Written by Tim Gallagher; BVU Assistant Director of Communications
McKenna Whitehill, a two-sport athlete at Mason City High School, pondered giving up athletics as a college student.
"I considered going to a bigger school and just focusing on academics," she says.
Had she gone that route, the 21-year-old's top collegiate memory would be much different. For when asked to name her high-time as a Buena Vista University student, she turned to the friendly confines of Siebens Fieldhouse.
"My favorite memory happened on Senior Day last season," says Whitehill. "We were leading Dubuque by one point, I think, and I stole the ball, drove down, and made a layup at the end of the game."
It touched off quite a celebration in the last home contest for longtime Coach Janet Berry, the coach who welcomed Whitehill with open arms during January of her freshman year.
Whitehill chose Buena Vista University as a freshman as it was the place she believed she could compete in soccer. After her freshman season playing the outside-middle position, she took a break and watched the women's basketball team begin its season. Soon, however, she realized she was missing basketball, another sport in which she excelled in high school.
"My soccer coach at BVU suggested I go talk to Coach Berry about basketball," Whitehill says. "It was during January of my freshman year and I went into the conversation thinking Coach Berry would want me to come see what the program was about and then maybe join the team my sophomore year.
"Instead, Coach Berry invited me to come to practice the next day," Whitehill says. "And she let me suit up and play junior varsity games a week later. By the end of January, I was suiting up for varsity games."
In the three years that followed, Whitehill performed as a two-sport varsity athlete, starting full-time throughout her soccer career and for a full two seasons on the basketball court.
With all this athletic involvement, the daughter of Kristie Whitehill and Scott Whitehill has still found the time and energy to maintain a 3.95 grade-point average in working toward a May graduation whereupon she'll earn degrees in psychology and criminology/criminal justice. Whitehill, a member of the Dean's List every semester, has completed internships with both the Mason City Police Department and the Storm Lake Police Department.
"I've studied on the bus coming home from games late at night," she says. "And I've studied in other gyms during the men's basketball games. I've always got my backpack with me."
Whitehill has been with officers while they respond to traffic accidents, serve arrest warrants, and search warrants. She admits now that whenever she hears sirens, she thinks of the officers reporting and the public they're charged to serve and protect. It's the line of work she hopes to enter as an investigator.
Working hard throughout her BVU career, as a member of two different teams, should pay dividends in the future. Her experiences on the soccer field and the basketball court not only have tested her under fire, but they've allowed her to develop bonds with teammates, some of her best friends.
The emotions may run a bit high as coach Dana Christen and the Beavers salute five members of the women's basketball team prior to a 2 p.m. Senior Day tip-off against the University of Dubuque. The other seniors include: Morgan Muhlbauer, Holly Schneider, McKenna Whitehill, Jenn Poots and Hannah Appleseth.
"McKenna has been a joy to coach these four years," says Christen, who served as Janet Berry's assistant coach for years before earning the head coaching position last spring. "McKenna is playing her best basketball right now I feel and has turned herself into a major leader on this team. She gives 110 percent not only on the court but on the classroom as well. There is no doubt in my mind she will be successful in her future, and I am so proud of her and all the seniors!"
This senior class, by the way, has an average grade-point average of 3.7.
Whitehill's first college "test" of sorts came when she faced the decision of where to go. Selecting BVU over the larger school allowed her to experience the best of both worlds, or, three worlds, if you figure academics and a pair of sports.
"Not only was I able to participate in both soccer and basketball, I also had the chance to travel with the basketball team to Seattle and California, and then to Costa Rica last summer," she says. "We saw historic sites, some beautiful places, and even spent an afternoon playing with kids in a school."
For this BVU senior athlete, she could relate with ease to the children at the school, children who wanted to play tag and two sports, basketball and soccer, a pair of activities McKenna Whitehill knew an awful lot about.