RMU’s Abrielle McCartney juggles softball, academics and military aspirations
At 4 a.m., while the Robert Morris campus slumbers in silence, it isn’t unusual for senior Abrielle McCartney to be out for a run. A 6-mile run.
It’s part of her ROTC training as the Canon-McMillan grad prepares for active military duty next year. On most days, she is lucky enough to sleep all the way until 5 a.m. before she is up doing her physical training for ROTC.
McCartney said her family has an extensive history with the armed forces. Her grandfather, army veteran Ray Posel, serves as her biggest inspiration. The tattoo on the back of her left arm — an arrow and feathers; she used to collect arrowheads and feathers as a child with her “pap” — is a homage to him.
McCartney would have enlisted in the Army after high school had she not earned an athletic scholarship to Robert Morris. But even though she fulfilled a dream of playing Division I softball, she still wanted to pursue her other dream.
So for the past two years, she has juggled the rigors of ROTC with a full class load and the demands of her sport.
“I think it’s important for student-athletes to see what you can do and how much you can do and still be successful in what you’re doing,” RMU interim coach Jexx Varner said. “Some people might think she’s spreading herself too thin, but she’s not when she’s being successful at everything.”
McCartney started her ROTC journey a year later than most, so once she completed her Military Science 1 (MS1) year, she went to Fort Knox, Ky., last summer to, she said, “kind of play catch-up.” Her experience there enabled her to skip to the MS3 stage, and she will stay at Robert Morris one more year — though she will be out of softball eligibility — to complete her MS4 requirements in May 2020.
After that, she will be commissioned and serve at least four years. She hopes to land in military intelligence or the military police.
“They (the ROTC) have been super, super lenient with me also being a softball player,” said McCartney, who sometimes hangs her military uniform in the dugout so she can head straight to ROTC night class after practice. “They know I have team workouts and team conditionings on top of playing games and practicing every day.”
“Leadership” is a word often used loosely when talking about team sports. Varner, however, said it is not an empty platitude where McCartney is concerned.
“Somebody like Abrielle who has been through and does what she does, it’s really powerful from a leadership standpoint for people to see that day-in and day-out,” he said. “Just seeing that type of work ethic … we have seven freshmen on the field right now, and that’s big.”
Sophomore third baseman Kaitlyn Clark said she admires McCartney’s ability to push people beyond their limits without being pushy. McCartney, she said, isn’t overly vocal but doesn’t hesitate to speak up when she thinks it is necessary.
Often, Clark added, McCartney doesn’t need to say anything.
“Just presence,” she said. “She’s one of those people that, when you walk on the field, you notice her. The way she commands her presence on the field is very contagious with everybody else. So when she’s ready to go, and she’s pumped up, then everybody’s pumped up.”
Of course, McCartney, a career .294 hitter and an all-Northeast Conference first-team pick as a sophomore, can back it up with actions.
In the first game of a doubleheader against Cleveland State on March 27, the score was 5-5 heading into the bottom of the seventh. McCartney, who had been struggling at the plate, watched from the on-deck circle as the Colonials put two on with one out.
“I turned around to (the dugout) and said, ‘I’m tired of not hitting the ball. It’s my turn, and I’m getting it done,’ ” she said.
She smacked the second pitch into the right-center gap for the walk-off win.
McCartney is hoping for more of those performances down the stretch. She wants to go out with a NEC title, something that has eluded the Colonials (9-24, 2-2) during her tenure.
“I think this team deserves a ring,” she said. “We have a lot of potential and talent this year, and if we can just keep on our grind … we should be able to compete and get that ring.”
She also will continue grinding away at her ROTC training. When she returns to Fort Knox in June, a timed 12-mile “ruck” — toting 30-plus pounds of gear in a backpack while in full military attire — is among the tasks that awaits.
Those are the challenges she embraces and the reason she rises early to train. She said she already can see a difference in herself as a communicator and a leader.
Her teammates also recognize it and respect her for it.
“The fact that she is balancing not only the softball workouts and the academics — and doing extremely well in both — but also the army, that’s phenomenal,” Clark said. “She commands such respect on the field, off the field and is a hell of a leader for this team.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .