Both graduated from Beloit Memorial High School. But the two athletes have something else in common: They both qualified to compete in the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track and Field Championships in La Crosse, Wis., May 24-26.
“When I was a freshman in high school we had to write a letter to our future selves,” recalls Laun-Smith. She wrote of her wish to attend Beloit College, acknowledging how it now feels “full circle.” Her mother, Angelika Laun’89, is a Beloit alumna.
Gutierrez’s path to the college wasn’t so easy.
“Soccer’s in my blood,” he says, describing his dream to pursue a professional soccer career upon graduation. He first planned to attend a Division I state school to implement that goal but was unable to receive financial aid because of his citizenship status.
“Looking back, I’m just glad I got the opportunity to go to college,” he says. “Beloit offered me an awesome financial aid package, basically covered all my tuition, and coming from a minority and low income family, as a first-generation college student, that was huge.”
Both students are multi-sport athletes. Laun-Smith registered an amazing first year in collegiate track and field, breaking multiple school records and winning six Midwest Conference titles. She also plays volleyball. Gutierrez, a decorated track and field athlete, is also a star on the college’s soccer team.
At the track and field championships, Gutierrez finished seventh and earned All-America honors in the 400-meter hurdles, becoming the second male track and field athlete to do so in Beloit’s history. Laun-Smith went into the conference seeded second nationally for the triple jump. She ended up 17th overall but remained positive and has her sights set on the future. “If I have a bad run, sometimes I get frustrated, but then I get over it and concentrate on the next meet,” she says.
Laun-Smith and Gutierrez both like to compete and win, and they aren’t shy about declaring that confidence. Gutierrez credits his parents, who “sacrificed everything” to come to the States, as his grounding factor.
Summer was a busy time for both students.
Laun-Smith, an undeclared major with a passion for history, completed a six-week paid internship with the Beloit Historical Society. She is building a bibliography on African Americans in Beloit between the 1840s and 1900s, a population that predates the Great Migration. She hopes to be able to share this work as the historian for Black Students United, a student club. For his part, Gutierrez utilized the Beloit alumni network, connecting with Eddie Rock’99, who helped him land a summer internship as the assistant equipment manager for the Chicago Fire, a professional soccer club. (Rock is the team’s senior director of operations.) Gutierrez also played forward over the summer with a semi-pro DeKalb (Ill.) soccer team.