What's it Like to be an Ivy League Freshman?
Earlier this summer, our fantastic FloSoftball intern--2016 Hot 100 pitcher/outfielder Nicole Mendes who plays for the Diamond Sports Hotshots (Texas) --asked two college standouts, Paiger Parker of Oklahoma and Kelli Martinez of Louisiana-Lafayette, what they thought about the college world and adjusting as freshmen.
Be sure to check out their responses here in Nicole's article: What it's like being a college softball player.
In today's follow-up, Nicole goes to a conference known for its classroom prowess, not just softball play, to see what it takes to make it at this competitive level…
A common misconception about athletes is that they are "dumb jocks". As an athlete myself I object to that stereotype!
If you're a softball player at the college level, you have to be skilled in managing time and perfecting your athletic abilities. That's especially true in the Ivy League players not only escape the jock stereotype, they completely shatter it.
Two good examples are Lourlin "Lo" Lara, a slapper/utility player for Dartmouth, and Taylor Troutt, recipient of All-IvyLeague Honors award at Columbia.
These two freshmen have excellent advice for those transitioning into the college softball scene and give great insight into what it takes to balance academics and sports.
Adjusting to College
Taylor thought the adjustment of going to college was going to be a lot harder than it actually was.
"My softball friends definitely helped a lot, but for the most part I was not homesick just ready to not be taking tests," she told us.
Taylor said the most difficult adjustment was to New York City itself.
"Houston is a pretty big city and diverse but it is nothing like New York. I was really, really overwhelmed at first, but once I adjusted I loved it! You can go to Broadway show, concerts, and possibly intern at big name corporations. I am never bored."
Lourlin agreed saying, "It is only natural to miss home. It is the first time you are really on your own! But if I am honest homesickness did not occur as often or as immensely as people made it out to be. I was kept really busy with my student-athlete schedule and was just enjoying my experience as a college freshman."
The best piece of advice Lo gave was to embrace the change.
"College is going to provide you with so many new experiences both academically and athletically. It may be different than what you are used to but if you put in the hard work it will be well worth it!"
Both players agree that academically there was a difference, especially as students take studying to a completely new level.
"Everyone here is smart… literally everyone," said Taylor.
Used to being on top of their class, it was different the two athletes agreed, to be surrounded by people who are, in some cases, literally geniuses.
Plus, the diversity is rich with students coming from unique different backgrounds, like a girl from Italy or a soldier who served in Afghanistan for four years.
"There are so many worldviews and people from different walks of life," adds Taylor. "Being in class with them was really interesting."
She continues, saying "Creating a good relationship with your professors is really important and makes the biggest impact. It is a challenge not only because class sizes are small, around 18-22 students, and because of the constant traveling with softball, but because sports are not that big at Ivy League schools. You really need to put in the effort and realize your priorities."
Lo agrees that making the effort to connect with your professors is something that should not be overlooked.
"Personally, my professors were super understanding and I did not have any problems," she states, "however, I still had to do my part. There's an understanding that missing class does have effects, but also that our sport is important to us and we will make up what we miss."
Building relationships with your professors early on and letting them know right away when you will be absent from classes really does benefit you as well as your professor.
Then there is always the big one: how do you balance your school schedule while traveling?
Lourlin says, "Balancing school and traveling was hard at first, no doubt. You kind of have to base your schedule on when you know you will be gone, and then make sure you are staying on top of your work so when you miss class and get back, you do not get too far behind."
For Taylor, her first semester was harder than her second.
"Just because you have more time I think makes it harder. The second semester all I had time for was school, softball, and homework. The season helped with getting my priorities in order."
Asking for help from your professors in regards to what you will be missing and whether or not you can cover the material during office hours is also a good way to handle school and traveling, they add.
Like everyone else, the move from high school to college is something new and playing college softball advances you to a whole new level.
In the Ivy League it is no different, except for the fact that teams start softball a month later than everyone else.
The Ivy League's academic year is different from most as they go by a quarter system, which means the terms are spread out over 10 weeks.
"That was something to adjust to…" Taylor explains, "Especially since we were facing teams who already had a head start on us. But I think if you have the right mindset and come in fearless you will adjust pretty quickly."
On the field, the players soon learned that pitchers were able to control their spins, accuracy, and movement at a higher level.
Lourlin comments, "Pitchers were definitely harder to hit off of, which was expected, but especially when we would play SEC teams at Regionals."
Still, the athletes had their share of success; for example, Lourlin and Dartmouth won the school's conference championship.
"It was a rush!" she laughs. "Getting to win it all in one day with a two-game sweep was unreal. After the third out in the seventh inning, it was like all the hard work my team and I had put in finally paid off. We worked very hard to be able to come out and compete and win a second championship, and we did just that. It was definitely a blessing."
Taylor said if there was one thing that helped her, it was playing a lot before going to college, especially getting in live at-bats.
"You have to be determined to do your summer workouts your coach gives you. Coming in as a freshman, you are already going to be behind. You cannot come onto the team scared. Working hard before you even come to school will help you be prepared and ready for an opportunity when it presents itself."
Taylor finishes on a positive note: "You probably hear this all the time, but time management is super important. You also want to come into college excited rather than fearful. It is one of the best experiences of my life so far."
And then she adds one more recommendation. "Everyone always says, 'Call your mom' but seriously… call your mom!"
Lourlin's advice: "Stay positive! Obviously, you are probably used to being at the top of your class academically. So it may be a little intimidating at first because you are being tossed in with some of the smartest kids in the country, but remember, it will only make you better by being with kids like you, they will challenge and help you grow and provide you with different ways of thinking that you never thought imaginable."
And in regards to athletics she adds, "Love your sport and give it all you have just as you have always done. You may find it different than what you are used to, but understand collegiate athletics is more intense and requires lots of hard work. Embrace the change!"
People always says some of their favorite memories were made during the college years.
Taylor feels her favorite memories were when she joined a student ministry on campus. From there she has built strong relationships with people who are like-minded. And, she stresses, she loves the softball season and would not mind if it never ended.
Some of Lourlin's favorite memories include winning a conference title as a freshman, but also getting to experience other parts of college life, like running around a huge bonfire for homecoming, sledding down a hill at the winter carnival, or even doing smaller things like going down to the river with some friends for a relaxing day.
Both agree that incoming freshmen should make sure they enjoy their time at college and aren't too afraid to try new things.
"You never know," both say, "you may surprise yourself!"