Over half of the Albion College student body participates in one of 23 varsity sports teams on campus. The college places an emphasis on competing at a high level in the NCAA Division III while also excelling each day in the classroom.
The vast number of student-athletes on campus have a multitude of backgrounds, including many unique players that often go unnoticed. Due to COVID-19, recent decisions regarding athletics on the collegiate, conference, and national levels have changed the face of sports this fall at Albion College.
In light of that and in order to truly appreciate all of the student-athletes who make up Albion athletics, The Pleiad’s “Beyond the Spotlight” series features a different athlete and the impact they have had on campus.
Cross country and track runner Nathaniel Jennings, a junior from O’Neill, Nebraska, is currently in the process of a dual degree engineering program. Jennings has a double major in physics and piano performance and a minor in applied math.
Students choose to get their educations from Albion for a variety of reasons, but in Jennings’s case, the music department found him.
“I guess the ability to continue what I loved doing is what brought me here,” said Jennings. “Running was one of them.”
In the midst of COVID-19, Jennings and his teammates lost their cross country season, but the MIAA has yet to make a call on how track season will go. Jennings said that even without an official season this fall, being a student-athlete has taught him many life lessons.
“The biggest lessons that I learned were the things that happened this season,” said Jennings. “You have to remember why you love running especially when the competition is taken out of it.”
Practices for the sports team have changed as well.
“Well, for the first few weeks, we were running in separate pods of ten people,” said Jennings. “For the first few weeks, we didn’t get to meet with the whole team, which was not fun. You’d prefer to see the whole team every day at practice. But we have gotten some opportunities to see each other since, which has been nice.”
Despite the difficulties that have come alongside the disruption that COVID-19 caused in the sports world, Jennings is trying to keep his chin up.
“I have learned to just remain positive and enjoy running for what it is, ” said Jennings.
Although he is remaining positive, Jennings said that he sees possible turmoil, again due to COVID-19, coming in the spring, which has the potential to shut down sports once again.
Jennings recalled being in a similar position last year with the uncertainty of track. In his second year at Albion, unfortunately, Jennings sustained an injury, IT friction band syndrome, that caused hardship in his athletic career. However, that did not stop him from moving forward and continuing what he loves to do. Due to his injury, Jennings missed indoor track, but he was able to heal through resting and cross-training. This rest period allowed him to compete in outdoor track until Albion students were sent home due to COVID-19.
Even during times like athletes have support from their teammates and coaches. Although COVID-19 has taken away competition, it has not taken away the team aspect of sports. Doing sports requires teamwork, and the team’s dynamic dictates the mood and accomplishments of the group.
“As you become more of an upperclassman, you take more of a leadership role. And when you’re a freshman, you’re looking up to the guys. That’s the biggest change going through college sports,” said Jennings
Over the years of running with his team, Jennings was able able to build different bonds and really learn to appreciate the people on his team.
“The track team has a lot of fun. I think they enjoy what they do. I like competing. They like competing,” said Jennings. “We all have a pretty good relationship with each other.”
The team has taken some hits together with all the changes that have happened this year. This called for some adjustments to make things easier on the individuals who make up the team and the team as a whole.
“We continue to communicate with each other and do team activities when we can. Coach [MariKate] Murphy put together some pretty fun workouts and races and time trials that keep everyone motivated,” said Jennings.
Jennings has his team to lean on but as his own person, he has done his best to keep his own head up by thinking optimistically and moving forward.
.“Personally, to keep my own spirits up is just acceptance of the things that are going on in the world right now. Life isn’t always fair, so you just keep doing what you’re doing and have as much fun as you can.”
College comes with the good and bad, but Jennings said that is what makes being in college so memorable. Students can learn to appreciate the obstacles and activities they did because it all adds to each person’s individuality.
“As far as sports, the best memories I had came from last cross-country season,” said Jennings. “The conference and regionals had a lot of courses that were pretty treacherous. There was a lot of rain and it was wet, so having to deal with that and compete hard was a lot of fun. As far as Albion, I enjoyed growing as a person and in knowledge has been memorable.”