College freshmen have many obstacles to deal with, like leaving home and settling into a new school with a new group of people, but freshmen athletes have even more on their plate. Adjusting to constant travel and missing massive amounts of school can be tough, but the ease of playing a sport can help.
There are many differences between high school and college-level sports, but the main difference is the level of play. The competition in college measures at a different standard than high school sports because each team recruits good players and every game can be a challenge.
“The pace of the game is definitely a lot faster, and I definitely think it’s more fun to play in college,” freshman volleyball defensive specialist Trianna Henry said. “You have a lot more competition, so everyone you play is really good and you know that it’s going to be a challenge every time.”
The NAU women’s volleyball team added three freshmen to its roster in August and these girls have impacted the team in a positive way. Middle blocker Payton Bock and Henry are both Arizona natives, while outside hitter Janae Vander Ploeg hails from Colorado.
“Their impact has been off the charts this season,” head coach Craig Choate said. “There is no way you can deny what they have done this season; it’s been amazing.”
Through the season, the freshmen all received ample playing time on the court and contributed to the team in their successful season. Vander Ploeg recorded the most kills on the team, totaling 370. Vander Ploeg was named Big Sky Honorable Mention for the season, and has become a dominant force in the outside hitting position. She helped the Jacks finish with an impressive record of 24–7 overall, and 15–5 in the Big Sky Conference (BSC).
Bock is one of the starting middle blockers for the Jacks and led the team with the most blocks at 143. She was named Big Sky Outstanding Freshman, as well as a member of the All-Big Sky First Team, while Henry made a sizable contribution in the back row, totaling 197 digs on the season.
“Trianna is digging as well as anyone on the court,” Choate said.
Most freshmen deal with the anxiety of leaving home for the first time and having to be accountable for themselves without their parents helping them along the way. For some freshmen, it can affect them enough to go back home, but most stick it out and adjust to the college lifestyle.
“I miss my family and friends, because you’re used to seeing the same people every day, like some of my friends since kindergarten,” Vander Ploeg said. “I think that’s the biggest change because you’re used to always seeing them and talking to them but you kind of get used to it after a while.”
With such a successful season, the Jacks have had their fair share of being on the road, which means a large amount of flying.
“Flying was an adjustment, and I do not like it at all,” Henry said. “It doesn’t bother me, but it feels like because of our schedule that we’re always out of town, and I would rather drive. It takes a lot out of you and when you get back you’re just really drained.”
With flying comes missing school, which for most students seems like an exciting topic but for most student athletes, missing school can lead to missing important projects and tests.
“Skipping a lot of school is tough too because I just had an exam over the stuff we learned in class and since I’m never there it’s kind of hard,” Bock said. “But my mom is a flight attendant so I’m used to always being at the airport, but always flying is hard.”
Adjusting to a new environment can be challenging, and for all freshmen they had to get comfortable with living in a new room, sleeping in a new bed, eating food not made by their parents and staying with someone other than a family member.
“My dad would always make me breakfast in the morning and now I have to eat the food here, plus the beds here are super tiny and my feet hang off,” Bock said.
For the volleyball girls, they had to adjust to getting to practices on time and playing in front of larger crowds during home games.
“Yes, I was nervous for my first home game,” Vander Ploeg said. “I think it’s just because everyone is watching you and with the start that we had to the season everyone was expecting the team to be really good. So, I know I was nervous, but I was excited too.”
Aside from all the nervousness home games bring and the constant traveling, these freshmen have shown it is possible to balance while still managing school. They excelled on the court, helping the Jacks go to the Big Sky tournament, and finished with a winning record. Overall, these true freshmen have displayed playing a sport in college can be difficult, but rewarding too.