At 5 feet 11 inches, suited up in her gold game jersey, mid-calf Adidas socks, basketball shoes on, hair tied back in a ponytail and an Adidas headband, she is the image of a typical collegiate basketball athlete.
As she walks closer and closer, I notice a tiny sparkling stud in her nose, makeup done and a bright smile across her face — the image of a woman who embraces her femininity. The athlete and self-proclaimed “girly-girl” is Cheyenne Cathey, the senior captain of the UC Irvine women’s basketball team.
Cathey admits that she was very girly growing up and never expressed an interest in sports. It was not until she was eight years old that her father, a versatile athlete himself who played baseball and basketball, encouraged her to follow in his footsteps and take up softball and basketball.
“When I was younger, I was straight girly-girl, playing with Barbies all the time and didn’t want anything to do with sports,” Cathey said.
Her first experiences with basketball were not her fondest memories. Her first basketball team was an all-boys team that showed “too much aggression.” As a youngster, this aggression bothered Cathey, and she was unsure how to handle the unfamiliar environment. But she persevered and continued to play. Basketball eventually grew on her and she came to love the sport.
High school came around and Cathey was faced with a tough decision: softball or basketball? Despite her deciding to stick with basketball, the softball coach at Sheldon High School approached Cathey in her sophomore year and asked her to come out for the team. Unable to ignore the offer from the coach, Cathey became a two-time varsity athlete but always knew that her heart laid with basketball. In her junior year, Cathey was recruited and subsequently signed to play basketball at UCI. After two years on the softball team, Cathey decided to hang up her softball cleats and focus on basketball as she was on her way to becoming an Anteater.
Before she officially wore the blue and gold, the high school senior hyperextended her knee and bruised a bone in her leg at the beginning of her final season. She played through the duration of the season with the injury, but took the summer to rest up and recover. As a result, she did not train or condition the summer before embarking on her journey at Irvine.
“When I was a freshmen, the first workout, I literally almost died,” Cathey recalled. “I remember it, we were on the track and we had to do laps around the track, but certain distances like 200-meter, 400-meter, that was probably the most difficult thing I had to overcome.”
Of course, collegiate sports has its ups and downs. Cathey reminisced with a big smile about all the good times that she has had her past four years as an ’Eater. When asked her favorite memory, she simply laughed and said, “Oh gosh, there’s a lot.” In summary, all the action that takes place off the court, times in the locker room, the times the team travels and just spending time with her team.
“This has been one of my favorite teams that I’ve ever played on … a lot of our best memories happen behind the scenes,” Cathey said. “Right now, we always play Drake’s ‘Started From the Bottom’ before or after games because at the beginning of our conference, we were the last-place team. After one game, we all went around dancing and we even recorded it.”
Cathey described her past four years as a roller coaster, riding out the ups and downs that come with not only being an athlete but also being a student at UCI. Now in her final go around, Cathey enjoys the more “relaxed” team-feel with “less tension.”
Part of the reason for this new mindset could be head coach Doug Oliver, who assumed the position just this year. Cathey attributes the team’s calm facade to Coach Oliver’s relaxed nature, allowing his team to have fun and ignore any outside expectations.
“In my opinion, Cheyenne has one of the best work ethics on our team,” teammate Jasmine Bernard said. “Her ability to display this day in and day out makes her a valuable part to our success. She is an excellent leader both on and off the court, and she will be extremely missed next year.”
This work ethic applies to her schoolwork as well as her role as a captain. Cathey was awarded a scholar-athlete award last year and has maintained a cumulative GPA above 3.4 throughout her four years.
As a captain, she sees her role as the GPA booster, reminding her team that they are here for academics first. “Do not procrastinate!”
With her collegiate career coming to a close, basketball has taught Cathey invaluable lessons. Perhaps one of the most important lessons is how to deal with sticky situations. Through basketball, Cathey has learned to channel her energies into something more positive, a quality that she will take with her to the working world.
Majoring in business economics, Cathey aspires to be a sports agent or an accountant for a sports team. With her passion for sports, she dreams of a job that relates to sports and will keep her active — a little ironic for someone who wanted nothing to do with sports as a kid.
“I still am a girly-girl; that never went away, I just added sports,” Cathey laughed. “I love getting dressed up. If there’s a reason for me to get dressed up, I’m always down. I love my banquets ‘cause that means pictures!”
Cathey has come a long way from playing with Barbie dolls. As a captain in her final quarter here at UCI, her last task that she wishes to complete is to have a 4.0 GPA for this quarter. Her passion for the game will forever live on, but it takes a mature and “balanced” individual to prioritize life the way Cathey does.