By Drew Eastland ’21, Sports Editor

Photo courtesy of Madison See, Director of Operations for Women’s Soccer.

On July 8th, 2020, Stanford University decided to cut 11 varsity sports. Just like that, an entire class of first-year athletes found their college career upended. In lieu of this section’s typical first-year athlete spotlight, the wise editorial board of the Davidsonian Sports page (including myself and no one else) has decided to keep the character but shift the setting. I sat down – over Zoom of course – with a few first-year athletes to get their perspective on joining a collegiate athletic team during a time when college athletics are mostly on hold. Although these athletes have not had their programs cancelled, their experiences have been novel and unique.

This summer was certainly unique for all Davidson athletes, especially the first-year class. Not only did these new athletes join a team with new coaches, new teammates, and an all-new skill level, but typical summer practices were also put on hold. In general, athletes arrive earlier in the summer than other students and use the extra time to train and find their bearings.

“Our reporting day was supposed to be July 27th,” football player Elijah Burrell ’24 explained. “It was like a week out and we were all getting ready to come, then we had a team Zoom meeting [saying] we didn’t have to report until August 8th.”

Instead of starting practice in the middle of the summer, coaches provided athletes with  detailed workout routines and instructions on how to stay in shape and ready for the season. Some athletes, like women’s soccer player Meghan Lawrence ’24, “had a little bit of trouble” staying motivated without being on campus.

“I could tell my personal motivation kind of went down a little bit,” Lawenence admitted. “I [thought] maybe I could take a few more off days.” 

In team sports, the collective push to practice, play, and win motivates players. For first-year athletes, camaraderie is usually an important piece of the puzzle for acclimating themselves to the collegiate level.

With summer practices scheduled, then postponed, then rescheduled, the logistical challenges of getting to campus as an athlete intensified this season. Burrell resides in California, for instance, and Davidson athletes come from all over the country. The fast-changing news certainly made things difficult, but Burrell and other athletes were quick to commend their coaches for keeping them updated in a timely manner and helping them adapt to the new normal.

“I […] felt confident in my communication with my coaches and knowing that whenever they knew something, we would know something,” women’s soccer player Riley Patton ’24 said. “It never felt like we were in the dark.”

“Our coaching staff […] want to actually see you succeed, and they actually want to make you a better person,” Burrell added. “Our coach told us we’re a lucky group […] we have extra time to get settled into the program.” 

Even after arriving on campus, typical routines were upended. The women’s soccer team is practicing for about a third of their usual hours, and their soccer training has been limited to passing only, no contact.

“We started with Phase One […] we really couldn’t do anything except dribble in a box,” Patton recalled. “It’s gotten better; now, we can pass.”

Bonding with upperclassmen and fellow athletes by studying together, connecting on weekends, and sharing meals are key ways that first-year athletes integrate into their team’s cultural fabric. Many of those bonding moments are on hold. Coaches have also turned up the creativity to help facilitate team chemistry. The football coaches have organized an event called the Wildcat Cup where players compete in teams against one another in events like Madden tournaments, crossbar challenges, and golf.

“Some of our guys are really into golf,” Burell laughed. “And then some of them aren’t [great] like my brother, he’d never swung a golf club before he [kept] missing the ball.”

I assured him that even after playing for years, I still miss the ball.

Right now, most fall athletes’ seasons have shifted to the spring. Some in the sports world – present company included – have expressed concern that this may lead to increased injury risk when trying to squeeze two seasons into a short time frame. The first-year athletes I spoke with agree – but ultimately – their biggest desire is to play and realize their dream of being a college athlete.

“Honestly at this point, I think anything is better than nothing,” Patton said. “If we have to have two back to back seasons, I think that’s fine and I think that’s exciting […] our team is so deep that the playing time would be spread more.”