Hanover’s Kenna Hunter (in blue) competes during the HCAC Indoor Championships last month. Hunter, a senior from Martinsville, had qualified for the NCAA Division III Indoor National Championships in the pentathlon but that event was canceled. (Photo courtesy of Hanover College)
Hanover’s Kenna Hunter (in blue) competes during the HCAC Indoor Championships last month. Hunter, a senior from Martinsville, had qualified for the NCAA Division III Indoor National Championships in the pentathlon but that event was canceled. (Photo courtesy of Hanover College)
Just hours away from a career-defining moment, Hanover track and field star Kenna Hunter sat lounging at a hotel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina waiting to make her first appearance in the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships. As far as she knew, everything was going according to plan.

But unbeknownst to her, Hunter would soon become a part of what has been an unprecedented time in the wide world of sports on every level. By the end of that Thursday night, the COVID-19 pandemic put a screeching halt to athletics all over the world and the NCAA had canceled all events, including the Indoor Nationals.

The cancellation put an end to Hunter’s successful collegiate career and the possibility of much greater accolades on the national stage.

“I was in Winston-Salem with my coach the night before when I found out,” Hunter said. “At first I was speechless and asked if it was just some kind of joke. Ten minutes later my family arrived so having their support at that time was greatly appreciated.”

Just one week prior, Hunter had punched her ticket to the national championship meet after a record-setting performance at the Polar Bear Qualifier at Ohio Northern University. The senior dominated in the pentathlon event, recording a combined 3,294 points in five events that included her personal record of 9.61 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles event that earned her a third-place finish.

In other pentathlon events, Hunter finished first in the high jump at 1.61 meters and also scored top honors in the 800-meter run in a time of 2:26.38. She rounded out with a pair of fourth place finishes in the shot put and long jump events.

Her point total narrowly bested the 2017 school mark set by former Hanover standout and teammate Savannah Hubbard. Hubbard, a Southwestern High School graduate and an NCAA qualifier herself in the pentathlon, held the record with 3,243 points. Hunter’s mark placed her among the Top 22 in the national rankings, earning her a spot in the national championship meet

But nobody will never know if Hunter could surpass the national accomplishments of Hubbard’s senior season that included appearances in both the indoor and outdoor national championships, the first athlete to do so in Hanover program history. Not only did Hunter’s bubble burst on a Thursday night in Winston-Salem, but the rest of her senior season came to a sudden end just days later when it was announced that Hanover, alongside many other schools, would cancel its entire spring sports season.

The cancellation includes the outdoor track and field season where Hunter and her Panther teammates were to piggyback off the success of the indoor season which included individual accomplishments and a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship. Making matters worse, Hunter’s final farewell to teammates and classmates would also be put on hold, at least in-person.

Hanover and hundreds of other schools also fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending all on-campus classes and forcing the rest of the academic year to be finished online from home. Students had until March 22 to pack their belongings and return to their respective hometowns.

“I started crying as soon as school and my season were canceled,” Hunter said of hearing the news. “I face-timed my roommates at Hanover and we cried together. My life as an athlete is over. I love running and competing so I will work out for myself but my athletic career is over. I still have to complete my coursework online but it is still up in the air on how that will be conducted.”

As NCAA institutions continue to deal with the aftermath of cancellations to events and seasons, the trending topic in recent weeks has been the discussion of giving senior student-athletes in spring sports an additional year of eligibility to make up for a lost season. The NCAA Division I committee is set to make a vote on March 30 and the possibility lies for that vote to trickle down.

Although a long shot for such NCAA Division III schools like Hanover, which do not give out athletic scholarships to offer that extra year of eligibility, Hunter again made it clear that her time in the Hanover blue and red has come to a close and that it was time to finish out her academic obligations and move into the real world. However, that pursuit doesn’t come before reflecting on what the college has done for her as a student-athlete.

“As a Division III athlete no athletic scholarships are given and Hanover is an expensive school. I’ll have my degree in May so there is no reason to return to school,” Hunter said. “I love Hanover and the teammates I left behind and I wouldn’t want to compete for another school either. Hanover gave me an amazing four years. I learned a great deal about myself and my capabilities. I met wonderful people who will be my friends for life, who inspire me to be the best version of myself. I have so many great memories as an athlete but truly coming home from nationals to my teammates knowing our time together was over and just having their support was a great memory.”

Hunter, a Mooresville native and graduate of Monrovia High School, finished her final weeks of the indoor track and field season with four championships at the HCAC Indoor Championship meet and was the league’s final HCAC Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Week. This week she was tabbed as a member of the HCAC Tom Bohlsen All-Academic Team.

Hunter has already started the process of life after college and is pursuing a job in environmental and geological fields following graduation in May.