Freshmen on Varsity: Underclass, Above Expectations



Freshman Owen MacKenzie runs for the varsity boys cross country team. While being a freshman on a varsity team can be challenging, it provides a great experience for top young athletes. Photo by Josh Kirshenbaum.

Though the higher level of competition of varsity athletics results in a majority of upperclassmen in the programs, younger athletes have occasionally found that varsity is their most comfortable level. While they train alongside seniors and juniors, their experiences with the team and overall atmosphere can be a little different.

Sophomore tennis player Aline Wu first made the varsity teamlast year as a freshman. Oftentimes the freshmen who make it on varsity set high expectations for themselves.

“You feel pressure when you’re trying to prove yourself,” Aline said. “Prove to others that you are as good as them and that you do deserve to be here.”

At the same time, being on the lower end of the age range results in less pressure because older teammates are expected to perform at higher levels.
Freshman soccer player Sanjana Mishra feels the same way.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself so I can prove to myself that… I belong here, but there’s no external pressure telling me that I have to prove myself to everyone,” Sanjana said.

In a similar manner, freshman Owen MacKenzie, who ran varsity during the cross country season, took comfort in competing against the best. His natural apprehension faded as he started to run.

“At the beginning of the race when we lined up on the starting line, it was intimidating seeing all the big men who would be racing against me,” Owen said. “However, once I was in the race it was the same as any other. Varsity is a little more competitive so the only pressure I felt was to not let my team down.”

Talented underclassmen who compete on frosh-soph or JV may be expected to rank highly in that level of competition. In contrast, playing at the varsity level can provide a feeling of reassurance because athletes can perform well without worrying about placing in the top.

“I felt like I had less pressure than running against my age group because I could always make the excuse that everyone else is older and way bigger than me,” Owen said.

However, underclassmen may face certain disadvantages on varsity, such as less playing time or lack of experience.

“I think I would get more playing time if I was on JV because here you have upperclassmen who are better than you, faster than you. Whereas on JV everyone’s equal competition with each other,” Sanjana said.

Fortunately, underclassmen often gain a lot of experience throughout the varsity season and grow accustomed to the competition. The following year, they will likely benefit from what they have learned.

“Racing on varsity was a great experience for me because I got the opportunity to run in invitational meets and familiarize myself with the varsity courses,” Owen said.

In terms of underclassmen being accepted into varsity, the school’s sports teams appear to be very welcoming.

“The upperclassmen were really nice,” Sanjana said. “They didn’t judge me for being a freshman at all, so that was nice. In general, I just felt very connected with the team despite being one of the few freshman on varsity.”

Owen had a similar experience on cross country.

“I am so thankful for my upperclassmen… for being such good role models and for teaching me so many things,” Owen said. “They supported me and gave me fatherly advice.”

Underclassmen honored with a position on varsity may place more pressure on themselves, but their teammates are always there to look out for them.
“The upperclassmen are amazing,” Sanjana said. “We’re all incredibly close friends… We’re basically a family.”