By Laura Schmitt
Every incoming freshman at Christopher Newport University partakes in a university rite of passage called Setting Sail. The approximately 400 students who are accepted into the Presidents Leadership Program participate in an additional orientation called SLAP Week. In June of 2012, two incoming freshman Abby McIntyre and Hunter Wetherell met each other for the first time during SLAP Week. After not working out their freshman year, the two finally got together November 2013.
College is a unique experience that everyone remembers differently. Some people may look back on college as the most challenging years of their life but know that their hard work paid off. Others think of it as the greatest four years of their life. No matter what you think about when you look back on college, you will always remember those four, or sometimes five, years of your life and how they made you into the person you are today.
For Abby McIntyre and Hunter Wetherell, they will always look back on college and remember “that hard work pays off” and they “wouldn’t change a single thing about their experience” playing sports at CNU. Collectively, the couple had “no regrets” about the manner in which they pursued their athletic careers and followed their passion for sports.
McIntyre will graduate in May with a double major in Communication Studies and Sociology. But aside from her diploma, she will walk away from her time at CNU with an extremely impressive volleyball career to look back on with pride. As a four year varsity player, McIntyre helped lead the team in her last season as one of the three captains, along with Rachel Conway and Ashley Rock. McIntyre was the only CNU volleyball player to make the 2015 NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team and finished her time here as the 10th ranked all-time player in program history.
In McIntyre’s four years on the team, they maintained an 85% winning average with a record of 129-23. The team’s accomplishments include conference champions each year, with four NCAA Regional Tournament appearances, two of which culminated in NCAA Regional Championship titles. In her first NCAA National Tournament appearance, McIntyre helped the team make it to the semifinals before falling to no. 1 ranked Calvin in the 2012 season. In 2014, Christopher Newport was selected to host that year’s NCAA National Championship. The idea of making it to Nationals and playing on their home court was enough motivation to make the dream a reality. McIntyre lead the Captains to the NCAA National Quarterfinals before falling again to Calvin.
Throughout McIntyre’s time at CNU a lot changed. She decided to join a sorority and pick up a second major, not to mention shifts in the team dynamic through the loss and gain of different players throughout the seasons. However, one thing remained consistent through the 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons and that was the unwavering support of fellow athlete and boyfriend Hunter Wetherell, who made a constant effort to attend all of her games.
Wetherell, who is an out of state student from Florida and also graduating in May, spent his four years at CNU dedicated to reaching his full potential within the men’s basketball program. During his time on the team, the Captains won 91 out of their 116 games, winning 78% of their games. Wetherell has made four CAC Tournament appearances, twice resulting in loses in the Semifinals and twice resulting in championship titles. More recently, the men’s basketball team made the entire CNU campus proud through their incredible journey to the 2016 NCAA Final Four. On the way to this great accomplishment, the team made CAC history by being the second team to ever have a perfect conference record.
The story of how the two got to CNU is quite different. After only one year of playing, McIntyre made the realization, in 7th grade, that she was “actually good enough” to play at higher levels. Once she started making the tops teams,
“it was understood that all of us were going to college to play volleyball. Whether it was D1 or D3 was the only option for me and as I got older I was able to make the decision on my own. But it was understood, through my teams and the culture that all of us were going to college to play volleyball and we had to work towards that. That was the goal.”
McIntyre’s growth in her skill created the expectation to go to college for volleyball, however when finally given the choice to pursue volleyball she whole heartedly wanted to. Thus following her longtime dream of being a college athlete.
Wetherell, on the other hand, only began playing basketball his freshman year of high school after taking the advice of his doctors and not continuing to play football after receiving a serious injury. Most college athletes begin playing their sport at a much younger age than Wetherell did. Research conducted by Vanderbilt University found that the average age collegiate athletes began playing their sport was at age 10 for team sports.
Although Wetherell didn’t decided until his senior year that he wanted to play college ball, once he made the decision he was set on making sure he reached his goal. For him,
“it wasn’t just going to not workout. Someone was going to pick me up, I was going to find a team somewhere. Not playing wasn’t really an option… I’m one of those people who knows that if I can get better at something then I’m not okay with not doing it. I needed to know how good I could be and the only way I could find out is if I played somewhere. Not reaching my potential wasn’t an option.”
Both came from different places; one realizing their dream in 7th grade and the other in 12th grade. However, they both had a desire to reach their potential and “be the best that we could be.”
Although their time playing for CNU has come to an end, they both look back on their collegiate careers with fond memories and no regret. There were the highs like winning championships, reaching personal goals, and building incomparable relationships. And the lows like suffering losses, enduring personal hardships, and making individual sacrifices for the team.
Some may think that Division III sports are just a walk in the park, in comparison to Division I. However, when you are a part of winning programs, just as both of these athletes were, the expectations were high. This time commitment was in addition to the 15 credits they took each semester in order to graduate on schedule. “Was it hard? Of course. Was it worth it? Absolutely.”
One thing that was difficult though was having enough time on top of their already packed schedules to spend time together. Luckily, “we knew exactly what the other one was going through. He never gets pissed at me [McIntyre] because I have practice; he understands the commitment it takes. It’s one less argument I would have to have with someone else who didn’t understand what I was going through.”
Still, the time commitment dedicated to their sport did interfere with the time that could spend with each other, especially because their seasons overlapped. Wetherell just finished his season March 18th, giving the two less than two, sports free months to enjoy together before graduation. This is the first time their senior year that they are both out of season.
They were able to sympathize with and actually understand what the other one was going through. In a way, this definitely made the two closer. After tough losses, an emotional response didn’t have to be explained because the other just got it. After her season ended in a less than ideal way McIntyre “didn’t have to explain it to him” when she was coping because “he just knew what I was going through.”
Their athletics didn’t necessarily bring them together, but they became a mutual part of their relationship. Part of them lasting so long, despite the challenges that arouse, was their mutual and unwavering support for each other. The couple formed a “mutual respect, and even more than respect, but admiration that we have for each other because I know exactly how hard it is. It’s just an extra level we’re on together.” Wetherell felt the same way, “it was nice to have someone there who understands the process.”
While there may have been a bit of an unspoken, but extremely relevant, expectation for one to be at the other’s game, there was the equal desire of wanting to be there and supporting their significant other.
Both are players who get their energy from their teammates and the people closest to them; neither really caring about the size of the crowd. Don’t get me wrong, they loved the support, but to them it mattered who was there not how many people were there. Of course at the beginning McIntyre “would get a little nervous when Hunter came to my games, but now that we’ve been dating longer if he wasn’t there I would be awkwardly looking around for him. It was comfortable having him there.” He became a source of confidence for her on the court. He enjoyed watching her play; he wanted to be there.
Being a college student is hard. Being an athlete is challenging. Being a college student in a relationship can be difficult. But being a college student-athlete who is in a relationship pushes the boundaries of what can actually be accomplished. Yet, they accomplished it.
Although they took different paths to get to CNU, their love for their sport is what brought them here. Their sport may not have been what brought them together, but it definitely made them closer and stronger. As the seasons progressed and the accomplishments were collected, their respect and admiration for each other grew too.
With just over a month left until the two graduate, their time at CNU is quickly coming to an end. Their relationship gave them not just another person to value but another sport to appreciate. McIntyre’s memories won’t just be filled with volleyball, but with basketball too, and same for Wetherell. Together, they got a college sports experience that they would never change and could never forget. Now, it’s time for the two ride off into the sunset with pride.