Gabby Dunning ’21 (Oreland, Pa./Springside Chestnut Hill Academy) may have enjoyed one of the best views of the 2018 NCAA Division III Championship, flying high above the field after getting tossed by her teammates as part of a post-goal celebration. The iconic image represents more than just a singular moment from one of Gettysburg’s greatest victories on the lacrosse field; it is a representation of Dunning’s commitment and passion to the team and to the institution over the last four years.
Dunning was one of 10 first-years joining the reigning Division III champs heading into the 2018 season. Finding a place on a roster chalk full of All-Americans and all-conference performers wasn’t going to be easy, but that didn’t deter Dunning and her classmates. In short order, the newcomers and upperclassmen standing on the sideline became integral parts of the team’s performance regardless of playing time thanks to entertaining post-goal celebration routines.
“With help from the sophomores at the time, we quickly learned that the sidelines were an integral part to game days,” recalled Dunning. “So, like any other athletes would do, we prepared and we practiced. The freshmen class at the time put together a whole list of sideline celebrations, even making an order so that everyone was on que and ready at each goal.”
The celebrations included a roller coaster ride with the whole sideline sitting on the turf waving their hands back-and-forth, a mock bench press with a lacrosse stick, and a “basketball dunk” where one teammate would get on the shoulders of another and slam an imaginary ball through a “hoop” formed by another player’s arms. However, arguably the grandest and most dangerous stunt of the repertoire was the player toss, and at just a few generous inches about five feet tall, Dunning was thrust into the spotlight.
“I can’t remember exactly who proposed the idea, but I do remember everyone eyes immediately turning onto me,” said Dunning. “I was THRILLED. As a previous gymnast, it felt like I was back in my old stomping grounds while in my current one.”
In just a few short months together, Dunning had worked up enough trust in her teammates to be tossed several feet into the air. Despite that strong bond, the first attempt at the maneuver did not go quite as planned. Dunning flew up into the air roughly eight feet above the turf, but in their excitement, some of her teammates forgot the second part of the maneuver, resulting in Dunning landing on her backside. The good-natured laxer took it all in stride and was game for another try when it was time.
“I’m lying on the ground looking up at everyone who I think all expected some sort of negative reaction to the incident, but I honestly I couldn’t stop laughing. The trust in my teammates never wavered and the next time they remembered to catch me and place me back on my feet.”
The celebration continued for many weeks after as the Bullets claimed the Centennial Conference championship and defended their national title by taking down Middlebury College. It was an incredible start to a collegiate career, but Dunning wasn’t about to stop enjoying the view following that magical first year.
As Dunning gained more playing time on the lacrosse field, she continued to build her resume as a college student away from the sport. A regular on the Dean’s List with a grade-point average just a shade short of 4.0, the senior locked up spots in the psychology and sociology honor societies, including serving as president of the former. She is a member of the Psychology Honors Research Program and she serves as a Peer Learning Assistant (PLA) in psychology, helping other students with their course work.
When she’s not on the field or in class, Dunning can be found with her sisters in Chi Omega Sorority or serving as one of Head Athletic Equipment Manager Kelly Jones‘ most dependable and trustworthy student workers. In the fall of 2019, she took full advantage of Gettysburg’s study abroad program by going to Florence, Italy, and immersing herself in the Italian culture while attending classes.
“On paper it seems like a lot to manage especially playing on a national championship team, but in reality, it often doesn’t feel that way,” noted the psychology major. “Don’t get me wrong, I am constantly running from one thing to the next, but that’s part of what I love about it. I genuinely look forward to each of these activities and that’s a huge part of why it makes managing them all so easy.”
In the midst of her final semester at Gettysburg, Dunning is hard at work on her honors capstone. Her capstone theorizes that pictures will be perceived as closer in psychological distance than the typed or written out version of the object. In other words, seeing an image will elicit a more vivid and detailed mental reaction than seeing words that mean the same thing. In Dunning’s particular instance, seeing a picture of herself flying up into the air brings back more details than seeing it described in text.
“I can recall that specific moment with much more concreteness and detail as compared to just reading ‘remember the time you were thrown up in the air for a sideline celebration,'” said Dunning. “Pictures are worth a thousand words and I can definitely think of plenty to describe that exact moment.”
The picture of her final season of lacrosse at Gettysburg remains a bit blurry, but it gets just a little more clear each and every day. The Centennial Conference Presidents’ Council continues to evaluate the situation related to the pandemic on individual campuses and nationally as they move closer to a decision about spring competition. Some institutions, including Gettysburg, are preparing for that moment in the hope that all those conditions will align favorably and permit games to be scheduled.
Dunning and her teammates have been out on Clark Field for nearly two weeks, staying masked up and socially distant in smaller groups while dodging snowflakes from the last several storms. If the Bullets return to play this spring, they will be ready for whatever comes their way.
“Words cannot express the gratitude that I have for this program and I want to express all the gratitude I have for all that it’s given me,” said Dunning. “Gettysburg lacrosse has afforded me with the opportunity to know what pride feels like, and not because of myself, but because I am fortunate, grateful, and lucky enough to know that I am a part of something so much bigger than me that spans across generations.”
In less than three months, Dunning and the rest of the senior class will graduate from Gettysburg following two unprecedented and tumultuous seasons. Some might look back on that time angry or disappointed at opportunities lost, but not Dunning. She remains positive and hopeful for the future thanks to the experiences and lessons learned at Gettysburg, both on and off the field.
“I feel as though even without the trials and tribulations of last year, Gettysburg has definitely well prepared me for the future ahead. Being an athlete has definitely given me a leg up with strong leadership, interaction, and management skills. My schedule as an athlete, employee, and student has taught me the mental toughness, determination, and grit that truly sets Gettysburg students apart from others in the real world.”
This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.