The quintessential student-athlete
It wasn’t a shock that Mandy Gerolstein, now Mandy Wilkinson, was recently elected to the USC Aiken Athletic Hall of Fame. That is, to everybody but the Pacers’ former volleyball star.
“I was really surprised to get the call considering the stellar tradition of USC Aiken athletics,” Wilkinson said Tuesday. “I’m incredibly honored.”
Wilkinson played a major role in adding to the esteem of USCA athletics in four years as a student-athlete at the university. From 2004-07, she was a star on the court. Some of her highlights include:
• Being named the 2007 Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year.
• Winning the 2006 PBC Tournament MVP award.
• Being selected to the PBC’s All-Conference and All-Tournament teams in 2005, 2006 and 2007, the same years she was also named All-District.
• Finishing her career third all-time in program history with 1,455 kills, making her just one of six Pacers in the 1,000-kill club.
• Finishing second in program history with 484 total blocks.
All of those achievements were reason enough for Wilkinson to have her No. 14 jersey retired, joining Roxanna Rivera and Kim Merrill as the only USCA volleyball players to receive that recognition. But it’s her accomplishments as a well-rounded student-athlete that really set Wilkinson apart and made her an easy addition to the USCA Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013.
“She’s one of the best players in the history of the program, but she’s a complete person on and off the court,” said Will Condon, Wilkinson’s coach at USCA who’s now in charge of the Armstrong Atlantic program. “This is a well-deserved honor. I’ve been joking with her about it since she graduated.”
Wilkinson graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biology and a 3.97 GPA. She was selected to the CoSIDA First-Team Academic All-American in 2007 and was named the 2007-08 Peach Belt Conference Female Scholar Athlete of the Year. She was also recognized as the university’s Biology Student of the Year in 2008 because of her work in the research lab of Dr. Bill Jackson. That was where she worked on a project to design and clone HIV-specific ribozymes, which earned her an award from the South Carolina Academy of Science.
After graduating from USCA, Wilkinson went to graduate school at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. That was where she received her Masters of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology.
“It’s harder to be an academic All-American than on the court,” Condon said of Wilkinson’s achievements. “If you had to build the perfect student-athlete, Mandy is how you’d do it.”
Wilkinson’s uncomfortable with the attention, regardless of the arena in which her achievements were reached.
She didn’t want to harp on her academic success, deferred credit for accolades in volleyball to her teammates and even praised the players that preceded her at USCA as being responsible for what she accomplished.
“The girls that paved the way before me, I think they’re such better players than me,” said 6-foot-1¾ Wilkinson, who was a dominant force at the net for the Pacers. “I used to look up their stats. It was always my goal to play at their level. It was motivation to be the best.”
Wilkinson didn’t break Merrill’s school marks in kills or blocks, but she made a name for herself. She achieved great things and did that in spite of being the focus of opposing defenses for her sophomore, junior and senior seasons. Teams would work to avoid her or overplay her to neutralize her power. But according to Condon, that fueled Wilkinson to become a more complete player who could contribute in a variety of ways.
“She worked hard on the little things – her footwork, transition play and just getting more opportunities. She wanted to win,” Condon said. “From her sophomore year on, she was our go-to player. In her junior and senior year, she was the most dominant player in the conference.”
Wilkinson’s top memories of her playing days don’t have anything to do with individual achievements. Her fondest reflections are of team success.
“Volleyball is such a team sport; you can’t do it by yourself,” Wilkinson said. “My success was a testimony to how great my teammates were. … I was incredibly lucky to be part of an amazing team and have a great coach.”
She said her highlights included winning the PBC regular season championship as well as the conference tournament. She was especially proud of back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament during her junior and senior seasons. In fact, she said some of her most cherished memories had nothing to do with volleyball, other than spending time with her teammates and bonding.
“Just enjoying the journey of growing up and maturing,” Wilkinson said. “The entire experience at USC Aiken shaped me into the person I’ve become. It’s very important in my life.”
Who Wilkinson is these days is a decorated collegian and a hall of famer. But according to her, Wilkinson’s most important roles now are wife and mother.
She’s married to Indy Wilkinson, a former pitcher at Wake Forest who’s a doctor in the U.S. Army. They have a 17-month-old daughter, Grace Savannah, and are already expecting another daughter.
“I love every moment with her,” said Wilkinson, who plans on devoting her time to her children, saying she’ll reassess her professional life once they enter school. “She’s the sweetest little girl in the world. That’s why we’re ready to have another daughter.”
With parents who are both athletes, it’s not a surprise that Grace has already started to show some skills at tossing a ball around. Wilkinson said she’s optimistic her children will follow in her footsteps.
“I’m nudging her in that direction,” she said of athletics, specifying which sport she’d like Grace to pursue. “If I have any say, she’ll play volleyball.”
It will take a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve the same level of success as her mother. Wilkinson’s part of an induction class that will bring the USCA Athletic Hall of Fame’s membership to 30 honorees. That’s a very select group, but one that she’s thrilled to be a part of.
“I’m truly honored to receive this award. I don’t think I’ll ever express how much it means,” Wilkinson said, proud of her recognition. “In a small way, it means I was important to USC Aiken. It was so important to me.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
The following is the first in a series of features on the newest members of the USC Aiken Athletic Hall of Fame. The Aiken Standard will have a story on each member of the Class of 2013, with the schedule as follows:
Today: Mandy Gerolstein Wilkinson (Volleyball)
Thursday: Gary Gilmore (Baseball)
Friday: Dawn Weeks (Women’s basketball and Volleyball)