On the list of milestones altered by life in a pandemic, a first-year college orientation wouldn’t normally merit a spot near the top. Not when campus life has been turned upside-down in so many other ways, with classes going virtual, dorm rooms going empty, and attendance at everything from sports events to house parties simply going away.
Unless you’re a Hasselbeck.
The traditional freshman meet-up holds a place of high honor in the Hasselbeck house, respected enough that when oldest daughter and newest Eagle Annabelle broke the news to her mother that COVID restrictions meant Boston College wouldn’t be hosting it this year, “She was so mad.”
“I was like, ‘Now you’re stressing?’ ” Annabelle laughed.
As anyone with a college-aged student knows, there has been more than enough stress in these past two academic years. The pandemic has disrupted treasured traditions from proms and graduations to college move-ins and jam-packed dining halls. Maybe that’s part of the reason Annabelle has felt so at home in Chestnut Hill. It’s familiar.
Yes, she has been welcomed by the standout women’s lacrosse program, which won her affection from among the many top Division 1 schools to recruit her.
But even more, she’s finding her way on the same campus that next year will welcome her sister Mallory (the nation’s top-rated recruit at Rivers School) as a member of the lacrosse team, the same campus that is only a few neighborhoods away from the grandparents and cousins who have lived in Massachusetts their whole lives, the same campus where her parents, Matt and Sarah, were once star athletes.
And where they first met, at — you guessed it — freshman orientation.
“So cute,” Annabelle said.
Matt and Sarah couldn’t have known then what was to come, how the two of them would secretly scope out the other as their teams crossed paths at the practice field, Matt finishing up as a quarterback on the football team, Sarah taking the field as goalie for the field hockey team.
Those were the first steps on athletic careers that would eventually take them to the BC Hall of Fame, and take Matt to a 17-year career in the NFL. But more importantly, they were the seeds of a love that would grow into the family of five (youngest son Henry is a current high school dual threat in football and lacrosse), that somehow found its way from Seattle to Indianapolis (and a few more stops along the way) all the way back to Boston.
For the first family of BC sports, the circle gets even bigger. It includes Matt’s younger brother, Tim (another former QB), his cousin Matthew Rueve (a first-year QB on the current roster), and another cousin, Ellie Rueve, who has been the student manager for women’s lacrosse the past three years. Patriarch Don didn’t go to BC, but he did play for the Patriots, leading to the family originally settling in Westwood. In other words, the connections are everywhere.
“I was trying to think back to when the kids were little, did we talk about BC a lot?” Sarah said. “The girls know the ‘knight in shining armor’ story about meeting their dad. And Henry, when he was just a toddler, would always say, ‘You play for red Eagles, mom?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, Henry, I played for the red Eagles.’
“I would be telling them I was amazing [at field hockey], and they’d be exasperated with the story. That’s what I remember; we really didn’t talk too much about it, it was our history. We were in the now, bleeding blue and green for the Seahawks.
“I look at it more as God’s hand has a plan, a purpose. As parents, we’re always saying, ‘How do we help our kids do what they want to do, and when they got to high school age, Matthew says it a lot: ‘How can we get home?’ Home base is your goal. From BC, you can get home. You’ve reached where you want to get, and you can get home.”
And you can strive for new heights, as the Hasselbeck sisters plan to do at BC. The Eagles have flourished in women’s lacrosse under coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein, reaching three straight national title games in 2017-19 and taking residence in the penthouse of the national rankings. They should be the No. 4 overall seed when the NCAA Tournament does its selection show Sunday night, reflecting another reason this college choice proved easy.
But mostly, Annabelle and Mallory wanted a place where they felt comfortable, where they felt they belonged, where those competitive drives would be surrounded by like-minded people.
“I think the whole first week of practice, I was smiling under my mask,” said Annabelle, who scored her first of six goals this season (along with five assists) Feb. 23 against Albany. “It is unbelievable. I cannot believe I’m here, that I get to play with these amazing players. It’s so great to feel that way, with all that is going on with COVID.”
“I tell her I’m living vicariously through her; she’s the one playing,” said Mallory, whose senior season ended after one game because of a torn ACL, but whose relentless attack on the rehab process has her on track to be on the field at BC (or maybe even a sneak walk-on appearance for Rivers).
“They’re allowed to have two fans at a game per kid, so I fight with my parents to see if I can go. Seeing her out there, seeing her succeeding, having so much fun, it makes me excited even more to get there next fall.
“I send her texts before the games — here’s how to score on the goalie — since I have so much time on my hands and can scout the opposing team. She’s doing awesome, she loves it there. I talk to her 24/7.”
Those conversations will get easier next year, when the sisters will be teammates again, closing that BC circle a little bit more. But opening it too, reflecting generational change in the commitment to women’s athletics, from the days Sarah had to share uniforms and lockers with the soccer team to now, when rooting for women’s lacrosse has become a campus-wide passion, the games big enough to be played at Alumni Stadium.
“When she was taking the field for a night game, and Mallory and Matthew were walking before me, my breath was taken away,” Sarah said. “It smelled the same. It was like, ‘This is my home.’ ”
“We are just very grateful, thankful,” Matt said. “We are such huge fans of the team, not even because my wife and I went there, just fans of that team we were watching when it was going to three straight title games. Then the first offer the girls get is from our favorite team, that just happens to be the school my wife and I went to? It’s a huge honor to get so much love.
“I think, for us, we really had no idea how good our girls were.”
The kids know now how good mom and dad were. And they definitely know the story of how they met.