My Experience as a Division-III Student-Athlete
By Shelby Mullennix, a junior member of the St. Mary's College of Maryland volleyball and women's tennis teams.
My three years as a Division III student-athlete at St. Mary's College of Maryland have been the best of my life thus far. As a member of the women's volleyball team and the women's tennis team, I have the privilege of experiencing the excitement of seasonal athletics twice a year. Schools with D-III sports programs have a tendency to get overlooked by prospective collegiate student-athletes as the schools where you can get a good education but that do not award scholarships; however, D-III schools like St. Mary's have so much to offer. At the D-III level, St. Mary's provides a competitive and rewarding athletic experience and cultivates an understanding that school and sometimes even extracurricular activities should and must come first.
Volleyball season provides an intense non-stop quest for excellence both on and off the court. As an athlete, I enjoy hours of daily practice, weekly travel, and dozens of competitive matches with my much-loved teammates, but as a student I have a responsibility to put my studies first. Luckily, the D-III atmosphere allows the time and space necessitated by an academic setting to be able to find passion in your studies while also having time to dedicate to your sport. For me, English and volleyball are my passions and I value my experience at St. Mary's for giving me the opportunity to dive deeper into both of them.
The day in the life of an in-season student-athlete is more challenging than it may seem: most days I am in class by 8 a.m. after which I head straight to the library to keep working until my next class. I get caught daily running from class to practice, finding time to write a paper or study for an exam, icing an injury while reading for class, or using my phone as a flashlight to read an article on the way home from a game. Spring season is when things get interesting. With tennis practice and matches almost every day and volleyball practice three times a week, I find myself running from class to tennis practice then straight to volleyball practice, taking a five-minute break in between to change from my tennis skirt into my volleyball practice uniform.
As an English major with three minors, my workload is pretty heavy so balance is key. One of the best features of being a student athlete at the D-III level is the sense of cooperation between athletics and academics. When I am in season I know that I have to work hard during the day so that I can get my schoolwork done and be able to focus on the evening's practice or game. Having volleyball or tennis practice or an exciting match to look forward to helps me be productive during the day because I know I will not have the motivation to do as high quality of work after a game, either because I will be too wound up over a win to focus or too focused on my mistakes after a loss (but usually it's because we just had a huge win…). Whether my work is done for the day or not, nothing feels better than to get in the gym or on the court and hit the ball as hard as I can; every kill on the volleyball court and every ace on the tennis court make all the hard work I do in the classroom worth the effort.
I know that my experience as a D-III student-athlete will impact me for the rest of my life. I have already made countless memories that I will cherish and some of the best friends and teammates I know I will ever have—and I still have another year left! I have played in the most intense, exciting, and vigorous matches of my athletic career and at the same time have had the most enlightening, passionate and instructive class discussion in my academic history. No one should overlook the perks of a D-III sports program because in the D-III setting offered at St. Mary's College I get the best of both worlds and I cannot imagine myself happy anywhere else.