October 17, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 27  

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Hard knocks: the transition to university

By David Lee
Gazette Staff

What do Charlie Sheen and Rob Lowe have in common? Besides their troubles with the law, it’s that they’ve both played rookies at one time during their unremarkable careers.

While playing a fresh-faced athlete on the silver screen can be a challenge (especially with the legal wrangling), being a first-year player on a varsity team is no easy task either. Besides dealing with the pressures facing every first-year student, athletes have to cope with practice times, frequent competitions and the pressure of having to perform.

Jenna Byrne, a first-year player on the women’s soccer team, knows what that pressure is all about. “Academically, it’s made me focus on the time that I have. Every spare minute you have, you need to work; you can’t screw around. You have to take it seriously,” she says.

As for on-field performance, most first-year players expect to have a minor role, hoping hard work and practice will mean a higher standing in future years. Mustangs’ cross country coach Bob Vigars has a fairly traditional outlook on the role of new members on his squad: “We hope that they’ll take a humble yet contributing role,” he says. “Veterans ahead of them have paid their dues, but you hope a rookie believes he or she can make a contribution no matter what it is.”

When Byrne lists what she hopes to contribute during her first year, she is up front: “I expected to be a supportive player for the team,” she says. “I was pleased to make the team and to know that I’m helping the team play well. It makes me really happy — it’s a bonus.”

While most first-year players expect the same, some (including Byrne, who scored a hat-trick in her first game) manage to have breakthrough years. First-year running back Randy McAuley is one of those players. Recruited heavily by various American schools, McAuley chose to stay in his hometown and play for the Mustangs. Rushing for 285 yards on only 18 carries last Saturday against York, McAuley came 32 yards short of breaking Western’s single-game rushing record set by Greg Marshall in 1981. The youngest member of local singing ensemble The McAuley Boys also scored twice and had a long of 90 yards during the contest.

Coming into his first year, McAuley was realistic about his goals. “I don’t think I ever expected to make a large impact on the team this year, but having the opportunity to contribute is one that I welcome,” he says. “It wasn’t really expected, but... I will take it and give it 100 per cent.”

As Vigars notes, “If you’re a great athlete, you’re going to excel whether or not you’re a rookie or a veteran.”

When it comes to adjusting to university life, Vigars believes coaches play a comparatively small role. “I think teammates — in particular the veterans — are more adept in helping the rookies in that transition,” Vigars says.

Byrne similarly points to the veterans on her team as invaluable: “All of the veterans have had a major role in every rookie’s transition to university life — they’re very supportive.”

Instead, Vigars hopes he can help first-year athletes on his team keep perspective on university and life. “I tell them, ‘You’re not making millions of dollars if you do well, but you’re not going to be tossed out of school if you lose, either.’”

For most rookies, the first year of athletic experience is simply one more adjustment to make. If they can strike a balance between academics, athletics and their social life, it’s likely rookies will remain on their team for the long haul. As Vigars states, “I make sure the athletes know, ‘I want you here for four years, not just for one.’”

—with files from Alison Stolz



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