student athletesNatalia Christenson ’11

For someone who came to tennis at the relatively advanced age of 12—“when I was 6 or 7, my mom put me in tennis lessons and I hated it,” recalls junior Natalia Christenson who then preferred ballet—she’s done quite well, indeed.

Co-captain of the Columbia women’s tennis team this year, where she is a star player, Christenson is also president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) for the Columbia campus. This summer she was appointed the Ivy League representative to the NCAA Division 1 SAAC, which represents 31 conferences that compete at the Division 1 level. Encouraged to apply by the previous Ivy League representative, Christenson was one of three candidates chosen as finalists, and ultimately gained the position.

“I went to the meeting my first year, and saw how powerful this voice is in working to serve our interests,” says this Summit, New Jersey native. “SAAC has a unique role on campus.” Its stated mission is to “enhance the total student athlete experience and convey positive images of student athletes on campus.” One of Christenson’s goals as the Ivy League representative to the NCAA/SAAC is to organize an Ivy-wide community service project, inspired in part by a Dartmouth athlete who launched a shoe drive.

She has been a self-starter for years. “It’s been my dream to play Division 1 tennis at an Ivy League school,” says Christenson, who always read tennis magazines and watched the game on television. After she graduated from Newark Academy, Christenson headed—by herself—to Austin, Texas to work with renowned tennis coaches: Christo van Rensburg, who has defeated Pete Sampras and is a top-ranked doubles player with Paul Annacone; and Doug Davis, an equally well-known junior coach. She trained and competed during that gap year, and was recruited by Columbia and Brown. But Christenson chose to attend Barnard because of “all the opportunities.” She explains, “People genuinely care and look out for you here. You know your advisers on a personal level. I was looking for a more small-school feel.”

While she loves tennis and sports in general, she doesn’t expect to play competitively after college. An economics major and environmental-science minor, Christenson is currently applying for internships in the financial field for next summer, where she feels her experience will translate successfully.

“I believe that my ability to mange my time, and the fact that as an athlete, by nature, I am generally a hard-working and competitive individual, will ultimately help me … in my future career,” says Christenson.

Danielle Browne ’10

Senior Danielle Browne, a guard on the Columbia women’s basketball team, has been an All-Ivy honoree for the past three years. She is in the top 10 all-time for assists and steals in Columbia women’s basketball, and in the top 20 for career scoring. With an 8-5 record as of the beginning of January, the team is having its best start since head coach Paul Nixon took over the program in 2005-2006.

Basketball has been part of her life since Browne was a 7-year-old growing up in Mount Vernon, New York, where the Bronx-born Browne spent her free time outside with similarly sports-minded boys. “I wasn’t strong enough for baseball or football,” she recalls. “Basketball was where I had an advantage.” And her mother’s abiding love for the New York Knicks meant that there was usually a basketball game on TV, too.

Browne's strong skills on the court—“I wasn’t a fan of losing”—brought her to the attention of the Mount Vernon High School basketball coach. She played with the high school team as an eighth grader. By the time she was a freshman, she became captain, a role she held throughout her high-school career.

Recruited by Columbia, Browne found the option of attending Barnard more appealing. “I was interested in getting the best education possible,” she explains. “The ‘Nine Ways of Knowing’ … attracted me to Barnard. I like to have the freedom to choose courses.” With a close-knit family behind her, Browne “didn’t want to go too far. My mom comes to every home game when she can.”

When she’s not playing, practicing, traveling for games, or studying, the senior donates her time to Level the Field, a group that teaches inner-city elementary school children social skills, like teamwork and leadership. An economics major with a minor in psychology, she is applying to law school and intends to become a sports agent. “I have tape holding me together,” she laughs. “I have enough injuries for five people. My aspirations are to help athletes.”

Judith “Judie” Lomax ’11

With three older brothers and parents who played basketball, Columbia forward Judie Lomax ’11 was reluctant to take up the sport. “I said, ‘I’m never going to play,’” she confesses. “I resisted. I wanted to be different. I couldn’t resist.”

Captain of her high school basketball team from her sophomore through senior year, she was recruited by Columbia and several other schools. But, Lomax, who hails from Washington, D.C., wanted to “get away from the East Coast” and chose Oregon State University. That college, which had a strong psychology department, offered Lomax an athletic scholarship and acceptance into its University Honors College. It wasn’t long before Lomax realized she missed her family back on the East Coast and the educational opportunities on Morningside Heights.

“I wanted to be closer to my family, and have a better education,” she admits, and is happy that her family can attend many of her games. “I wanted the best of as many worlds as possible, and the chance to win an Ivy League championship. Barnard is challenging, the professors are more accessible here, and I liked the ‘Nine Ways of Knowing’ more than the ‘Core.’ Barnard was similar to the image I had of college, of being able to choose [my] courses. I liked Barnard from the beginning. In high school, I always wanted to come here.” As someone who is passionate about what she does, Lomax values that quality at Barnard. “I love the professors I’ve come in contact with,” she says. “They’re so passionate about what they do. It’s kind of contagious….”

Even more enticing to someone who is “always looking for challenges” was the prospect of taking Columbia’s women’s team to an Ivy League championship. “I like being a trail blazer,” says Lomax. “I want to build the team and leave a mark on a program.” Then, Lomax already has. She leads the team in scoring, at a 17.2-point average per game, leads the Ivy League and nation in rebounding, at 14.0, and recently scored 30 points in a victory over Wagner College. And she’s seventh in career rebounding at Columbia. In January, she was named the Ivy League Women’s Basketball Player of the Week; it is the second time this season that Lomax has won the award, and the sixth time in her career. With such strong performances on the court, it’s no wonder that Lomax was selected as an All-Ivy first-team member. It’s “definitely an honor, and a nice start,” she says. “My main goal was to win a championship and my end goal is to win a championship.”

Lomax hopes to play professional basketball after college. “I’m not quite sure what I’d do otherwise,” says this psychology major, who is also considering law school and child psychology as future careers.

-by Merri Rosenberg, photograph by Kate Ryan