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The Competitor: Nursing Student-Athlete Bella Runyan

Bella Runyan v Creighton driving- sm

“There is something about going to battle with your best friends that makes playing so much more than just winning. It’s about the journey and relationships made along the way,” says senior Bella Runyan. 

The Morristown, New Jersey native is a guard on Villanova’s women’s basketball team. Taking a charge, shooting, cheering and leading, she’s the consummate teammate who wields a disruptive defense. She aspires to be a labor and delivery nurse in the Philadelphia area after graduating from Villanova. 

On the court, the 40 minutes are an endurance test with endless sprints that are physically demanding. Bella is all in, explaining, “I believe basketball should be played unselfishly. That means making the extra pass to a more open teammate or sacrificing your body to draw a foul. When you play for your team rather than for yourself, it brings out the strengths of every individual.” 

There is much to balance. Bella lists in-season practices for about 20 hours a week on top of her studies and clinicals, then classes from 8:30 am to 2 pm, practice/scout/lift/conditioning for three hours, then she devotes her evenings to studying nursing and scouting opponents. There are about three games per week, that often come with travel and missing a few classes a week. “I must devote even more time to catching up on material I missed, as well as staying on top of my study schedule while on the road,” she says. 

“My biggest challenge as a nursing student-athlete is making sure I take time to care for myself physically and mentally. I make it a priority to get eight hours of sleep a night, get treatment after every practice to prevent injuries, eat three balanced meals a day,” she notes, adding, “It is just as important to be prepared for a game as it is for an exam. I have ‘homework’ for basketball too! I have learned how to best manage my time and know when to take time for myself.”  

Bella Runyan shooting

The efforts pay off. “Every year I have been on the basketball team, we have made it further into our postseason. I am honored to be part of a team who in 2022 upset BYU in the first round of March Madness. In 2023, my team reached the Sweet 16 of March Madness, coming up short to Miami after storming back from a 20+ point deficit in the 3rd quarter. That game and a few others in particular showed the basketball community that Villanova never gives up,” Bella shares. “I am honored to play for a coach like Denise Dillon, who reminds us during adversity to never hang our heads and never stop competing until the final buzzer.” 

In the 2023-2024 season, that final buzzer didn't sound until the very end of post-season play. Villanova advanced to the final game of the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament against the University of Illinois, battling Virginia Commonwealth, UVA, Saint Joseph's and Penn State en route to the finals. Against Penn State at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Bella played 36 minutes with 10 points and five rebounds. Her tenacity and leadership contributed mightily to the team's success. 

While Bella notes that her father Jon Runyan played in the NFL for 14 years and had a “remarkable football career,” she says he is never content with himself and strives to be the best athlete, dad and husband he can be. That inspires her. 

Her team extends beyond her family. She adds, “I feel so blessed to be around such supportive people in the nursing school and athletics department who understand how much of commitment this is. My coaches and professors genuinely want me to do well on the court and in the classroom.”