her work ethic honestly. Her father Ken, a brick mason for U.S. Steel, and mother Cindy, a teacher's assistant in a Portage elementary school, instilled that diligence in their oldest daughter from an early age, along with the value of a good education.

Early days in soccer

Levack plunged into the world of soccer early in life, at age 8.

"My best friend was playing soccer already, and I decided that's what I wanted to do, too," she says. "I was a little tomboyish, and it was such a cool game to play."

It was cool enough that even a series of injuries — a stress fracture to her vertebrae as a high school freshman; "more ankle injuries, sprains and strains than I can count"; and "a bunch of stitches" after a collision drove two of her teeth through her bottom lip — haven't quenched that passion.

She started at the lowest level in the Portage area, but her talent quickly earned her a spot on a traveling team. Grass fields and 24-foot-by-8- foot nets have been part of her life ever since. And if she has her way, the love affair with the sport will continue.

"I am very interested in coaching," Levack says. "I love the intensity. You step on a field and go for 90 minutes. If you have the ball, you control everyone and everything for those few moments — there's no feeling quite like it! And I'd really like to share that feeling with girls who are just like I was."

IUPUI a 'good fit'

For the Portage native, IUPUI was "a good fit" for a host of reasons, some of them academic, others athletic — and still others geographic.

"I wasn't looking for a place where I had to stay in a dorm — I wanted to do my own thing, play soccer, do the things I wanted to do on campus," she says, adding with a laugh "it was just me and my George Foreman (grill)."

One of the pleasant surprises was the friendships she built with other IUPUI athletes. "It's like one big family," Levack says. "You start out knowing you have something in common — you're constantly training and preparing — and then you build other bonds around schools or programs, or interests you share. It was such a nice bonus for me — not something I really expected to happen."

She also found the campus's ever-expanding student life a great bonus.

"Movie nights are great," Levack says, referring to the outdoor film fests that turn University Courtyard into an open-air "theater," complete with the smell of popcorn and the sounds of college friends laughing, teasing one another, generally hanging out. "You meet a lot of new people (there), spend time together and watch movies. And there are more activities and events all the time — people have been really creative in coming up with things to do."

And, she admits with a laugh, the lure of big-city fun just a few blocks from the campus gives IUPUI students "wonderful options. I'm a HUGE fan of the canal," she says. "I love walking and running along the water; in summer, I'm there every day! In fact, we trained as a team along it this year."

Levack may hail from that part of Indiana nicknamed the "Region," but she's a confirmed Indy "native" now.

"It didn't take long to fall in love with the city," Levack says. "There's so much going on, always something to do. Best of all, for me, it's not that far from home. I'm close with my family, and they've been able to see me play most of my games."

She pauses.

"But not so close that they can just 'drop in' unannounced," she laughs.

Levack likes the city so much that when she's finished with optometry school in Bloomington, she hopes to return to launch her professional career.

"It's hard to imagine living anywhere else now," she says.

Her pro-IUPUI enthusiasm proved contagious in the Levack household; younger sister Stacy just finished her first season on the Jaguars' women's soccer team as her sister's IUPUI career wrapped up.

"I think a lot of people expect Stacy to be like me," Levack laughs. "But we're a lot different — she's definitely her own person!"