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Three conference championships.
One unforgettable year for Derek Pawlush '15, whose memorable junior year at Franklin & Marshall College seemed to keep getting better as it went along.
Last fall Pawlush served as one of the leaders for a Diplomats' men's soccer team that set a program record for wins with 17, captured its first Centennial Conference (CC) Championship after downing Dickinson by a 2-1 2OT score, and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Championship Tournament. The success of that 2013 squad is well documented, but perhaps Pawlush's role as a thriving midfielder who started in all 23 of the team's contests is not.
"Derek simply covers more ground than anyone I have ever coached," said head coach Dan Wagner. "He is a ferocious competitor and a tenacious one-on-one defender that keeps his feet moving and keeps fighting until he comes away with the ball. In the last four years, I don't remember anyone beating him off the dribble."
"The whole run where we had to win five games in a row to earn the conference championship was surreal," recalled Pawlush. " Each one of those contests was incredibly tough and showed me the amount of hard work and perseverance needed to play a lot of games in a short amount of time and winning each one."
For many student-athletes, if the story ended there it would already be considered a successful one. One sport. One championship. However, when a historically harsh and cold winter was beginning to make its way into Lancaster, Pawlush was just heating up. A two-sport athlete throughout his time at the College, he moved indoors for the track season and continued to thrive.
Displaying the speed he flashed on Tylus Field in the fall, Pawlush teamed up with Evan Friend '16, Brad Krell '16 and Alex Osei '16 at the CC Indoor Championships in March to capture gold in the 4X200 relay with a time of 1:32.72.
The outdoor season provided even more accolades for the mathematics and computer science major from Mechanicsburg, Pa., when Pawlush once again was part of a championship relay team in May. This time he joined a pair of former high school rivals in Luk Olenginski '15 and Greg Olenginski '15, and with the addition of Leo Generali '15, the foursome shattered a CC Championship 4X800 relay record that stood since 1991 to once again take gold with a time of 7:40.46.
"Derek not only knows how to win, but expects to run well and win in the championships," said track & field distance coach John Stoudt. "He is gifted with good speed and endurance, plus his racing instincts and mental toughness are outstanding."
"Setting a CC record was a goal that we had for a couple of years," said Pawlush. "It definitely was nice to finally achieve the goals we had set for ourselves back when we were freshmen."
"He is definitely a leader by example in workouts and especially in the championship races," said Stoudt. "Derek brings with him a wealth of experience from his high school track days, which is reassuring and confidence-invoking to his relay partners."
Two sports. Three championships. With his junior year coming to a close Pawlush already had enough accolades and memories to make sure it would be one he would never forget. Then a trip came along that ensured it.
In mid-May, Pawlush joined his teammates for a journey to South Africa. The 12-day adventure is undertaken by the men's soccer team every three years to provide student-athletes with a transformative experience with a focus on education, community service, leadership and athletics. The Diplomats played against four teams in the region, experienced an authentic African safari, bungee jumped and zip lined.
Like many of his teammates, however, the part of the trip that served as a life changer for Pawlush came at Chris T. Campbell Memorial Field, a turf oasis named for the former F&M men's soccer player and located in the heart of one of the poorest townships in the country.
"Something I can take away from the trip as a whole is that the work we do there to support the field has a powerful effect on the people of South Africa," said Pawlush. "It was amazing to see how the people that work at the field can really change the lives of the children who live there."
A defining moment of the trip for Pawlush came on one of the team's final days at the field.
"My favorite memory was when our team went on a run around the township with all the little kids from the field," said Pawlush. "Looking around and seeing all my teammates with children on their shoulders and the people of Khayelitsha coming outside to see us run. It was unbelievable to see how happy the kids were just to have us hang out with them for the time we did."
Pawlush's collegiate experience extends beyond life altering trips and championship trophies and medals. He has excelled in the classroom as well, being named to the dean's and honor's lists multiple times, and among only 13 students designated as a John Kershner Scholar for excellence in mathematics. He is a member of the Mu Alpha Theta mathematics honor society.
Away from the classroom and the field of competition, Pawlush finds more ways to be involved on campus. He serves as the Colleges Against Cancer (CAC) co-president, helping lead the group's work to increase cancer awareness. As part of the CAC executive committee for the past two years, Pawlush is heavily involved in organizing and planning the Relay for Life event, which takes place every spring.
He also spends his time volunteering for F&M – S.L.A.M Sports, Leadership, Academics and Mentoring – serving as a mentor to Reynolds Middle School students in the enrichment program that aims to provide a safe and interactive learning environment for the local students. One hour of their time together is utilized to work on homework, while the other is spent playing a sport.
"Participating in the CAC and F&M S.L.A.M. has added to my college experience by giving me a chance to pursue activities and causes that are important and interesting to me," said Pawlush. "I have met a lot of friends along the way, gained a more varied perspective of life at F&M and learned how to balance a lot of different activities."
"Derek's work off the field and track is as impressive as what he has accomplished on them," said Wagner. "His leadership role in the programs he's involved with is unique among the student-athletes that I have coached."
Three years down. One to go. After such a successful junior year came to a close, Pawlush's focus shifted to his senior campaigns and a single question. What will he do for an encore? Living up to expectations from a year ago will be difficult, but there is reason to be optimistic.
The men's soccer team is off to its strongest start since 2007, storming out of the gate with an 11-0-1 record and a No. 7 national ranking. Each member of his gold-winning 4X200 indoor track & field relay team returns for another go, as does every runner from the record-setting 4X800 outdoor track relay team.
Sights for Pawlush's senior year can, perhaps, be set even higher.