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An adorably funny student-athlete love story: Meet Austin Katstra and Laurel Ivory

How two Virginia athletes went from complete strangers to dating for two and a half years and counting

<p>Austin and Laurel have shared many experiences together like Laurel's end-of-season banquet for Virginia women's soccer.</p>

Austin and Laurel have shared many experiences together like Laurel's end-of-season banquet for Virginia women's soccer.

Junior forward Austin Katstra is a national champion men’s basketball player, and junior goalkeeper Laurel Ivory is one of the best women’s soccer players in the entire country. Together, they are one of the most recognizable and lovable couples on Grounds. However, their two-and-a-half year journey wasn’t straightforward. From meeting each other’s families within weeks of meeting each other to a surprise “I love you” barely a month into the relationship, the couple has had their fair share of twists and turns. Let’s take a look inside Katstra and Ivory’s real-life rom-com. 

It all started in July 2017 — the summer before their first year at the University. At a mandatory student-athlete event during the third summer session, around 100 students were split up into eight groups, and Katstra and Ivory found themselves in the same one. While it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, their initial impressions of each other were certainly positive. 

“I looked at him and I was like, ‘Oh, this is going to be nice, I can meet someone on the basketball team and get tickets,’” Ivory said. “I don’t have to go through the lottery.”

Katstra shared similar thoughts about his first meeting with Ivory.

“I didn’t really have any idea that we would be dating right now,” Katstra said. “I just thought it was cool to know someone who’s like the next star for the U.S. women’s national team. I told my family too.”

While this event marked the first time the pair met, Katstra had already done some research of his own. After Ivory missed the first week of orientation playing for the U-20 U.S. women’s national team, Katstra — with some help from senior linebacker Charles Snowden, who would happily take credit for starting the relationship — looked up Ivory and her impressive career online. By the time Katstra actually met his future girlfriend, he was already a big fan of hers.

After that initial meeting, Katstra and Ivory’s relationship progressed gradually. They ran into each other frequently at social functions and dorm mixers since they both lived in the Gibbons dormitory. At some point, Katstra asked the all-important question — “What’s your Snapchat?”

“I figured out his intentions pretty fast,” Ivory said. “I was just like ‘Oh my god, I just got to college. I’ve never even been in a relationship. I’ve been preoccupied with the national team and school all the time’ … I was just like, ‘This is not happening. We’re not doing this.’”

Despite Ivory’s initial resistance and the fact that both athletes came to the University not wanting a relationship to start off college, the two eventually went on a date.

“It was my birthday in August and he took me out for my birthday and bought me dinner — wings [at Wild Wings Cafe],” Ivory said. “We’re really classy. That was our first date.”

Even after that first date, Ivory was still hesitant about the relationship. Given all the pressures that come with dating as students — combined with the additional challenges of being athletes and new to college life — her concerns were certainly justified. However, Katstra proved that, with some perseverance, anything is possible.

“He was just really persistent about dating me,” Ivory said. “I knew that he wanted to date me and I just thought that we were hanging out right now, having a good time, getting to know each other. Two days later, he asked me out again, and I just knew that I was going to end up dating this kid, so I said, ‘Yes.’”

Before Katstra and Ivory were officially in a relationship, an interesting development sparked some drama in their lives — their families. 

For most couples, meeting the parents is a major milestone in their relationships. However, Katstra and Ivory met each other’s parents before they even started dating. 

“I think the most significant thing that happened was when my family was in town the week before we started to date,” Ivory said. “I told him that I’m probably not going to see him this weekend. This kid waits for me after [my] game and my family is there and he’s just waiting. There was no way of getting out of that situation.”

While Ivory wasn’t exactly happy at the time, Katstra and her parents seemed to hit it off. In fact, they even made plans for the upcoming football game that weekend with Katstra’s parents, who live in Charlottesville.

“At the end of the conversation, they said that they were coming to tailgate with my parents for the football game on Saturday,” Katstra said. 

Although it may have started off in an awkward place, Katstra and Ivory’s families play an integral role in their relationship today. Ivory mentioned how her dad, her brother and Katstra are like best friends and text each other constantly. Katstra also emphasized how Ivory is like a sister to his younger sister, giving her advice in areas like recruitment since Katstra’s sister is committed to row for Duke. Because of this, the two families are extremely close.

“If we stopped dating, [my family would] probably still invite her over for dinner pretty frequently,” Katstra said.

Soon after the two families met, Katstra and Ivory officially started dating each other. However, it didn’t take long for this story to take another interesting turn. 

“He [said ‘I love you’] first,” Ivory said. “He was just not really thinking and kind of blurted it out, and we were like a month in. It was four days after a full month of dating.”

The two responded quite differently to the sudden proclamation. Katstra simply thought to himself, “Ooh, why did I say that?” while Ivory “shut down for two days.” Since the first “I love you” wasn’t exactly smooth, after realizing her feelings for Katstra, Ivory made sure the second time counted.

That day was Valentine’s Day 2018 when Ivory gifted Katstra a watch, which included an engraved message about how she loved him. 

The next two or so years were full of ups and downs for the couple. Dating in college is already difficult — dating as student-athletes presents unique challenges. For instance, the first year of the relationship was particularly hard. In addition to adjusting to a brand new life, Ivory was traveling with the U-20 national team, meaning she was away from Charlottesville for long periods of time. With such hectic schedules, Katstra and Ivory realized that the key to their relationship had to be communication.

“It’s just so big to be able to communicate, work out differences and trust that, at the end of the day, we have each other’s back no matter what and always want what’s best for each other,” Katstra said. 

Ivory echoed the importance of communication, especially when balancing academics and athletics.

“[Communication] is probably our biggest thing,” Ivory said. “We always have to sit each other down and make sure we know where we both are at. When he’s in the easy part of his schedule, I’m in the thick of it, and I’m exhausted and vice versa … We have to respect where each of our bodies are in terms of rest and recovery. That’s definitely something we’ve had to openly discuss.”

In addition to their busy lives, there is one more major obstacle in Katstra and Ivory’s relationship that has caused plenty of conflict — football. Both of them are football enthusiasts, Katstra a loyal Kansas City Chiefs fan and Ivory a loyal New England Patriots fan. 

“I think I’m most mad at him when it comes to football,” Ivory said. “Like when the Patriots and Chiefs play each other, we can’t watch together. He can’t hold back. I’m trying not to be the cocky, annoying New England fan … but he just goes in and pushes my buttons. I will hold it back and hold it back, and then, I’ll just let loose.”

Even if being student-athletes in a relationship can be hard at times, both were quick to share a long list of their favorite memories together — frequent trips to Wild Wing Cafe, a Fourth of July vacation in Newport, R.I., learning about themselves through faith, Katstra arguing with the referees during Ivory’s games and Ivory keeping up with Katstra’s national title run last year. 

Although it's impossible to ignore the fact that Katstra and Ivory are extremely gifted athletes, their best talents might actually be their ability to have an honest conversation and make each other laugh. In many ways, they’re like a lot of other couples — except they’re probably in way better shape. 


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