Nov. 4, 2013

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. ( - They became roommates over the summer by happenstance. They never imagined months later they'd be spending their free time at their apartment helping each other on their homecoming queen campaigns.

UCF women's soccer goalkeeper Lianne Maldonado and track All-American sprinter Afia Charles are members of the homecoming court this year.

The pair were selected for the nomination process by a vote of their peers in a Student-Athlete Advisory Committee meeting. They then submitted a written application, were interviewed, and eventually made the final cut of five.

The experience is giving them a chance to break out of being pigeonholed as athletes and show another side of their characters.

"One of my goals as SAAC president was to be that bridge between regular students and student-athletes," Charles said. "Students put athletes on this pedestal but if they know us as individuals - we take the same classes as you, we stress over the same tests and teachers as you. I just want to let them know we are just like you all."

Maldonado, a former high school homecoming queen, served as the co-vice president of SAAC in addition to her role as UCF's representative on the Conference USA SAAC in 2012. She currently is a captain on the nationally ranked women's soccer team, who just clinched the first American Athletic Conference regular season title.

The NSCAA all-region scholar also made time for giving back to the community, most notably with her service trip to an orphanage in Panama last year with the Knights Without Borders group.

"Lianne is just an all-around a great person," Charles said. "She is a good athlete, great in school and she is very humble. If I wasn't to win, I would definitely want her to win."

Charles is the current SAAC president. She's a member of the Dean's List and has also earned recognition on the USTFCCCA all-academic team.

During the 2013 track season, Charles broke the 400-meter school record, set the Antigua national record, became a conference champion and helped the Knights earn the best finish in program history (5th place) at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

"I think Afia is very passionate about what she does," Maldonado said. "She's a hard worker and likes to get things done. In addition to her work ethic, she is a very nice, sweet person."

She also happens to be an Olympian - a piece of information that never fails to drop jaws as more and more people find out she competed in the 2012 London Games for Antigua.

"I get the look of `Where have you been? We have an Olympian walking this campus? We're walking right past you and not even knowing who you are,'" Charles says with a humble smile. "They are proud to have a UCF Knight represent them in the Olympics and put UCF even more on the map."

Their competitive drive as athletes is blurring into their homecoming campaigns, but both Maldonado and Charles do show a genuine desire for either one to claim the crown.

"As athletes, I do think that we'd be a good choice for queen," Maldonado said. "I feel our dedication, our leadership and our ability to be social and maintain balance with our busy schedules and personal lives are all qualities you'd want in someone representing your school."

Students can vote on from Nov. 4-7.The selection of UCF's king and queen will be revealed during halftime of Nov. 9's ESPN2-televised football game against Houston. Until then, Maldonado and Charles have found some new phrases to throw around in their everyday conversation.

"Vote for Lianne!" "Vote for Afia!"



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