Three years after becoming a member of USA South Athletic Conference and devoting resources to more full-time coaching and staff positions, the Mary Baldwin University athletics program is seeing the results of intense recruiting and regional recognition.
One of those outcomes: some of the youngest teams in recent memory.
Of the 50 athletes on cross country, soccer, and volleyball squads this fall, 17 are freshman, and several upperclasswomen are also making their debut in college competition. Although they come with challenges, young teams give the program an opportunity to build continuity and camaraderie. First-year players also have the advantage of more playing time to sharpen their skills and teamwork.
Soccer captain Jillian Stubbs ’12 quickly recognized this would be a “building season.” With only one senior, the team found ways to adjust to varied playing styles and a new coach. Stubbs also saw a chance to teach younger players about their roles as student athletes and balancing the other demands of campus life.
“[Being a student athlete] allows young players to self-motivate and to take initiative for their team, their teammates, and themselves. It is a beneficial personal growth opportunity,” Stubbs said.
The soccer team welcomed nine freshman, cross country has six first-year runners, and volleyball recruited one new player for the season. Team dynamics encourage young scholar-athletes to get to know their classmates and older students who often become mentors.
“Even though some mornings I have to wake up before five for practice, it’s worth it to be running with the team. Everyone is so dedicated, they’re incredible people and athletes,” said freshman Sophia Stone. “We push each other and find our times are better at meets when we run together and encourage each other.”
Stone’s teammate Manuela Belser is a senior lacing up her sneakers for the first time as a Fighting Squirrel.
“Aside from the obvious benefit of staying in shape, it gives you a chance to become part of a great support system and family,” explains Belser. “Getting up early every morning keeps me organized and helps me be more productive and succeed academically.”
Facility improvements will help the fighting squirrels compete against nationally ranked teams of the conference. This summer, four of seven tennis courts received a face lift and new pavement. New lights in the Physical Activity Center will save energy and improve lighting for volleyball and basketball games.
Receiving the USA South Sportsmanship Award for two consecutive years helped the Mary Baldwin athletic program get noticed in a wider arena, and the qualities that earned the award are particularly valuable for new players.
“More than teaching athletes how to win, we strive to teach them about life, how to make good decisions and do the right things to move toward a winning record,” said Head Volleyball and Tennis Coach Paul Yee after the first sportsmanship trophy was awarded.
Fan support is even more critical as young, less experienced athletes compete for Mary Baldwin. Check out late fall and winter schedules at www.marybaldwin.edu/athletics.
“Being a student-athlete teaches you many lessons that are not covered in the classroom environment,” Yee said.
In addition to many new athletes, the department also greeted two new assistant coaches and ushered two staff members into head coaching positions. Lloyd Gray joins the team as assistant basketball coach and Ralph Kirtland came on board as assistant soccer coach. Homes Tehrani moved to head soccer coach and Paul Yee added head tennis coach responsibilities while continuing to serve as head volleyball coach.