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Experiences

Caroline Golden: Unconquered

Sitting across from senior volleyball player and Louisiana native Caroline Golden in Sweetshop, the red-ink tattoo on her forearm—“unconquered”— immediately caught my attention. The motto of Florida State University (FSU) represents how the Seminole tribe overcame over two hundred years of hardships in the unforgiving Everglades. Proud to be a Seminole, Golden permanently inked the saying on her forearm to remind her of their perseverance.

Golden herself has persisted through her own trials in her volleyball career. Before she began playing, she bumped with her dad on the sidelines at her older sister’s games. She finally joined a team when she was ten, and by 13 she was on a travel squad.

Coming out of her senior year of high school, Golden had interest at the collegiate level, but only from small schools. She had the skill and ability, but she didn’t have the exposure coming from a small town in Louisiana. Knowing she eventually wanted to be in a Division I (D1) program, Golden entered her collegiate career at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level at William Carey University. After her freshman year, she made it D1. She played outside hitter at Southeastern Louisiana in the Southland Conference for two more years before her first season at FSU and in the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) in 2020. The only catch was, now she’d be playing libero. For those who don’t know, liberos are defensive specialists and essentially lead the backline. Golden says stepping into this role gave her a “challenge and opportunity to grow.”

She definitely rose to the occasion. In the 2020 season, she led FSU in digs coming in at 169, and ranked third on the team overall. Golden’s been granted another year of eligibility due to COVID-19 and is taking full advantage of the opportunity. The Seminoles are currently 7-2-0, with their next game against Notre Dame. I sat down and talked with Caroline after their sold-out upset against rival University of Florida (UF). Before the game, the team held a ceremony for Seminole volleyball legend Brianna ‘Bri’ Barry who recently passed. Golden says she never knew Bri personally, but last year she tweeted at her, which meant a lot considering her Seminole status and love for the game. After the ceremony, the team was determined to make Bri and her whole family, who were in attendance, proud.

After leading the entire first set, FSU lost it after a few errors 26-24. Golden says they weren’t seizing each moment, but after the initial blow the team understood they needed to make a change and “realize the opportunity they had in front of them because it was theirs for the taking.” FSU won the next three sets with the hitters performing well and putting pressure on UF’s serve line to break their formation and lose momentum. It was a victory that made both FSU and Bri proud.

Golden herself had an impressive game, which is admirable considering the mental strain she was under. While playing in Louisiana, FSU canceled their game against LSU and headed back early because Hurricane Ida was on the way. On the bus ride back, Golden texted her parents that the traffic was heavy, and they decided to stay home.

When the hurricane came, her family lost power and she lost contact with them. It wasn’t until her sister contacted her using her Apple Watch that she knew they were safe—barely. Her entire family had gathered in her parents’ room, thinking it was the safest area in the house. Both unfortunately and luckily, a massive tree came crashing down just five feet from the room. Golden says she was able to work through the stress and fear of not knowing if her family was okay because “God has a plan” and she knew He would keep her family safe.

She also says she’s a big believer that everything in life happens for a reason, but I personally think she doesn’t give herself enough credit. As a student-athlete, Golden has two classes Monday through Friday along with three to four-hour workouts. The team also lifts every Tuesday and Thursday, not to mention the number of classes players miss for travel purposes. But Golden continues to train and persevere in hopes of clinching the ACC title and getting a ring for her final season.

No matter what happens, Golden says she wants to help develop the young team so they can have the best next four years while she plays her best ball for the remainder of her time. Her teammates have become her best friends. “They see the good and bad sides of your life,” she says. When she leaves them this fall, she’s questioning whether to go back to Louisiana or travel to South Florida for a career in medical sales and eventually get her real estate license. With her mindset and dedication, Caroline Golden truly is unconquered.

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Ally Kukanza is a freshman at Florida State University planning on majoring in Economics. She is also a part of the Presidential Scholars and Honors Programs at FSU, and a David Blaine fanatic!
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