The sun is still hot and the bugs are still biting, but for some Vassar students, the new school year has already begun. Vassar student athletes playing fall sports returned to campus last week for their pre-season training. For returning students, this is simply part of a yearly routine. Yet for incoming freshmen, the pre-season is a period of transition. Freshman athletes train with their new teams multiples times per day in the late August heat, adjusting to their new environments, teammates and escalated levels of play. The campus may be relatively empty, but spirits are high as coaches and athletes alike look forward to the Fall 2015 season.
For freshman athletes, competing at the college level can be a difficult transition. At times, life outside athletic competition can prove more challenging than the sport itself. With cross country, head coach James McCowan explained that while the races may be longer and more crowded – runners run an 8k or 6k race as opposed to the typical 5k race in high school – the differences are easy to coach and come naturally with proper training. “The big issues are the ‘Life 101’ stuff: getting 8+ hours of sleep, eating well, time management, living on your own out from Mom and Dad’s house. Its the same stuff every college freshman has to manage, but those challenges are highlighted by the increased physical stress of training 2+ hours a day to perform at a high level. The margin for error is a bit tighter, and it forces student-athletes to figure out the balance of college living much faster,” stated McCowan.
The cross country teams in particular will be looking for contributions from the freshman class. The men’s team only has 10 returning runners, six of whom are sophomores, and the women’s team has nine, with five sophomores in their group. McCowan noted that everyone is expected to contribute, yet cited cohesion and development as the two biggest obstacles for his young teams to overcome. “It takes time to develop the aerobic capacity to be excellent at distance running, and maximizing that development while managing the life and academic stressors of a young adult at an elite liberal arts college is difficult. It requires individual accountability and balance to keep everyone in a good spot,” McCowan explained.
Women’s soccer too is looking to its freshman recruits to help fill the holes left by graduating seniors. “We graduated a top goal scorer, a solid central midfielder, a utility player and a central back. We will be looking for the freshmen to challenge our returners and be prepared to give us quality minutes,” explained head coach Corey Holton. The collegiate level of play features bigger, stronger and faster athletes, and as Holton cited, many incoming freshman may not have been in the weight room or had a strength and conditioning coach before. While this will pose a challenge, it is the team’s divisional competition that will pose the true test. “We play in a tough conference with some great teams. Every game will be a challenge but that is what makes it fun! There are no easy games. We have to work hard, train competitively, focus and improve every day,” divulged Holton in a written statement.
On the other side of the fence is men’s soccer. Having only graduated two seniors, competition for playing time will be difficult. Still incoming athletes remain hopeful and team-driven. Explained freshman Tyler Gilmore, “My goal this season is to do what I can to make the team better, whether it be pushing the starters in training or starting myself. This team has potential.” Men’s soccer, along with all other fall sports teams here at Vassar all seem to have one goal in mind: a Liberty League Championship.
Still many freshman athletes did not choose Vassar for athletics alone. For freshman men’s soccer players Ben Scudder and Toby Stansell, the decision also included a mix of academics and a diverse student body. Stansell in particular cited academic freedom that includes an emphasis on open mindedness and creativity. Freshman men’s cross country runner Jake Kobrin also cited the school’s blossoming science program and welcoming team atmosphere. For freshman women’s cross country runner Elise Matera, a visit to Vassar helped spark her decision. She explained, “I wasn’t expecting running to have a huge influence on my college decision, but I was looking at three small, liberal arts colleges in the northeast so it was a bit difficult for me to decide which would be the best fit for me… One of the most influential factors was my overnight visit. At other schools I felt pretty uncomfortable, but at Vassar I met a lot of wonderful people on the team and realized the coaching staff’s vision was closest to what I want to accomplish in my collegiate running career.”
For new and returning athletes, the fall pre-season is a time for team bonding on and off the field, as well as an opportunity to get acclimated – or reacclimated – to life here at Vassar. Despite their differing sports, not to mention their diverse academic and extracurricular activities, these athletes all have one thing in common: they are proud to be Vassar Brewers.