For three recently graduated La Salle student-athletes, their playing days—and their studies—didn’t end when they collected their La Salle diplomas.
Diana Allen, ’13, Michele McCaughern, ’12, and Jess Koci, ’14, were named Victory Scholars by the Sports Changes Life Foundation, traveling to Ireland to continue their education at a post-graduate level, play the sports that they love, and coach and mentor at-risk youth. Allen and McCaughern received Victory Scholarships in summer 2013 and have completed their studies and service in Limerick and Galway, respectively, while Koci is currently playing basketball and studying business in Carlow.
“Victory Scholars help change the lives and strive to raise the aspirations of young people we work with in our local communities in Ireland,” said Gareth Maguire, Director of the Victory Scholars Program. “We offer one of the most unique master’s programs that we have developed over the past six years with our founding partners, the University of Ulster. Previous graduates of the Victory Scholarship have left a legacy with the young people and communities in Ireland, and our La Salle students have been a big part of that.”
“Our partnership with the Victory Scholars Program provides student-athletes with a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Tom Brennan, Ed.D., La Salle’s Director of Athletics and a member of the Advisory Board for The Sport Changes Life Foundation/Victory Scholars Program. “We currently have students participating in the program, and I know firsthand just how positive an experience it has been.”
“Victory Scholars help change the lives and strive to raise the aspirations of young people we work with in our local communities in Ireland.” —Gareth Maguire, Director of the Victory Scholars Program
Koci was a four-year letter-winner in women’s basketball, earning Atlantic 10 All-Rookie status as a freshman. She’s now studying business at the University of Carlow while competing for its basketball team and also coaching young players through the Carlow Basketball Academy.
“I want to make the best of being able to play another year of basketball,” Koci said. “I was injured a lot the past three years, so I’m really looking forward to getting back on the court and being able to play again after sitting out so long.”
McCaughern graduated from La Salle with an accounting degree and also served as a team captain for the women’s basketball team. After graduation, she worked in accounting for the ARAMARK Corporation for one year while also serving as an assistant coach at Swarthmore College. As a Victory Scholar, she attended the University of Galway and earned a master’s in international management.
An injury cut her basketball-playing time in Ireland short, but it also opened up other opportunities. She was able to devote more time to her coaching role, and she picked up wheelchair basketball as a way to continue to play despite her ACL injury.
Coaching has proved to be a great outlet for McCaughern. From helping the players get the correct hand positioning on the ball while shooting free throws, to providing feedback on life decisions, she has learned that, as a coach, she can provide guidance both on and off the court.
“I didn’t think coaching would be as rewarding as it has been for me over the past few years, but it has exceeded my expectations,” McCaughern said.
Allen graduated from La Salle with a degree in communication and was a four-year member of the women’s soccer team who helped lead the Explorers to two NCAA Tournament appearances as well as the program’s first-ever Atlantic 10 Tournament championship in 2012.
Through the Victory Scholars program, Allen attended the University of Limerick and earned a master’s degree in marketing while also playing on the university’s soccer team.
“La Salle University has helped teach me to strive for more, to experience new and exciting things,” Allen said. “A few years ago, I would have said that I would never move to another country so far away from my family, but La Salle has helped me to realize that it is okay to go outside of my comfort zone.”
Her program at the University of Limerick included just 15 students, so she was able to form strong bonds with each of her classmates. “I was never once homesick, and I greatly attribute it to the generosity and caring nature of the people I was fortunate enough to meet,” she said.
Allen continued to excel on the field and in the classroom during her time in Ireland. She was a member of a group that won a university competition for its “Addiction Awareness Campaign” on tobacco dependency. She also led her soccer team to a successful season, including an upset win over a previously undefeated team in which Allen scored the game-winning goal. She also helped to coach more than 40 boys on an under-10 team through the local Limerick soccer club.
“The Lasallian philosophy includes giving back to the community, and our soccer team took great pride in honoring that,” Allen said.