Athelete – Story appeared in newspaper

Senior libero Bridget McCaskill stood smiling with her mother Dorothy and one of her four sisters, Colise, on the court at Corbett Sports Center during Senior Day festivities for the North Carolina A&T volleyball team. 

She held a bouquet of flowers and a framed action photo in her hands.  As photographers snapped pictures, head coach Hal Clifton and assistant Arlene Mitchell joined McCaskill for the photo ops.  

Even with love ones surrounding her; there was one more person McCaskill would have loved to have seen in the pictures.

McCaskill’s father died from prostate cancer when she was 18.

As a result, McCaskill has dedicated her life to finding a cure for cancer, so that other people do not have to experience the same loss she did. She has been pursuing a rigorous education at N.C. A&T to fulfill her goals.  

“Ever since I was younger, I’ve wanted to find a cure for cancer, so that’s my passion.  My main goal is to make a difference in that aspect,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill, a biology and chemistry double-major from Durham, N.C., has been a standout athlete, and a strong student in the classroom since transferring from Greensboro College in 2008. It’s been a move that has benefited both the school and McCaskill.

One day soon, the move could benefit mankind. McCaskill said that being a student-athlete at N.C. A&T has been a transformative experience, shaping her career path and her passion for competing in sports. 

“Losing my father and playing on the team, it actually made me the person I am today, it formed me into the person I am today,” she said. 

In addition to her many courses in biology and chemistry, McCaskill is one of 17 students who are part of the RISE (MBRS Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program at the university, which supports minority students interested in pursuing terminal degrees in biomedical sciences. 

The program, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the university, provides students with supplemental instruction in chemistry, biology and calculus. It also provides opportunities for research internships, seminars with leading scientists and opportunities to travel to conferences to present research, as well as GRE preparation.  

N.C. A&T is one of four institutions in the state of North Carolina that offers the RISE program. McCaskill plans to get a medical degree and a graduate degree after graduating with her bachelor’s degree in the spring.  The NIH also offers a post baccalaureate Research Education Program, which will allow her to work as an apprentice scientist in a laboratory.

In four school years with the Aggies, McCaskill has had one of the highest grade point averages amongst N.C. A&T student-athletes.    She’s also been involved in the school with Beta Kappa Chi, a scientific honor society, as well as Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.  

“She’s a model student-athlete, and I stress the word student,” said Clifton. “We’re striving to bring in young ladies that are working really hard in the classroom. They are able to double-major or major and have a minor, and really push themselves to be the best student they can be, not just the best athlete.  She’s the perfect role model of I can do both, and do both at a high level, and she certainly has.”

McCaskill’s involvement in so many programs at N.C. A&T are helping to prepare her for post-graduation life, and McCaskill is ready to take what she’s learned at the university and translate it to her future plans.

“I’m ready to graduate,” she said.  “I’m ready for a new chapter in my life. I want to focus on cancer research, but if I’m not able to do cancer research. I’ll probably just do something else.”

The MD-PhD programs that McCaskill’s looking into would help prepare her for a career in medicine and research. 

“It’s a dual program,” she explained. “You get your doctorate, your medical license, and then you get your phD.  So you’re in medical school for four years and you’re in your graduate program for four years.”
 
Sounds like a lot of classes, doesn’t it?

“That’s why I’m taking a year off to do research,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve got to take a break!”

But as important as her studies are to McCaskill, volleyball has been a crucial part of her life. McCaskill is known for her leadership and strong passing skills.   

“I can’t explain how much I love volleyball.   It’s a part of my life –I just have to play it,” she said.  

Clifton describes McCaskill as someone who is a little quiet, but brings a lot of energy to the volleyball court. “She’s a very good first contact player and has very good platform,” said the first-year head coach. 

“The problem with Bridget is she can’t pass the whole court since people serve away from her,” Clifton added.  “She’s that good of a passer. That’s out of respect to her that other people try to serve away from her.  She brings us a lot of ball control.” 

But balancing her heavy course load with being a varsity collegiate athlete has resulted in limited time with the team this season.  But when she has been with the team, she has proven to be a great influence on her teammates.

“Her class schedule doesn’t allow her to be in the gym all that often,” Clifton said.  “She really only has a day and a half of practices throughout the week.  She basically comes in and has two practices, and then she’s on the court for the matches.  But that’s because her class schedule is so heavy.  When she’s there, they definitely step up to her ability and try to match her defensively.  So it’s good, I just wish we had more of her, more time with her.”

McCaskill’s best season with the Aggies came in 2009, when she played 107 sets in 33 matches.  That year, she totaled 115 kills with 211 digs and 19 service aces.  McCaskill took the 2010 season off to focus on her academics and health, facing a rigorous course load in her double-major pursuit. 

“Physically and mentally, my body was breaking down and I really needed a break,” she said. But the arrival of Clifton and the need for her leadership on a young team brought her back to the court for the 2011 season.

She has played in 31 sets across 10 matches this season for the Aggies, collecting 58 digs and three kills through Nov. 6.  She has compiled 450 career digs with 127 kills and 29 total blocks to date. The Aggies will have a major hole to fill next season at the libero position. 

“You lose your libero, you lose a really top position on your team,” Clifton said.  “It’s like losing your quarterback or your point guard.  She’s a hard young lady to replace in a number of ways.”

But even though the volleyball program will miss McCaskill, Clifton knows she will find success in the future.

“I think the world of Bridget,” Clifton said.  “She’s going to be very successful in the future.  She probably is one of those people that would not stop trying to find a cure for anything . She’s just a great kid and we’re very excited for her future and we’re very thankful for what she’s provided for this university and she’s going to be a great representative of this university once she goes on.  A&T was lucky to have her.”

And one day a cancer patient will be lucky to have her too.