ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Come 2013, when Lianne Maldonado crosses the stage in her cap and gown to receive her diploma, her mother, Elizabeth, will be seated somewhere in the crowd beaming up at her daughter - the first female in the Maldonado family to graduate college.
"It's something my mom has always pushed me for," Maldonado said. "College was talked about in my household. She'd always say, `You want to experience new things. You want to get out of this small town. You want to go on to bigger and better things. College is the gateway to that.'
"Once I started playing sports, I knew I needed to use it as my ticket because if it wasn't for athletics, I'm not sure I'd be able to attend a prestigious university such as this one."
The women's soccer goalkeeper was 7 or 8 years old when her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Clifton, N.J. Elizabeth enrolled Maldonado in the local Boys and Girls Club, and little did the pair know that this decision would have far greater ripple effects in Maldonado's life.
A coach from the Boys and Girls Club's indoor soccer league approached Elizabeth about allowing her daughter to join their co-ed team. The daughter of a high school basketball coach, Maldonado grew up in a basketball-oriented family, but she was a natural in the net. Soon, she joined a travel team and later blossomed into a college prospect.
Maldonado first attended Maryland in 2010 before deciding to transfer to UCF and has refused to let her commitment as a student-athlete deter her from investing time in other endeavors. She represents the UCF women's soccer team along with two of her teammates on the leadership council. She will serve as the co-vice president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee executive board. She is also one of two Knights to represent all of UCF on the Conference USA SAAC.
On top of it all, she managed to excel in the classroom as an interpersonal communications major and earn a spot on the C-USA Academic Honor Roll, which recognizes student-athletes with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
"I've had so much opportunity here," Maldonado said. "I wanted to be more involved and UCF has given me all the opportunity to do that with SAAC and leadership councils that they offer. I think that has been the most prized thing here at UCF. Just the opportunities it's given me and just the close-knit feel I have with my team and my coaches and advisors."
No matter what her legacy ends up becoming as a Knight, Maldonado has already solidified her reputation a trailblazer.
"I want to set a standard for those who come after me in my family," she said. "I have such a privilege of being given this opportunity to attend college. When I talk to my mom and she'll tell me things she wishes she could have done differently, I always use that as my motivation to just grind through it and get it done."
This story appears in the September issue of Knights Insider magazine. The publication, which is published six times per year, provides an inside look at UCF student-athletes, coaches and alums. To order the magazine, click here.