February 7, 2013

CUA's humble superstar

When it's all said and done, Jill Woerner will go down as one of the most accomplished student-athletes CUA has ever seen. A biomedical engineering major with Dean's List credentials, Woerner is the third leading scorer in school history and a two-time Academic All-District selection.

Woerner will be remembered for many things, such as her leadership, her ability to inspire others and the joy she receives from giving back.  One thing that Woerner will not be remembered for however, is telling people how good she is at anything.

Woerner is as humble as can be. Trying to get her to talk about herself is harder than trying to stop one of her signature drives to the basket.

"Jill's always been a very humble person," CUA Head Coach Matt Donohue explains.  "She is very quick to defer to others and has an aw shucks type of attitude."

He continues, "In her four years here, Jill has never once asked how many points she scored in a game. She wants to know how many assists or rebounds she had, or how many points the person she was guarding scored. She is very comfortable staying behind the scenes."

A native of Providence, R.I., Woerner was an All-State selection at St. Mary Academy Bayview, and played her AAU ball with the Rhode Island Thunder. Her teammates included several Division I prospects, and Woerner even thought about playing at the highest level.

"When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to get away from home and be in a big city," the 5-11 senior says.  "I had a chance to walk-on at Butler University in Indianapolis, but ultimately decided not to go the Division I route because of the time commitment."

Now in his fifth season, Donohue has been around for Woerner's entire career.  He left little doubt when recruiting Jill that she was a major target of his.

"During Jill's senior year, either myself or an assistant coach went up to Rhode Island to see her play at least eight times. I could tell from the first time I spoke with her that Jill was a different type of young woman. She's very intellectual, she has a strong interest in the sciences and politics, and her myriad of interests actually helped us because Catholic University offers so many wonderful things outside of basketball."

Woerner's initial visit to CUA was during President Barak Obama's first inauguration, which as Donohue likes to say, "did not hurt our chances of getting Jill to come here."

Woerner has since been to the White House on two occasions, including this past summer when her and several other CUA student-athletes were guests of Vice President Joe Biden for the screening of a public service announcement on reducing violence against women.

"Jill does not want to be defined by basketball," Donohue explains.  "When she has a chance to speak with high school students, she rarely brings up basketball; she'll talk about the off-court experiences she's had. Jill's meant everything to us as a program and has been a tremendous asset to the university. She's a marquee name in the New England area - people come up to me when I'm recruiting and ask how Jill is doing."

A member of CUA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Woerner is also involved with Society of Women Engineers, Biomedical Engineering Society and she is a part of Phi Eta Sigma.

Woerner comes from a family of engineers, and her desire to help others is what pushed her into the biomedical field.  "You can have a direct impact on people in the field and that is very important to me."

Following graduation, Woerner has plans to travel to Australia where she'll have a chance to shadow doctors. The opportunity was sealed when a family friend, who currently lives Down Under, offered Jill a place to stay during her trip.

That family friend used to be neighbors with Woerner's grandparents, who also happen to live near Jill's favorite Division I school in Durham, N.C.

"My entire family loves Duke University and Duke basketball; we grew up rooting for the Blue Devils. My grandfather has gotten to know Coach Mike Krzyzewski fairly well and even receives a birthday card from him every year."

Woerner had the chance to attend a Duke game during Thanksgiving break earlier this academic year and may look into earning an MBA from the university down the road.

Quiet during her first few years at CUA, Donohue says Woerner has blossomed into a strong vocal presence on the team. "Jill definitely led through her actions when she first got here. But she's developed into a more vocal leader now. And it's always positive with Jill, she constantly picks her teammates up."

Donohue recalls one such instance earlier this season. "We were playing up at Juniata and had seen a large lead reduced to single digits down the stretch. During a timeout, Jill took over the huddle, defined expectations for everyone and simply would not let us lose. Then she went out and stole the ball from a Juniata player. It was the type of play you don't see too often."

Woerner, who has played four different positions during her career, including point guard, is adored by her teammates, including junior Emily Grabiak.  "The first time I met Jill was on my recruiting trip and right away I noticed the leadership in her. I could tell from the start that she would always be looking out for me, and was one of the people I looked up to immediately. It wasn't only her presence on the court, but the respectable decisions she made off it."

Grabiak continues, "Jill is fearless. She isn't afraid to say what she means or to make a mistake on the court; that is something I've always admired of her. Over the years, I've come to see Jill as both an amazing teammate and a friend. It is an honor to have had the opportunity to play with her and see her grow."

With her basketball career fast approaching the end, Woerner knows she'll soon have to say goodbye to her teammates and coaches. When asked what she'll miss most, she responds, "everything."

"I'll miss playing basketball, but more than that, I'll miss the little things like going to class and seeing your friends, or the long road trips. Those are some of my best memories."

She adds, "Since I've been at CUA, I've learned that if you have confidence, you can accomplish anything. If you have good people surrounding you, you can do things you wouldn't otherwise expect.  I'm definitely a different person than when I came to college."

Intelligent, mature, respectful, compassionate, but definitely not boastful. They are all traits that describe CUA's humble superstar.

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