Basketball Star Leads with Compassion
Issue   |   Fri, 05/18/2018 - 11:22
Image courtesy of Hannah Hackley '18
Hackley started 99 games over her four years at Amherst, including 62 games during the program’s ongoing 66-game win streak. She leaves Amherst as a two-time national champion.

An English and psychology double major and senior captain of the women’s basketball team, Hannah Hackley is a role model to many. Described as a selfless, caring and intelligent individual by those around her, she is known for having a positive impact wherever she goes.

When asked about his relationship to Hackley, women’s basketball head coach G.P. Gromacki simply replied, “I have not and cannot see anyone not having a good relationship with Hannah.”

Before Amherst

Hackley grew up in Westford, Massachusetts, a close-knit suburban town around an hour outside Boston. She speaks warmly of her family and of the constant support they have provided, as well as their commitment to being present in everything she accomplishes, often giving up entire weekends to drive her to tournaments in middle school or planning family vacations around her basketball schedule.

Hackley started her basketball career in third grade, when her mother began coaching her in a recreational league, a relationship that lasted until eighth grade.

Hackley was initially drawn to basketball because of the sport’s team element. “There’s nothing more fun than winning with the people you love,” she said.

While basketball has always been a big part of her life, Hackley started realizing toward the end of her high school career that she could use her passion for the hardwood to help achieve her academic goals as well. Drawn by Amherst’s amazing academic and athletic reputation, she leapt at the opportunity to compete for a national championship at an elite academic institution.

A Remarkable Selflessness

When asked to describe Hackley, her family, coaches, friends and professors reach a consensus on one particular characteristic: her selflessness.

“She’s thoughtful, reaching out when she knows you have something big going on like a test or a tough, long stretch of meetings,” said close friend and teammate Jackie Nagle ’18. “She’s always putting others before herself — her selfless nature makes her really special.”

Hackley’s altruism also shone in her role as captain this past year. “On the court, she is always looking to make the extra pass before shooting her own shot,” said assistant coach Victoria Stewart. “She always wants what is best for the team, not just what’s best for herself individually.”

Gromacki agreed with his assistant, describing Hannah as “one of the most unselfish and caring individuals … she puts her teammates and everyone ahead of herself.”

A Phenomenal Player

During Hackley’s last two seasons at Amherst, the women’s basketball team put together a historic 66-game winning streak, notching consecutive perfect 33-0 seasons complete with two national championships.

Hackley has been an integral part of her team’s success, tallying her 1,000th career point against Little III rival Wesleyan in this Feburary’s NESCAC tournament semifinals. In addition, Hackley has been on the NESCAC All-Academic team for all four years of her college career.

“Hannah is a ‘big moment’ player,” Gromacki said. “Last year, she hit the game-winning shot versus Tufts to get us home court advantage and keep our streak going, and this year she hit the big three-point shot that won a game versus Trine [University] in Las Vegas.”

When asked about his first impression of Hackley, Gromacki said that he was initially impressed by her outstanding athletic ability, noting that her range of movement is remarkable for someone of her height.

“My great impression never changed … she is the same person today as when she entered Amherst, the only difference being she leaves with two national championships,” he said. “She will go down as not only one of the greatest players but one of the most influential players ever to play in our program.”

As a leader, Hackley stresses that her bond with her teammates is what motivates her. “I feel a responsibility to carry the success and commitment of the people who came here before me,” she said. “Encouraging my team the best I can … that’s what drives me. Seeing my teammates excel is so important.”

A Passion for Working with People

Hackley’s natural tendency toward being a team player is clear off the court as well. “She’s always been a happy person, smiling at everyone and just being a people person,” Hannah’s sister, Cara, said. “People are attracted to the light she gives off. She’s the kind of woman that people want to be near, and she is very humble about it.”

Hannah’s first career instinct was to become a teacher. She worked at a variety of summer camps while growing up, including both basketball camp and vocational bible school. These experiences led her to seriously consider pursuing a career in education, and it didn’t hurt that children generally love her. “I have literally never seen a kid not smile at her,” Cara said.

When she arrived at Amherst, though, Hackley developed a new passion in her majors, and discovered a penchant for consulting and marketing. However, even though she plans to pursue a long-term career in finance, she says that working with kids is still a huge part of her life. Her dedication toward helping others is evident: Hackley has participated in “Beyond el Campo,” a program that brought her to Costa Rica to teach English in a community with limited educational resources, and has also traveled to Rwanda, where her mom works nearly full time, to help put on summer camps for disadvantaged children.

Hackley emphasized that these trips have been transformative. “Working with the people [at “Beyond el Campo”] ended up being a life-changing event and personal growing opportunity,” she said. “It was humbling.”

Hackley has also worked as an orientation leader at Amherst and tutors in town with A Better Chance.

“My favorite role I had [at Amherst] was being an orientation leader,” said Hackley. “I had such an amazing experience as a freshman … I wanted to try to pay that forward and impact students the way that I was.”

Outstanding Academics

In addition to a stellar athletic career, Hackley will graduate from Amherst with another remarkable accomplishment: her psychology thesis. Looking at the malleability of two occult personality traits, communion and agency, Hackley examined how these traits change given particular contexts.

“I started thinking about [my thesis] when I went through my own interview processes last June,” Hackley said. “I became attuned to how I was answering the questions differently based on the gender of my [interviewer], based on the industry I was applying to, based on all these different aspects. My thesis involves looking at students in interview settings or friend settings and examining how people self-express differently about success and failure given a situational context.”

Hackley’s thesis advisor, Professor Allen Hart in the psychology department, gave a glowing review of her academic ability, saying that “when [Hannah] puts things on paper, there’s a crispness in her writing that I noticed from the very beginning — a clarity in her writing that I think is very impressive, and really sets her apart from a lot of writers that I’ve worked with.”

Hackley’s work ethic in balancing her many extracurriculars and her academics is incredible. “She is a great thinker and a hard worker … tenacious in pursuing ideas and in pursuing people to get them to participate in her studies,” said Hart.

When asked how she manages her time between all of her activities, Hackley replied that she actually enjoys the chaos. “I think I thrive in competitive and multitasking environments,” she said. “I love running around to different programs … I couldn’t see myself not having a structure. [The constant chaos] works well for my personality.”

“It helps that I’m not doing it alone,” Hackley added. “There are 10 other young women on my team who are balancing everything too and I’m inspired by them every day.”

Endless Possibilities

After college, Hackley will work as a data analyst for the digital marketing firm Digitas in New York City. While she is passionate about marketing, she is still unsure about which specific path she will pursue in the future. However, according to those closest to her, this uncertainty simply places Hannah in a world of endless possibilities.

“Hannah’s future is going to be absolutely whatever she wants it to be,” Stewart said. “She is a determined individual and when she has her mind set on something, she can get it.”

Hart agreed: “It’s going to be hard to shoehorn her into one area or another … It’s hard to predict exactly what her future will look like, because she is more than well-equipped to pursue many different career paths going forward.”

Hackley hopes to continue working with others in collaborative, team-oriented work environments. Given her ability to excel in her passions and her remarkable selflessness and humility, there is no doubt that Hackley will continue to be a role model for many — regardless of where she goes.