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Miami gives Everett's family her posthumous degree

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) - Austen Everett never played at Miami, and if the Hurricanes have their way, she'll never be forgotten.

The former women's soccer goalkeeper was honored by the school Sunday, exactly two months after the 25-year-old died after a long fight with cancer. Everett was on Miami's roster from 2007 through 2009 but never got into a match, first because of NCAA transfer rules and then after she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008.

Still, she remains a Hurricane. Miami's players - many of whom never personally knew her - wore special warm-up shirts in her honor before Sunday's match against Virginia Tech, and fans were offered information about how to help the Austen Everett Foundation, which she started to help children who are fighting cancer.

"It means so much," Everett's mother, June Leahy, said of the tributes. "It means everything to us."

University president Donna Shalala and acting athletic director Blake James also attended Sunday and presented Everett's family with her posthumous degree as a surprise.

Maybe it was fitting, on a day when Miami honored a goalie, the Hokies and Hurricanes finished in a scoreless tie.

"Austen was a tremendous representative of our program," James said. "And her legacy lives on through her foundation."

Everett fought the disease all the way to the end, even thinking that she beat it on more than one occasion. She was undeterred by what effects cancer had on her body - flaunting wigs proudly when chemotherapy took away her long blonde hair. Even six weeks before her death, Everett was putting together presentations about how cancer patients could dress in a manner that might hide some of the outward signs of their illness.

In a 2010 interview with The Associated Press, Everett also said the disease brought her unbelievable amounts of joy, in a way she never expected.

Someone who heard her story when she went public with the diagnosis in 2008 was Matt Luzunaris, who read it and decided to reach out to Everett. They met, and eventually got engaged.

"For someone to never play a game here but still have such an impact here at the University of Miami and the community, that's massive," said Luzunaris, a professional soccer player, who also attended Sunday's tribute. "Everybody knows who she was. Everybody knows the person that she was. To be blessed that I spent the time I did with her, the three years we had with each other, it was amazing. That time we had, it was a gift."

Luzunaris is now president of his fiancee's foundation and has plans to turn what was just an idea not long ago into something that can be sustained for years to come. One of the foundation's missions is to pair college and pro athletes up with cancer-stricken children who perhaps can draw inspiration from sports.

"We want to be able to have the ability to touch other kids who are going through the same struggles, and just give them a phenomenal memory," said Leahy, the foundation's vice president. "That was Austen. That was totally the way she was."

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On the Web: http://www.austeneverettfoundation.org/

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Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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