Paige Hunt can be found these days at South Field dominating opposing offenses as a force for the BYU Women’s Soccer team.
However, the sophomore defender is also preparing to take her talents to Indianapolis as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in December as potentially the highest profile female athlete to leave for a mission mid-career.
Hunt has made the decision to halt an already storied soccer career to join the army of missionaries currently serving the Church.
“I’m really excited,” Hunt said. “I decided to go last January so it is very exciting knowing I am actually going to Indiana.”
Hunt said her decision was initially met by surprise from many. Such surprise is undoubtedly a result of the remarkable success Hunt has and continues to have thus far in her collegiate career.
Last season, she started as a freshman on the BYU team that reached as high as No. 2 in the nation. She was selected to the West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll and the All-WCC Freshmen Team. Top Drawer Soccer also recognized Hunt as one of the best freshmen in the country. She was named on many preseason all-conference lists as well. Despite the success on the field, Hunt has no reservations about going.
“A lot of people have asked, ‘Why would you give up soccer? You’re doing so well,’” Hunt said. “I don’t think that’s the way it should be. Soccer is something I love, but serving a mission is so important and will benefit me in the long run.”
While many responded in shock, those who know Hunt were not surprised by her conviction and desire to serve. Teammates and coaches alike expressed their support and confidence in Paige’s missionary service.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for Paige, and we support her completely,” BYU head coach Jennifer Rockwood said.
Though Hunt will be missed as a staple in the Cougar defense, she has no doubt she’ll be back and will be blessed for her service.
“This isn’t easy. Soccer has been a part of my life since I could walk,” Hunt said. “But I know that I will come back as good, if not better, after my mission.”
The number of missionaries serving has increased since last October, when LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced the lowered age requirements for missionaries. However, the decision is still very difficult for many athletes as they consider completely stopping their collegiate careers to serve. Hunt hopes her example will have a positive effect on other female athletes at BYU considering serving a mission.
“I am hoping this will have a good effect on others,” Hunt said. “I want them to know that if they have a desire to, it can be done. I want to show them that, even if you are an athlete, you can serve for 18 months then come back, work hard and finish what you came here to do.”
The athletic program at BYU is ready and excited for this opportunity for more female athletes to serve.
“We are fully supportive of our women athletes serving missions and having the ability to continue their athletic careers upon returning,” said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. “It will be a great blessing in their lives.”
When Hunt returns in 2015, she will be one of three returned missionaries on the squad.