Kalita Marsh is a boxer in more ways than one. Yes, in addition to playing basketball she boxes. To take a line from the Simon and Garfunkel song, she is also a fighter. Marsh has fought for everything she has earned at Duke both in the classroom and on the basketball court. Arriving at Duke on an academic scholarship with dreams of suiting up for the Blue Devils, Marsh immediately met adversity head on and overcame obstacles to become what she is today -- a key player in the success of the Duke program.
For Marsh the journey to Duke began during her sixth grade year at Hope Valley Middle School in Durham. The daughter of a high school basketball coach, Marsh grew up amongst North Carolina fans and immediately separated herself from them by declaring her loyalty to Duke.
"Since day one I was a die hard Dukie" explains Marsh.
Through a connection, Marsh was able to attend a practice for the Duke Men's Team when she was young and had the chance to meet her favorite Duke player Thomas Hill.
"Thomas told me to put academics first and that always stuck with me. When I met him I knew he had passion for his academics and I realized I could do anything I wanted to do and I realized I wanted to be at Duke."
Another thing that furthered Marsh's love for Duke was attending Duke vs. North Carolina women's games at a very young age. "Going to those games, it was in bedded in me that this was what I really wanted to do."
Marsh worked hard in the classroom through high school and earned an academic scholarship to attend Duke.
"When I got accepted to Duke, I decided to try to walk on so when I arrived here I talked to one of the assistant coaches and realized that was not going to be possible." However, Marsh was offered a spot as a team manager. "The passion I had for the women's team stood out and my father encouraged me to be a manager and do what I could."
Following her freshman year as a manager, Marsh requested the summer work out and completed it. Upon completion, Marsh never got an opportunity to try out that year but decided to continue on as a manager and did so until this past fall.
"Going into this year, I hate to say it but I had sort of given up on being a player. Dana (Morgan) and I were friends from club basketball and all along I had been talking to her and supporting her and I felt like maybe it was too late for me. When she made the team it was just killing me and I felt that maybe I didn't give it my all."
It was then that Marsh set out to speak with Coach Goestenkors about one last chance at cracking the Duke roster as a senior. In her initial conversation with Goestenkors, Marsh prepared for it by spelling out her feelings in a letter just in case she did not get everything out in the conversation.
"When we spoke, a lot of emotion poured out of me" explained Marsh "Coach G did not realize it was still a desire of mine to play for Duke and she said she would love to give me the opportunity."
In many regards, Marsh's story relates to the movie Rudy about a hard working high school player who dreams of the big time and goes after his goal and never gives up.
"I guess that is a fair comparison" states the humble Marsh "I was always a loyal fan like him and I can certainly relate to being an underdog too. I am just happy to have this chance, it is a dream come true."
It would have been easy for Marsh to get caught up in the moment when she scored 4 points at home against Tulsa on December 14. However, the boxer never once cracked a smile and played as if she belonged there, not as if she was happy to be there. "I have been part of the team for 4 years so I was pretty comfortable with the situation. I am the daughter of a basketball coach so I was always taught to take things seriously" explained Marsh in describing her crowd pleasing performance.
As a manager, Marsh gained a reputation for her self described "shoe fetish" when dressing for games in her high heels. "My mom has a shoe fetish and she passed it along to me. I really love shoes, especially dress shoes and I enjoy dressing nicely. At the time my job allowed me to do that so I took full advantage of it." When asked if her shoe collection competes with HBO star Sarah Jessica Parker's on Sex and the City, Marsh laughs and states that "she doesn't have that much money yet."
A Public Policy and African American Studies major, Marsh hopes to either be a sports agent or a professional female boxer upon graduating from Duke this spring. Marsh took an interest in boxing after visiting Ghana and studying the sport.
"Boxing has always been an interest of mine and when I went to Ghana I had to do an independent research project and I wanted to do one that was sports related. Soccer and boxing are the two big sports there and I decided to go with boxing since I already had an interest in that. While there, I spent time interviewing and studying boxing at the gyms and with trainers there."
Marsh praises the tremendous support her parents have given her at Duke. "They have always been supportive" explains Marsh "They are my backbone and have given me a strong foundation."
When asked what a National Championship would mean to Marsh, she pauses and laughs with excitement. "That would be tremendous, 20 years from now I can look back at my years at Duke and know I was a part of that. Right now my experience has already been great going to the Final Four two years as a manager. It would be icing on the cake!"
So as the season winds down and the Blue Devils take aim at a National Championship, Duke Fans can take solace that Simon and Garfunkel have "The Boxer", Notre Dame has "Rudy" and Duke has Kalita Marsh. We couldn't be happier!