Last spring, Georgia softball player Mary Wilson Avant was in the same boat as thousands of student-athletes across the country after learning their seasons were shuttered by the COVID-19 virus.
But unlike many of those student-athletes, Avant — who earned a marketing degree from the Terry College of Business in May 2020 — had a plan for her next step.
“Coming out of my junior year, I had my eye on the Master of Marketing Research program at Terry College,” said Avant, a Macon native. “One of my mentors was in one of the first graduate classes and started me on that path. I’d already applied and gotten into the program by the time everything shut down. At that point, we didn’t know what the future held. I had my mind on, ‘I’m done with softball, and the next step is completing my master’s and starting a career.’”
When the NCAA gave another year of eligibility to affected student-athletes, Avant decided to return to the UGA Softball Complex for a fifth and final campaign. The 2020 UGA softball season had ended after 28 games — about half the typical schedule.
“When the NCAA notified us they were allowing us another year of eligibility, I decided to take it,” said Avant, a right-handed pitcher who made 16 appearances in 2020 with an 11-4 record and 120 strikeouts. “I love it, and I love the people and the competitive environment.
Avant has excelled on the diamond and in the classroom. One of two graduate students on the Bulldogs’ roster (pitcher Alley Cutting is the other), she’s the team’s ace, collecting more than 60 starts in four previous seasons and leading the Bulldogs in starts and wins this year.
She has struck out over 500 batters in her career, becoming only the sixth Georgia player to reach that milestone. As a sophomore, Avant was a key component in Georgia’s advancement to the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time in school history.
She has earned Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll plaudits, was named to the J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Honor Roll, and recognized as an All-American Scholar-Athlete.
Off the field, Avant served as a Terry Ambassador, engaging with students and alumni while representing the college at a variety of functions. Avant said being an ambassador was a critical part of her education, as it helped her to deal with situations that were outside of her comfort zone, although what constitutes an uncomfortable zone for someone at ease pitching on college softball’s biggest stage has yet to be determined.
“You talk to all these people who may be high up in a company, or families who you’re influencing their child to come to UGA and Terry,” she said. “It’s incredible. I met all these new people I would have never known if I had not been a part of that.”
Avant completes the MMR program this spring and is now engaged in a different form of recruitment as she ponders job opportunities. She said marketing professor Marcus Cunha, who directs the MMR program, was instrumental in her enjoyment of market research and her professional pursuits.
“She’s a great student, highly motivated,” Cunha said of Avant. “She has performed well academically and already has job offers ahead of graduation. It’s impressive because an athlete has kind of a full-time job in college, but she works around the class schedule and makes sure she’s there for our speakers’ series. She’s a great person, not only because she’s a great student, but because she inspires others.”
Having found success on and off the field, Avant said being part of the Terry College is an essential ingredient in her college experience.
“Terry College sets you up for success,” she said. “You certainly get out of Terry what you put into it. Terry offers so many events and facilitates so much for students that if you want to get involved, you can. A lot of it is putting yourself outside your comfort zone, too. It’s scary going to your first information session for a company or talking to a recruiter for the first time, but Terry makes it so it’s the least intimidating way possible.
“I’ve grown and been able to adapt to those situations and ultimately become a better student, a better person and a better friend because of it. Terry means a lot to me, and I’m very grateful to have been a part of it for the last five years.”