Female student in soccer uniform walks through tunnel onto field.

In her freshman season, Teni Butler was instrumental in holding opponents to just 1.22 goals per game. She was named to the SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll.

Teni Butler is a sophomore chemical engineering major, an Honors College fellow, and a stellar defender (#17)on the Lady Razorbacks soccer team. She excelled in her first year, but the adjustment from her small private high school in Chattanooga, Tenn., where there were 192 students in her graduating class, to life on the U of A campus wasn’t always easy for her. Teni shared the ups and downs of her freshman year in the  annual report required from all of our fellows, and now, she shares it with you. 

I remember that horrible day when the car was loaded up and my life was packed up in boxes and we drove across two states to drop me off at college. College. I was starting college. How strange. I couldn’t believe that I had graduated and was leaving my hometown, my sweet Chattanooga, and my family.

Family wasn’t just mom, dad, and sister though: it was classmates, teammates, fellow dancers and actors. I was about to embark on a 12-hour trip that would leave me, for the first time, physically alone and unknown in a sea of almost 25,000 students. It was a simultaneously thrilling and terrifying prospect.

People always say that university is a chance to remake yourself—to break out of your image that you had in high school. Well, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. I was pretty happy with who I was. Sure: I would change some. There’s no avoiding that, but I wanted to remain true to me. Soccer was still going to be a constant in my life, and academics as well. All that remained was adjusting to a hectic schedule at a school where I knew no one. And when I say no one, it is only a slight exaggeration.

Pre-season ran over me, then the beginning of school, then conference play and non-stop travel. School was fair. Classes were massive compared to back home, and it was so easy to get lost in the crowd. I finally realized however that if you were willing to give it a go, professors were gunning for your success too. It was just so much scarier to ask questions in a class of 160 versus a class of 18 (tops). I loved the material, especially my Intro to ChemE class with Dr. Clausen, and I worked to quietly find my niche on campus. I stayed busy working hard on and off the field.

Then Thanksgiving Break arrived and I finally had a moment to breathe. I was so excited to get home. School and soccer had kept me busy enough to keep the homesickness at bay, but when there was a spare moment to myself in my dorm room, it was hard to ward off that horrible feeling of loneliness. I’d thrown myself into my academic pursuits and daily practices head first, but I lived for the games that were close enough to my parents that they could come watch.

I was scared that I wouldn’t want to come back to Fayetteville after I went home for the break, but I was pleased that after a week I was ready to see my dorm room again. I guess that independence grew on me and I was eager to get back for off-season with my teammates. My first college examination period was more than a little stressful, but I managed to escape that first four-month whirlwind with all As and a smile.

Two women display their awards.

Teni celebrated her Freshman Engineer of the Year award with her peer mentor Elisabeth Yates, who was named Outstanding Senior of the chemical engineering department last year.

Spring semester: I tricked myself into thinking that a 17-hour class load was a good idea, Physics II and I did not get along as well I’d have liked, and spring workouts bonded the team together more tightly than any win or loss we’d suffered during season. I started a weekly community service project tutoring children at LifeSource with my teammates (in all our spare time…), and continued working hard. All my efforts were recognized when I was announced as the Freshman Engineer of the Year and was awarded an Honors College study abroad grant that I had been pursuing since late September. I was flattered and pleased. My parents always taught me to put in the work simply because it is the right thing to do, but every once in a while a small round of applause for your efforts helps boost morale. I headed into summer with a plane ticket to Spain in hand and the hard realization that it was possible I would come back less fit than Coach would like.

A group of women in hard huts pose in front of a line of wind turbines.

Teni (third from left) studied renewable and sustainable energy forms at the Colegio Ingenieros Téchnicos Industriales in Pamplona, Spain last summer.

For six weeks I lived in, learned about, and loved Pamplona. I met amazing people from all over the world, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences there for an Olympic level of fitness. The time went by too quickly as usual, and it is only now that I am realizing exactly how much I actually learned—about myself, about my friends, about human beings in general. Hopefully someday I’ll have a chance to travel to Pamplona with my family and show them a little part of how amazing my time there was.

One more week and I’ll be Fayetteville bound. Pre-season won’t be especially enjoyable, but I’m looking forward to seeing all my teammates and getting back to the daily grind. There is always work to do, but it is such a satisfying feeling to accomplish something and move on to something else. That’s how I have to get through life. Goals. And I can do that.

The Lady Razorback team are jumping into the air in front of the soccer goal.