What It Feels Like to Be a Freshman on Varsity

As told by Jillian Everett.

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Photo by Kyle Heywood

Shannon Zogran, Tom Tom Staff

I always heard of the freshmen athletes that make varsity in their sports. I dreamt of being that stud. Not just making the basketball team, but playing above my junior and senior teammates–being the leading scorer. The dream seemed attainable when it came to softball considering I’ve played it since I was nine. Softball was second nature. Basketball, though, was a different story.

I played throughout all of middle school and was a starter; I was tall and strong which made me the perfect post player. Yet, even though I was a big part of my basketball team, softball was and always will be my number one sport. I decided against playing Junior Sequoits basketball with my fellow teammates and instead played travel softball during my sixth, seventh and eighth grade years. This set me up for great success in softball and a mediocre basketball career.

At the end of October I went into the basketball season knowing exactly where I’d be: on the freshman team with all of my friends. In my comfort zone as a starting post player. Dominating the conference just like we did in middle school. I didn’t imagine not playing with my middle school teammates, not seeing them at practice every day or not celebrating our wins together, forgetting about losses. I did dream of being that freshman on varsity, but I assumed my time would not come until the spring. It wasn’t until I was lightly pushed, then pulled out of my comfort zone that I realized maybe neither would happen: never to be the stud on varsity or a part of the freshman dream team.

During the first day of basketball tryouts, all three levels—freshman, junior varsity and varsity—practiced in the same gym. We all shot around for the first ten minutes or so. All the freshmen, including myself, were crowded at one basket shooting. There were so many of us, but I was having fun running around and shooting while talking to my friends. Everything was so relaxed. Our coaches called us over, separating the levels into two groups to do full court drills. Varsity and not varsity, them and us. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Then we were about to start scrimmaging. But before it all started and teams were made, I was called off the court over to the sideline where the varsity coaches were. Where my coach was. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know he would be my coach.

Luckily, I wasn’t alone. My friend was called over as well and we were both told that we would be scrimmaging with the varsity players rather than the other freshmen.

OK. I can do this, I have my friend with me, this will be fine.

I saw some familiar faces on the team, but there was no one I was really friends with. Just some girls I remember playing with one game over the summer.

Finally we began scrimmaging. I was nervous and knew I had to try especially hard being a freshman playing with experienced upperclassmen and that was fine. It was a lot of running. Back and forth, back and forth.

I survived. Everything went well. I got it over with.

I didn’t know my time with the varsity team and coach was no where near over. It was just beginning.

“Hey Jill!”

Oh, what did I do wrong?

I walk over to the varsity coach, Coach Borries.

“I want you to come back from 5:00 to 8:30 for our tryout again.”

Our as in varsity.

“Don’t be late.”

At this point I’m just so frazzled I nervously add, “I’ll be there 30 minutes early!”

“Oh, no…no. Just try to be there about 15 minutes early,” he says, laughing at how frazzled I am.

So I’m there. Fifteen minutes early. The only freshman in a gym full of varsity veterans. Everyone else is socializing in small groups, laughing at some jokes and talking about their day. I tie my shoes in the corner because I don’t want to intrude on anyone’s business. Then one of the upperclassmen call me over.

“Jill, stop being so awkward. Come join us.”

Slightly before the conclusion of the second practice, Coach Borries pulls me aside.

“Jill, we want you on varsity but it is your decision. You can either play on varsity or play on the freshman team.”

This decision surprisingly comes difficult to me. Do I play with my friends, on the dream team, or do I play on varsity, working twice as hard as anyone else? Luckily, Coach Borries pulls me aside just ten minutes later, making the decision for me.

“I actually decided you don’t have a choice, you’ll be on varsity. You’ll learn more during one week of varsity practice than in one season of freshman basketball.”

Well, I guess I’m here to stay. This could be cool, or it could be a disaster. I’ll have to take it day by day.

And that’s exactly what I do, take it day by day.

Again, I come to varsity’s practice the next day. Again, 15 minutes early. I tie my shoes in the corner. I mind my own business. I laugh when they laugh. I try extra hard when shooting. I try extra hard when dribbling. I try extra hard when scrimmaging. All of this, just to get by, just to fit in.

This practice ritual continues for days. Try hard. Fit in. Try hard. Fit in.  The drills come more easily as does the scrimmaging. No more learning, just doing.

In two weeks time, I begin to form relationships with my coaches and teammates. This helped me adjust. After the first week, I find myself getting to practice 15 minutes early, tying my shoes with my teammates, telling my own stories, laughing as I choose. On the court, I feel myself calm down. I keep trying hard, I keep pushing myself knowing that freshmen on varsity always have higher expectations, but I’m less frazzled.

I continue taking everything day by day, but I now never dread arriving at practice. I’m now always excited to see my teammates. It’s no longer the “varsity and not varsity, them and us” mentality I had being a freshman going into the basketball season. It’s now us, it’s now team, it’s now together.

I think of myself in amazement, wondering how I did not just survive my first two weeks on varsity, but my time with my new team was shaping out to be time well spent. Everything is going much better than expected. We win our first game by a lot. We win together.

I get playing time, even playing above some of  the upperclassmen. I am by no means a stud, but I am by no means a freshman basketball player. I am by no means a starter, but I am by no means the weakest link. I am experienced, I am confident,  I am comfortable. I have not only a team but a second family.

The start of this season was rough when I found out I would be playing with varsity alone. It became increasingly difficult once I knew I was here to stay. I had high expectations as a freshman on varsity and I still do. I try harder and harder everyday to not just keep up but also be a leader. Although I’m not there yet, I still have three more years ahead of me. My time with the varsity team and coach are no where near over. It’s just beginning.