Standing between the goal posts, Southwestern University Pirates women's soccer goalkeeper Mary Cardone watches the action unfold in front of her. With each pass and shift in formation, Cardone must make quick, decisive calculations to best position herself to make a potential save.
For goalies, most of the work comes before a shot is ever taken, reading the angles and playing the percentages. Few in all of Division III do it as well as Cardone.
"Her ability to read the game and be prepared for the saves she needs to make, she's positionally one of the best goalkeepers I've ever seen," Women's Soccer Head Coach Linda Hamilton said. "She has the innate ability to make the saves that keep you in a match."
In soccer, plays can build upon each other over a period of time before Cardone ever steps into action. Tennis has fewer variables to account for but offers far less time to calculate each one. Still, Cardone is one of the best in all of Division III to do that too.
"She has a very calm demeanor on the court but it's not like that internally," Tennis Head Coach Billy Porter said. "She has a competitive fire but doesn't show her emotions on the court. She's really mature and the ultimate team player."
As a multi-sport student-athlete, Cardone carries a workload that could create chaos for anyone. In her junior year, she made it look easy, earning All-Region honors in soccer and All-American status in tennis, leading both teams to their respective Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) championship match. That she did so while winning nearly every academic achievement, including the SCAC Elite 19 award in both sports, makes Cardone the epitome of a Division III student-athlete.
It's also what makes her the recipient of the Southwestern University 2018-19 Dr. Carla Lowry Female Athlete of the Year Award.
"I think it's so appropriate for her to have earned this award," Hamilton said. "I think she just continues to be the epitome of a student-athlete because she excels in competition, going from soccer in the fall to tennis in the spring, all while making remarkable grades."
Cardone's resume is beyond reproach. In soccer, she led the SCAC in save percentage at .844, producing 10 shutout victories, earning First Team All-SCAC and SCAC All-Tournament Team, and two SCAC Defensive Player of the Week awards to go with her United Soccer Coaches All-West Region Second Team and Scholar All-West Region First Team honors.
In tennis, she only had one loss on her ledger during the regular season, splitting a pair of sets with Trinity University's Ashley DeBauge before retiring from the match. For her efforts, Cardone was named All-SCAC and made the All-Tournament team for doubles and singles and one SCAC Player of the Week Award. She earned an individual bid to the NCAA Tournament, winning one match and earning All-American status.
"Honestly, it's a great honor to have," Cardone said of the Dr. Carla Lowry Award. "Going through the season, you don't expect to get awards; you just play for the team, play for the program, and if something comes out of it, that's pretty cool."
In the fall, Cardone plays only soccer, never picking up a tennis racket. In the spring, it's only tennis, trading grass for tennis courts. The transition between both can be tough but there's enough overlap in specific skill sets so that each sport benefits the other.
"Footwork is key in both sports. In soccer, I have to take the right steps and tennis is all about footwork," Cardone said. "Then there's the hand-eye coordination and reading angles. It all plays a part in both sports."
The footwork also translated to team bonding when a second rain delay during a soccer road match against Texas Lutheran University pitted Cardone against teammate Mallory Harkins in a dance-off.
"It was my favorite moment of the season. Everyone was going crazy, we had the music going, others joined in," Cardone said. "I wasn't very good but I think I beat Mallory, I'm just going to put that out there. I just love moments like that in the middle of the season."
These types of connections with her teammates bridge the divide spent spending half a school year with each sport, growing into a leader in both.
"It's been great watching her evolve into a leader," Hamilton said. "She just has an incredible presence you can't teach where you can see her team is filled with confidence every time she's on the field with them."
"Her morale is just a huge part of her overall success here," Porter said. "She's a stellar student with a good connection with a lot of the girls on campus."
How does Cardone balance playing two sports at an elite level and her work in the classroom?
"It's not as hard as I thought it was going to be," Cardone said. "Time management has been one of my top skills, being able to fit in practices, class, and studying. Once you get into a routine, it's not too bad. Sometimes I might not have time for a lot of social events but I know what it means to be a student-athlete."
Her coaches have another theory.
"She's a monster competitor," Porter said. "Having four older brothers probably helps her in that regard. Especially one who was a superstar goalie at Trinity. That friendly rivalry really motivates her."
Matt Cardone was a two-time All-American for the Trinity University Tigers and a current member of San Antonio FC of the United Soccer League. He's also an endless source of fun sibling rivalry.
"We always poke fun at each other," Mary Cardone said. "Around the house, there's Trinity and Southwestern gear and we give each other a hard time about it. I told him if we beat Trinity, he has to wear a Southwestern shirt and take a picture and post it on Twitter."
For now, it's enough for Mary to just wear the Southwestern jersey herself, preparing for one final year playing the two sports she loves in college.
"I just want to work hard and give the best I can for both teams, set the standard for years to come after I graduate," Cardone said. "Give the best I can and hopefully good things will come out of it."