Class of 2019 student-athletes adjust during preseason

by Emily Wechsler | 9/8/15 7:40pm

We’ve heard it before: to be the best, you’ve got to work harder, arrive earlier and stay later. Recruited athletes have proved they can do this, but they don’t stop when they sign their National Letter of Intent. Fall varsity athletes arrive up to three weeks before the rest of campus to work solely on their sports before classes begin, and freshman athletes are no exception.

Before other members of the Class of 2019 had even broken in their hiking boots for their Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, fall student-athletes had moved in, said goodbye to their families and 100-yard-sprinted their way into their college careers.

“It was hard to have to say goodbye to my family early,” Dylan Mellor ’19, a wide receiver on the football team, said.

He gave up that extra family time, and sleep, to spend all day for three weeks waking up early, practicing, meeting and eating with his new team. Such is the preseason life of the more than 100-member squad.

“It’s what we signed up for,” Mellor said.

Those first few weeks are very isolated, with little interaction between teams or with other students. The freshman dorms are nearly empty when fall athletes move in, sailing skipper Emma White ’19 said.

“At first it’s kind of lonely because there are only two or three other people that I saw in my dorm,” White said.

With life centered around athletics, the first-years have only their veteran teammates to show them the ropes. Some teams delegate specific team members to be freshman advisors, but all upperclassmen are enlisted in support.

They help with the obvious — giving directions, class advice, motivational and emotional support on the field and getting their new teammates up to speed on the team’s inner workings. They also help them improve their skills, and many teams, including sailing, put a big emphasis on the freshman.

“I’ve already improved so much and learned a lot,” White said.

Field hockey midfielder and forward Evie Bird ’19 said that the bonding with her team during preseason has also been very important.

Mellor also said that building relationships with his teammates has been a significant component of the past few weeks. While he admitted that many of his teammates have felt homesick since arriving on campus, he said the development of strong bonds with upperclassmen, as well as his classmates on the team, have helped.

Football head coach Buddy Teevens sent the freshmen on a first-year-only hike one evening and asked them to recount to each other why they had chosen Dartmouth.

“From everyone’s response, I could relate to each one of their reasons,” Mellor said. “We’re all similar in so many ways, and it’s so fun to be here with all of them and get to know all of their likes and dislikes.”

College athletics are unquestionably more challenging that high school sports. To some this is daunting. Others, like White, expressed only excitement for the higher expectations their older teammates set.

“I was so impressed my first day of practice. The athletes are so motivated and disciplined,” White said. “Everyone on the team has the same attitude about the desire to get better, so I was excited to jump right in and get started.”

Now, several fall teams have already started their seasons. They have also started meeting athletes on other teams.

“We actually had a tie-dye night with women’s soccer, so we got to know not only the freshman on women’s soccer but also the upperclassmen,” Bird said.

And now that other first-years are arriving on campus and “pre-o,” has begun, some coaches have encouraged their student-athletes to begin making other friends, requiring attendance at events like bingo night.

According to Bird, the fall athletes are even serving as resources for the other freshman who yet to learn their way around.

Many athletes feel lucky to have gotten their bearings — and plenty of training — before they add classes to the mix, though they all expressed readiness for that step.

“Preseason has been really nice, because all my energy and time has been directed towards sailing, which is every student-athletes dream,” White said. “Adding classes will definitely be more to juggle, but I’m excited for it.”