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June 11, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina rising junior and men’s soccer standout Mark Wiltse is enjoying a busy and exciting summer. Wiltse recently had the opportunity to represent the student-athletes of the University of South Carolina at the NCAA National Student-Athlete Development Conference, held in Orlando, Fla. Nearly 750 student-athletes representing all divisions of collegiate athletics attended this year’s gathering. From a summer training standpoint, Wiltse is a veteran member of the U20 Red Bulls, competing at the highest non-professional level in the organization. He recently took time out of his schedule to sit down with to discuss the NCAA Development Conference and his summer playing experience.

Q: You represented the entire athletic department at the recent NCAA Development Conference, talk about your experience at the event.
A: First, I would like to say what an honor it was to be selected for the NCAA National Student-Athlete Development Conference. The University of South Carolina is full of great student-athletes and to be selected to represent the University was an amazing feeling. Knowing that I was one person representing the entire department was amazing–an honor–and I did feel a sense of responsibility to represent the University well.

The conference was definitely a learning experience. There were about 750 student-athletes representing Division I, Division II, and Division III. The conference was held over a four-day period. The attendees were split up into two groups where half would attend the first two days and the other half the final two days. I was part of the last group, spending two days at a Disney Resort. The conference was the largest non-competitive gathering of student-athletes in the world.

I had a tremendous experience at the conference. Upon arriving, it was an overwhelming and exhilarating feeling as I walked into the meeting hall and saw hundreds of student-athletes representing their universities. We were split into 10 groups of about 25 to 30 people. Within these small discussion groups we spent days tackling issues of leadership, race, gender, and issues affecting all campus communities. I had never been in an environment before where everyone was willing to speak about such issues in a calm and organized manner. I truly gained a lot from the small discussions. It allowed me to learn about myself, and I also took a lot away from the people in my group. I developed new friendships and was introduced to many new concepts and views that I can bring back to the University of South Carolina.

Q: What was the most beneficial and interesting item you learned at the conference, and who was the most interesting person you met during the event?
A:Before we attended the conference, we were asked to fill out a self-assessment questionnaire that provided four words and you were supposed to pick two – one that described you the most and one that described you the least. It consisted of about 30 questions that were meant to depict what type of leader we each were. Additionally, I was asked to conduct interviews with other people (teammates, friends, coaches, advisors, etc.) about their perspectives on my strengths and weaknesses. From this information, we all received a detailed assessment of our personality profile and leadership style. The most interesting and informative item I learned at the conference was that the three-page assessment made me really focus on my strengths and weaknesses. It was almost scary to see how accurate the assessment was. From the assessment we were able to discuss our strengths and weaknesses as leaders and how we could better ourselves for our campus community.

The most interesting person I met didn’t emerge until the last day of the conference. On the last day in our smaller groups we discussed what impacted us the most at the conference and what we would like to bring back to our campus communities. Within my group was a member of the National Championship Women’s Soccer team from the University of Southern California. From day one I could relate to her because she had achieved something every college soccer player aspires to achieve. However, what she said during the discussion made her one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Very emotionally, she told the group that she had just found out her injury was career ending and the reason she was at the conference was to figure out who she could become outside of soccer. Her ability to positively accept the fact that she no longer would be playing the sport she loved and understand what it takes to move on was inspiring. Instead of being at the conference to learn how to be a better leader on the field, she was using the conference to help her be a better leader in life. Barring injury, this is something that becomes very hard for student-athletes to accept at the end of their athletic careers. It became obvious that the leadership qualities one possesses in the athletic arena translate to life beyond athletics.

Q: How do you plan on implementing what you learned at the conference and applying that to your role on the soccer team and as a student-athlete at South Carolina?
A:As for the men’s soccer team, I plan on using what I learned to become a better leader for everyone not only on the field, but also off the field. I would like to develop a respect and understanding amongst the whole team that will only better our team both academically and athletically. Taking something and having the whole team believe in it, can make a world of difference for the attitude and morale of the team, ultimately resulting in the creation of a more successful team. I plan on leading through example and hope that I have a better understanding of how I can best motivate and encourage others to achieve our goals.

As a student-athlete, I would like to unify the campus of South Carolina. Sometimes the perception on campus is that student-athletes appear to others as a special group that hold themselves higher than others. I would like to unify all students on campus and become involved in activities (both service and social) and organizations that will allow for better interaction amongst all students at the University of South Carolina. By unifying the community, we will be able to excel in all different criteria that impact our University.

Q: Moving onto soccer related questions, what team are you training with this summer? And what is your role on the team?
A:This summer I am playing with the U20 New York Red Bulls team. It is the highest form of competition within the Red Bulls organization before actually reaching the professional level. Last year I was able to practice with first team members and look forward to having the same opportunity this year. As an experienced player on the team, my role is to lead by example on the field and to create a sense of comfort and stability for new or younger players.

Q: How has your team done so far this summer on the field? Are you playing with fellow collegiate players or those attempting to make it in the professional level?
A:The team is undefeated so far and is looking to win the Super 20 National Championship. Last year we reached the semifinals and this year we are looking to win it all. On the team are players of the highest level. There are collegiate players from schools like Seton Hall, Cornell, Maryland, Rutgers, St. John’s and Clemson. There are also a few players who have had some sort of first team experience playing in practice with the reserves or in scrimmages.

Q: What are your goals and expectations for your summer playing experience?
A:My individual goal for this summer is to put myself in the best shape physically and mentally for this upcoming season with the University of South Carolina. As for the U20 Red Bull team, we would like to win the National Championship for our age group.

Q: What are your expectations for the upcoming season at South Carolina?
A:The men’s soccer team is going to be a very talented and experienced squad. Returning nearly every member of the last year’s starting eleven will allow us to be an even better group on the field this season. We also have a very strong incoming freshman class that will help us reach our goals. As a team, I believe we will have very high expectations for ourselves this coming fall. We will look to contend for the conference championship and earn a seed in the NCAA tournament.