Sports teams are some of the most closely knit groups in Vassar’s community. From the cross country’s loud library table to swimming’s decision to dye their hair before states, Vassar’s teams are there for one another, regardless of how ridiculous or obnoxious they may appear.
The process of training for a sport is hard, physically and mentally. The risk of failure at a game, meet or race is something that weighs on the mind of any athlete; a loss on the weekend can set the tone for the rest of the week. On the other hand, a win can make you see the world through rose-tinted glasses. Sophomore and one of the captains of the volleyball team, Trey Cimorelli wrote in an emailed response, “It’s easy to come together and enjoy spending time together as a team when things are going well. It’s harder when things aren’t going well. That’s what helps build the relationships on the team the most.”
Senior and captain of the cross-country team Andrew Terenzi said, “During really hard work outs, which can last a long time, we tend to pack up and have to work hard to stay together, and when everyone’s working so hard it’s a real bonding experience.”
The commitment that teammates show to one another is absolutely essential. Terenzi’s comment about working hard covers the aspect of communal spirit. What he doesn’t mention is the competitive nature that is instilled when one has to keep up with his teammates. Senior volleyball player Taylor Mosley wrote in an emailed response, “Sometimes practice can be intense because we are constantly competing with and against each other.” Mosley fills in what Terenzi left out. Teammates are consistently challenging each other, whether it is for a spot on the starting line up, or simply a demonstration of prowess in a given skill. This can be stressful, as Mosley suggests, but it is also the key to what drives individual members and the team forward.
There is also the simple matter of time spent together. Varsity teams practice six times a week, for at least two hours each session. “So when you are spending that much time together, especially when a lot of that time can be physically and emotionally exhausting, you definitely bond over shared experiences,” wrote senior and captain of the cross-country team Harper Cleeves in an emailed response.
Cimorelli felt the same way, “Between working out and being in the gym for practice and traveling, it’s a lot of time. It’s something we all really enjoy though.” Senior and captain of the basketball team Alexander Snyder added in an emailed response, “We see each other every day and we compete against each other. It would not be enjoyable if it was with a group of people that I did not like.”
All of Vassar’s sports teams have preseasons, and therefore they spend more time on campus than the average student. The swim team has been on campus since January 3 preparing for their final push, which is happening this week at states. Volleyball’s Cimorelli feels that this is a particularly important time for the team as not only do they have more practices than usual, they also live together, “Preseason also brings us together a lot, as we spend all day together on campus before the rest of the students get there. We usually come back two weeks early, have practice about three times a day, eat meals together, and even room with each other.”
Senior rugby captain Geoff Matthes discussed some of the rugby team’s preseason customs in a telephone interview. Arriving two weeks before classes start in the Fall, the men’s and women’s teams have practice twice a day, but have a light practice on Saturday and a trip to Lake Minnewaska on Sunday. The teams also gather for movie nights and a BBQ at the end of the two weeks.
As far as time outside of practice goes, results are varied. Some athletes felt that the time spent away from practice was more important than time spent in it, Cleeves wrote, “I think it is the time spent outside of practice that really ends up cementing relationships. Even if that is as simple as getting meals together at the All Campus Dining Center, or studying together at the library.”
Junior basketball player Rose Serafini agreed with Cleeves, writing in an emailed response, “I would say that most of the team bonding is done outside of practice. Obviously we learn to play with each other and determine what type of people we are basketball wise while on the court but the more concrete bonding is done off the court.”
While most reported the usual activities one would expect from any group of people, Mosley reminisced on some previous excursions, “In the past, we went apple picking, to a haunted house for Halloween and dinners off campus.” Junior cross-country runner Kyle Dannenburg wrote in an emailed response, “We spend hours together playing board games, such as Resistance and Coup.”
The men’s rugby team expressed a fondness for eating. Matthes said in a phone interview, “One tradition we have is after practice on Fridays we drive to Five Guys. The ritual is aptly named, ‘Five Guy Fridays.’” He also mentioned eating competitions at Billy Bob’s. One such evening saw Matthes face off against then sophomore Matthew Brown. The two began with a piggy mac, a dish comprised of a pulled pork base baked under a creamy macaroni and cheese layer with bread crumbs sprinkled on top. They then proceeded to attack 18 wings. Brown staggered and Matthes took the win by a six wing margin.
When considering the place of their coaches in their lives, all of the athletes reported that though they were vey important within practice, most coaches did not involve themselves outside of that. There was the rare exception; Coach Penn of the women’s volleyball team has them all over for dinner at the end of the season, while Snyder mentioned that the coaching staff set up events for the team and Terenzi spoke about a holiday party at the end of the cross-country season that their coach comes to. On the whole, coaches seem to encourage a good working environment for their team at practice and let the team work out activities for outside the court, field or track.
All the Brewers voiced the same commitment to their teammates, but all were also equally appreciative of the friends they had made off the team. Cimorelli was happy for the friends he’d made outside volleyball, as well as the other opportunities he has here at Vassar. “We all have really close friends outside of volleyball. This is one of the great things about D3 sports. We get to spend a lot of time doing other things as well as volleyball.”
Vassar athletes function as more than teammates and peers to one another. They become a family.