Coming into college, there’s no avoiding the big changes that every student has to face. The usual stuff, like living in a dorm, eating in a dining hall, and managing the difficulty of college academics, are all common challenges for freshmen.
For some, however, there are the added responsibilities of being a varsity athlete, making the transition to college an even bigger task. And while playing a sport for your school certainly brings with it some moments of adversity, it doesn’t take long for even the newest competitors to realize the rewarding experience it can be.
This year, three freshmen joined the men’s varsity tennis team, all coming from different backgrounds and each bringing a unique skill set and personality to the squad. This is their perspective on life as a freshman on the tennis team.
“I was very excited about college tennis and participating on the varsity team,” said Masaru Fujimaki, a Japan native who grew up in Shanghai. “I heard a lot about the experiences that I can have from playing a college sport, such as excellent facilities, experienced coaches and trainers, and competitive players from all around the nation.”
Fujimaki’s excitement coming in was shared by Iowa native Alexander Punj, who said, “I was fairly excited to start a new chapter of my life—meeting new friends, learning to be a part of a competitive team and adjusting to a rigorous academic environment. I was certainly excited to play with new people, especially against other schools.”
Practicing or competing every day was an appealing prospect for the freshmen coming in, but it wasn’t without some trepidation. “I was nervous about balancing everything,” said Kevin Hunt, a big server from Chicago. “But I had also been balancing tennis and school throughout high school, so I knew I could handle it.”
All three readily admitted that balancing tennis with the rest of their lives—academics, friends, sleep—was not easy, but that they were getting the hang of it.
“College classes provide much more work than my high school ever did,” Punj explained. “Trying to balance the work and tennis was a challenge for the first month, but now that I understand the expectations, I am able to figure out how much time I have to spend for each class. Doing homework early has helped me significantly, allowing me to enjoy my weekends and get ahead in readings.”
Hunt has also tried to balance his many challenges.
“It has been a struggle at times, but for the most part it has been OK,” he said. “There is not a ton of down time or time to relax, but there is enough to get everything done and still have some fun if you manage your time well.”
Fujimaki, who rose to the top of the ‘Jackets singles lineup after only a few weeks with the team, has also found that time to relax can be hard to come by.
“Taking care of myself is very hard, because the time between classes and practices is pretty tight, and it is very important to have a lot of rest during the free time,” he said. “And injuries are common for athletes, so taking care of myself is very important for me now.”
Despite the challenges they’ve faced and will continue to deal with, all three have clear goals for themselves and the team this season.
“My goal is to improve my fitness,” Punj said. “I was fairly good at fitness in high school, but these college workouts have been much more rigorous and I need to spend my own time working on running and lifting.”
For Fujimaki, his sights are set high for himself.
“I want to contribute as many wins as possible for the team.” he said, adding, “Good grades are still the most important thing for me as a student.”
Hunt, while just as driven and as hard a worker as his classmates, didn’t want to set the bar too high. His goals?
“To not fail out of school, and have fun.”
Perhaps not as impactful to hear, but important and valuable goals nonetheless.
Now that the freshmen have gotten into the groove of being varsity athletes, they’ve certainly developed a better understanding of what it takes to excel, and what they must overcome to do so. But the three have also learned the tremendous value being on the team can have.
“Sometimes, if I get stressed with classes or exams, tennis is the way to relax,” Fujimaki said.
Hunt agreed, saying, “It is a good way to take your mind off of school and other stresses.”
Maybe one of the biggest advantages of being an athlete is the built-in support group that adopts you as soon as you step on campus, something Punj has not failed to appreciate.
“My favorite part of being a college athlete is the team aspect, being connected to a group of people that are working towards one goal—to improve and win,” he said. “I have 11 other players working hard with me to get better. I love this team, and couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Ben Shapiro is a member of the University of Rochester men’s tennis team and one of 10 student-athletes named a Garnish Scholar, an award that honors exceptional academic and athletic performance.