For student-athlete Halee Van Poppel, college is a balancing act.
The volleyball star and aspiring physician assistant believes the dual expectations she faces — in the classroom and on the court — have done her well.
Student-athletes are no strangers to balancing academic and athletic workloads, and as her athletic career at Belmont comes to a close, Van Poppel will bring the valuable skills that helped her excel in both settings.
The senior outside hitter from Argyle, Texas, is a biology and chemistry double major looking to take her skills to physician assistant school after graduating this spring.
And although successful in her science studies, it is through athletics that Belmont knows Van Poppel best.
She played sports through middle school and was particularly taken by soccer, but it was during her freshman year of high school that volleyball stole her heart.
“I just loved the sport in general,” Van Poppel said. “I just started playing it and loved the competitiveness. I loved the girls I played with and when I stepped on the court, I felt like this is my sport.”
Realizing she wanted to take volleyball to the next level in college, Van Poppel searched for the perfect fit — and after falling in love with Nashville and Belmont’s campus, she decided to call it home.
“I visited a few other campuses and I thought, ‘I like it, but I don’t really see myself going here,’” Van Poppel said. “I stepped on campus, I see myself going here. I love the coaches, I loved the girls that were on the team that I met, and so all the pieces just kind of fit together.”
While on the court with the girls, she chooses to lead by example. She considers herself one of the quieter people on the team, but believes the dynamic works well as every player has a unique role.
Pursuing college volleyball has helped Van Poppel develop effective time management skills which enabled her to tackle her double science major, she said.
This wasn’t the only strength NCAA Division I play helped her improve.
“Teamwork and competitiveness, just being an athlete drives you to compete in every other aspect outside of school sports,” she said.
While COVID-19 has drastically changed students’ college experience, Van Poppel says it hasn’t dampened her time at Belmont.
“You have to make the most of it every day, and I really have,” she said. “I enjoyed the people I have met. I have enjoyed the relationships with the professors I have made, and I have just really enjoyed every opportunity that Belmont has been able to give me.”
Her final games in the Curb Event Center came with two wins against Tennessee State University. But outside of closing the season strong and finishing final exams, the next step for her is unclear.
Van Poppel hopes to attend PA school, but with the sacrifices that come with being a student-athlete, the route might look different from her peers’.
“Being a student-athlete I haven’t been able to get as many clinical hours and shadowing hours as you need to apply to school,” Van Poppel said. “So I’ll be taking a gap year to get those hours and experience prior to applying.”
This has not fazed her, though, as competing as a Bruin has helped equip her with skills she can transfer to a work setting, she said.
Whether it’s communication with authorities or effective teamwork, Van Poppel said Belmont volleyball has prepared her for whatever the future holds.
This article written by Finn Birnie and Jessica Mattsson.