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Freedom means different things to former prep athletes

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Part one of three

By Steve Smith

    Independence.

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    It’s what a lot of high-school seniors look for when it’s time to find a college. 

    But when you’re a high-school senior who picks a college for studies and sports, the independence shrinks some. It’s dependent on a team’s schedule for meals, weight training, practice routines, game days and travel.

    That doesn’t include going to school, studying, socializing, and time for such incidentals as eating and doing the laundry.

    We reached out to almost a dozen former area prep athletes for their feelings about the basic adjustment and how they handled the switch.

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Lorenna Hernandez played high-school softball at Frederick High School and now plays at Fisher College in Boston. She said there was a big difference between the two.

“You no longer only play one or two games a week. You now are constantly having doubleheaders and, hypothetically speaking, living on the road,” she said. “You’re no longer limited to playing teams in your district and the same girls you’ve been playing against for the past four years. You now get the excitement of playing against some high-caliber teams, or some teams you just breeze right through.”

Hannah Day, who played soccer at Brighton High School, attended Trinidad State Junior College. One adjustment was twice as many practices.

“We have one practice early in the morning and then another in the evening,” she said. “It’s really a lot more training and work than high school was, but it really pays off.”

Eagle Ridge Academy alumna Lexi Cox, who played volleyball at Peru (Nebraska) State College. She said her adjustment boiled down to time management.

“With school or practice you have to wake yourself up, get your homework done, and finish all of your workouts independently,” she said. “The toughest thing in college is accepting that you’re away from home and your parents aren’t going to push you to get something done. College means growing up.”

Prairie View graduate Mikhail Sands played football and ran track for the ThunderHawks. This year, he was on the Wayne (Nebraska) State University track team.

“Going from high school to college was rough, just because everyone expects you to be professional and live up to a certain standard,” he said. “Classes aren’t much different. The scaling is weird because assignments and exams aren’t worth much, but they are.”

There was one other piece that was difficult for Hernandez.

“Adjusting isn’t easy especially when you went from starting every game in high school since freshman year and only having 13 girls on your roster to now having 25 girls on the team and fighting for that starting spot,” she said. “Once you have proven to your coach why you should have a starting spot, sometimes practices seem like a tryout because you are constantly trying to get a position or keep the position you already have. It’s nothing like high school. You mess up, you’re out. There is a handful of girls on your toes ready to take that position.”

Prairie View grad Brooklyn Trujillo-Quintana played softball at Rider University, an NCAA Division I school in Princeton, New Jersey.

“There was a major adjustment that I had to make,” she said. “I work a lot harder, now that I’m in college. I don’t miss any opportunity I get to take extra work. Another adjustment that I had to make was realizing that all of the athletes I am competing against are other D1 players, so I needed to step up my game in all aspects.”

Brighton’s Dylan Selph, who played football at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, said the switch was tough.

“The hardest part had to be the amount of time that I was honed in on football and only football,” he said. “Willamette did a really good job of giving us a rundown and easing us freshman into the team’s system.

Adams City graduate Carlos Barrera, who ran track and played football for the Eagles, followed suit at Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa. His main adjustment was realizing that sports is almost like a business and that it kept him “10 times busier” than he was in high school.

“Coming from a school that wasn’t great at athletics and coming to a college program and having to transition into the organized way of things from meetings to weights to dinner was my biggest difficulty,” Barrera said. “It wasn’t hard but was the biggest difference I’ve noticed.” 

Jacob Wilton, who played at Brighton High School and wound up at Colorado State University, said the switch was tough for him, too.

“There’s a big difference in the competition level going from high school football to college football,” he said. “In high school, it’s easier to stand out and be the best. But In college you get humbled quickly. Everyone is really good at the college level. Before I had to report for summer workouts, I was stressing a lot because I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew workouts were going to be rough at first, I knew school was going to be a challenge. But everything was 10 times harder than what I thought it would be. I was able to push through it and start as a true freshman, which was my goal coming in.” 

Frederick alumna Seanna Conklin, who went to Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois. said there have been times of “chaos.” For one, the school dropped her major. For another, the coach who recruited her left the school.

“It was a huge adjustment having a new coach who knew nothing about me,” Conklin said. “I had to start over and prove to him that I was an asset to the program, a hard task that I have been working on my whole athletic career before \college one that I was up for the challenge. That was one of the hardest parts of my adjustment.”

Former Brighton wrestler Nathan Baca went to Minot State University in North Dakota.

“The adjustment between college and high school sports is a big one,” he said. “In high-school sports, the coaching you receive is more motivational. The technical aspects of the coaching applies to what the team needs to work on as a whole. In college athletics, more is expected of you.  You receive individualized coaching, and it is up to you to improve on those things on your own in the practice room. 

“Also in high-school sports, there are set practice times throughout the week that you go to. That’s it,” he added. “But in college, we have our set practice times and it’s expected of you to go practice on your own with a coach or another teammate when we don’t have practice.”

Hernandez also had a tough time adjusting because of the amount of practice time.

“I went from practicing once every day after school to twice a day, once at 6 a.m. and again at 8 p.m. after classes are finished,” she said. “I had to adjust quickly to make sure I could stay on top of my academics. One major adjustment I had to do was waking up early the next day after practices. Our practices typically run from 8 to 11 p.m. leaving little time for schoolwork. Time management is a major factor in the college transition.”

“I feel like the fall was when I started making the adjustment,” Trujillo-Quintana said. “So when the spring came around, I was ready to face better batters. And like I said, I worked a lot harder than I did when I was in high school.”

    Conklin said making education a priority helped her adjust.

    “The first semester is a whirlwind having to learn how to balance my sport and keeping my grades at a higher level, all while being so far away from home,” she said. “My college has a lot of student activities, which I never had the time to join in on due to the time work, my sport and my studies took up. My second semester has been more relaxed in that area.”

    Cox said one of the harder aspects of life in college was not seeing her parents.

    My first semester of college was the hardest for sure. I got very homesick compared to everyone else because a lot of the students are from Nebraska, and they could go home on the weekends,” she said. “I’m such a family oriented person, so it was extremely hard for me to accept being away from home. Now in my second semester, I’m getting the hang of things and know what’s my duty as a student and an athlete.”

     “I think I’ve handled the switch well,” Day said. “My team and I all clicked together very quickly. Having a close team makes the transition so much easier.”

“Everyone here can compete at a high level, and there’s a reason they are here, too,” Barrera said. “In high school, almost anyone can play and be on the team. There’s the captains, who are usually the top dogs at their school. College athletics are filled with all the guys who were the top dogs at their school. So everyone is talented, which is good competition.”

Hernandez said her feelings weren’t meant to discourage potential college athletes.

“College ball is really what you hear it out to be -- difficult, time consuming, and sometimes feels like a job,” she said. “But in the end, I wouldn’t change the experience I am having for anything in the world. The adjustment from high school to college ball for me hasn’t been easy, but it got a lot easier once I started to let myself adjust. I was so scared and timid of what everyone thought. I was scared of missing a ball or not saying the right thing instead of going all out and being myself, once I did that, I realized the transition is only hard if you make it that way.”

How did they do?

Hernandez said her main concern this year was in making the adjustment.

“I didn’t know what I was walking into. I was coming in with no acknowledgment of how my coach was going to be. I had no recollection of how her coaching style is or her in general,” Hernandez said. “In the beginning, I was terrified to let myself completely be open to new coaching for the next four years. I know that probably sounds stupid. But realistically, change has always been difficult for me. I was so used to having a coach like (Frederick coach Roger) Dufour, someone you can constantly go to if you have a problem or need help in general, having a coach like him who will be there for you on and off the field. I didn’t realize that Coach (Katie) Zuman was like that until I opened up to her.”

She said it took a few weeks to get accustomed to Zuman’s coaching style and overall personality.

    “But once I got used to it, a strange occurrence happened. I realized she is the female version of Dufour,” Hernandez said. “I realized she is the female version of Dufour. My adjustment hasn’t been easy. I needed to get used to the new coaching style, the amount of practice time added to my days, and the amount of traveling college athletes actually do. I was having a difficult time in the beginning trying to keep up with my grades. I was missing class for games, more than I did in high school. In high school I was used to leaving early from my last period. But now in  college, I will miss days of school for traveling. The biggest thing that helped me is the tutors that came with us on the road.”

    “There is a lot more independence and responsibility demanded of you in college athletics, and I think I’ve handled the switch well,” Baca said.

    “The switch was difficult at first, especially being out of state and all alone,” Barrera said. “But being involved in the sport quickly finds you friends and teammates who you bond with for most of the day, from meetings to weights to practice. “I’ve handled to switch well so far.”

     “Time management is the toughest part of the switch, learning how to give yourself enough time to relax between workouts, classes, meetings, practice and an average of three to six hours of homework a day is a tall task,” Selph said. “The experience has been a little bit more strenuous than I originally thought it was going to be. I expected a little more free time than high school and all of that free time gets filled up with football, football, and more football. Other than that I have loved the experience, I have grown as an athlete, scholar and a person in general.” 

    “At first it was pretty hard because you’re adjusting to being on your own for the first time,” Wilton said. “You don’t have your parents around to help you with everything. But if you stay focused and don’t get distracted then you get used to it quickly. You just have to prepare every night for the next day. It’s easy to just have a schedule written out to help you remember everything, but after a while it all becomes normal because it’s your daily routine.”

    Ian Helwick, who played football and wrestled at BHS, went to Western State University in Colorado. He said college athletics was a lot more intense than high school.

“The toughest part as a college athlete is adjusting to a new atmosphere with new people and away from everything you’re comfortable with,” he said. “So far, I’ve handled the switch well.” 

Conklin will transfer for the next school year.

The off-season is brutal for those of us who love our sport,” she said. “The downtime is no fun. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been able to keep my grades up my second semester taking classes that I’ve never studied before while having early morning weights and conditioning and evening practices. Adding my work schedule into it was making it almost impossible to keep up my grades. Due to me transferring, I had to let my coach know which, in turn, made me not be able to practice with the team once I made my decision.”

“I’m still adjusting, but I think I handled it well,” Sands said.