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A 2-campus, 22-hour course load and predawn practices kept Kaitlin Walla on the run

St. Mary’s (Texas) senior Kaitlin Walla just completed what she described as the most physically and mentally challenging semester of her life — a 22-credit-hour marathon split across two campuses separated by an hour’s drive, while also playing her final year of women’s basketball. 

While many college students were ending their days around midnight, morning for the Rattlers guard was just starting. To complete the coursework for the psychology degree she is earning from St. Mary’s and a biochemistry degree from Texas State, Walla studied in the middle of the night before her 5:30 a.m. basketball practices. Then she would make the hour drive to an 8 a.m. class at Texas State and return to St. Mary’s for more classes that afternoon. “Sometimes I was even in my practice uniform,” Walla says, “because I didn’t have a lot of time. I’d just run there.” 

Walla started her playing career at Texas State but redshirted her sophomore year because of a knee injury. She attempted to play her final year of eligibility at St. Mary’s last year, but another knee injury on the first day of practice derailed her plan. Walla still had tears in her eyes when St. Mary’s coach Jason Martens approached and said he would fight for another year of eligibility.  

“I just felt like I had more basketball in me,” Walla says. “I wasn’t done yet. I didn’t want it to end on that note. Coach Martens knew my story and knew how much it meant to me. He was like, ‘We’ll make it happen.’”  

But that meant basketball and her intense academic goals would collide. 

To help accommodate Walla’s schedule, Martens started predawn practices 30 minutes earlier, a move her teammates supported.  

“It shows tremendous dedication to not only basketball, but to academics,” Martens says of Walla’s efforts on and off the court. “She’s been through two ACL surgeries, and to battle back from those to play the way she is, is just unbelievable.”  

And her performance was one to be proud of: A’s in psychology and B’s in biochemistry last semester. She made her mark on the court, too, finishing the season with a team-high 14.4-point scoring average. This semester she was able to cut back a bit — to just 17 credit hours, plus basketball — and in May, she’ll graduate with a bachelor’s degree from each school. Walla eventually plans to pursue a doctorate in neuropsychology.  

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.