O’Leary Reaching Personal Goals

Gilly O’Leary had a personal goal to become a National Merit Semifinalist. After taking the PSAT as a sophomore, her determination to stand in an elite academic group became even greater. “It was more personal. I tried to improve what I did sophomore year. I wanted to be better,” she says.

After months of training and tutoring, she kept her eye on the prize. As time progressed, the moment finally came when she would find out if she made the cut or not. While she was in an airport traveling to Texas, she received confirmation that she had been named a National Merit Semifinalist, and she began to weep with joy.

“I was really happy because I did work really hard. I took practice tests and spent nights looking over the vocabulary and stuff. When I got the news, we just started crying because you remember when you were tutoring. And it all worked out.”

The National Merit Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. Students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). The test is an initial screen that includes 1.5 million entrants each year.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Adkisson

Photo courtesy of Sydney Adkisson

Of the 1.5 million entrants, only 16,000 become National Merit Semifinalists. As a sophomore, O’Leary scored a 190 and as a junior, 210, which was the cut off to earn the recognition. She was the only female from Louisville Collegiate School to earn this honor.

Since she began high school, she has maintained straight As. And for O’Leary, she has always been able to balance academics and athletics.

“For high school, I have always been super involved in both of those. I think athletics is a good balance because if you are heavy on academics, then athletics is a good outlet since it is semi-competitive. I would rather go against someone in soccer than I would in a test. I played lacrosse, ran track and played soccer. I have always tried hard in school, and growing up, I always participated in these things.”

O’Leary not only reached personal goals in academics, but she had a superb senior year on the soccer field. As one of four captains, she helped the Amazons with 11 goals and 8 assists on the season, leading the team to a 15-4 record.

Head coach of the girls’ soccer program, Thomas Travis, has coached O’Leary for three seasons and has been her teacher in school as well. As a coach, he says he has been able to put his trust in O’Leary without any doubt.

“I think what makes it so great coaching her is the work ethic. She is reliable and gets along with her teammates. After I put my plan into place, I didn’t have to do a whole lot because in her personality, she does the dirty work. She does what she says, and you could rely on that. She wasn’t just lip service. She does it in the classroom, and you can see that people really respect her.”

O’Leary, who lives with a competitive drive, often challenges and battles her inner self. These intangibles have manifested both on the field and in the classroom. Coach Travis placed her as a defensive middle fielder for a reason.

“She plays in the center for me, to win the loose balls and to dish it out to someone else; all that is competition,” describes Travis. “That whole position is designed to compete, win and set everything else up. In the classroom, I think she competes with herself. She gets mad at herself when she doesn’t do as well as she thinks she should. That inner drive in a sense is really neat to see.”

In O’Leary’s own words, she considers herself to be her own motivator: “I have always tried hard. So I always thought, ‘Why give up now?’ Like freshman year, I said, ‘My grades don’t really matter,’ but I worked really hard eighth grade year to get into Collegiate, so I always thought I should work hard.”

Since being at Collegiate, she has learned endurance and to always push through difficulties. “Collegiate is super interesting. I have learned to have fun with each game and to  never give up on it because you never know. I could have quit [soccer] my junior year. I am glad to not give up on stuff because you never know how it will turn out.”

Gilly is considering attending Vanderbilt, Michigan or Texas where she looks to study engineering. VT