While the Saint Leo University class of 2017 is preparing to graduate on the 29th of Apr., some students will have to say goodbye to more than their fellow students and friends. The student-athletes, who have dedicated thousands of hours to their teams, will have to say goodbye to the coaches and teammates, and will have move on to the next level of their lives.
“After four years you established a relationship with these athletes, so it is challenging to see their leadership and the culture that they have created go. However, it is beneficial to see them grow as a person and an athlete over the four years makes it good to see them graduate,” said Cross Country and Track head coach Kent Reiber, who has been awarded Sunshine State Conference and South Regional coach of the year multiple times.
The National College Athletic Association (NCAA) only grants athletes four years of eligibility in one sport, with the four years having to be within a five-year time period. In addition to that, there are strict rules that might reduce one’s four years of eligibility to compete in collegiate athletics. This means that most athletes who did not transfer to Saint Leo have spent four years contributing and giving their best to the athletic program. They have pushed since freshman year, looked up to older athletes, and have grown up to being a senior and mentoring the younger teammates. Not being able to be part of a collegiate athletic team will be an unused feeling.
“I will definitely continue running after I graduate, perhaps do a few 5k fun runs because I could never fully give up my passion for running, it will always be in my blood. I will miss the teammates who turned into friends who made this team worth staying on for my four years, they made me feel at home and motivated me every day to never give anything less than my best,” said Natalie McCormick, who will graduate with an English degree and was part of the Cross Country and Track team.
While some people will continue with their sport on a competitive level or just occasionally, others will not be able to do so. Besides having a job and a family, which are very time consuming, many athletes are also tired of the sport that in many cases they have played for many years.
“The thing I will miss most about being a student athlete will be going from playing the sport I love everyday with all my close friends and just having those times for a mental break from everything else going on in the world and just focus on the game I love. Sadly, I will not be continuing on playing lacrosse but would love to share my passion with the youth and possibly someday coach at any level. Being a student athlete taught me a lot. Overall, it [taught] me great time management skills, how to be competitive in a good way, be able to work well with others and be very flexible,” said Jody Madsen, who is a senior with a major in marketing that played Lacrosse for all four years.
That new life will come with ups and downs. On the one hand, there are no obligations to train at 6:00 a.m. or have the pressure to perform well on the field. On the other hand, however, student-athletes will not have a major athletic goal anymore and have a team to work towards achieving something big.
“It was an adjustment at first because training with a team is what I had done my whole life but I like training by myself because there’s more freedom and I am able to do whatever workout I want each day. However, I think that the thing that I will miss the most in the end is not having a team anymore or something to truly work towards athletically. In the future I will probably start to get back into swimming again but I plan on taking a break from it for a while. If I get back into it, it would be on my own so not competitively,” said Allyssa Black, who will graduate with a degree in Marketing and finished her collegiate swimming career in Feb. after the SSC Conference Championship.
“No longer being a student athlete I will miss the long bus rides, the hotels, the intense games, the music before games, and especially all of my teammates. Being done after fall of 2016, it was a weird feeling not going to practice or games anymore. I kept hanging out with a lot of my teammates, but it was a different atmosphere. I will always cherish these memories and friends I have made and was very lucky to experience this. Being a student-athlete has taught me many valuable life lessons,” said Mathias Katerna, who played four years on the soccer team and will graduate with a degree in sports business. “For example, being a student-athlete helped me manage my time. I went to practice and games almost every day while preparing for exams. I had to manage my time to meet all the required deadlines for homework, papers, and tests. Having experienced these stressful situations, helped me learn to be disciplined and pushed me to become the best version of myself.”
The athletes aren’t the only ones struggling with the end of the collegiate athletics career but also the coaches, who works year-round trying to recruit athletes to join the team. The coaches have a difficult time finding replacements for the leaving seniors. Especially, the successful high school athletes have many scholarship offers and to get them to commit to a program takes a lot of effort.
“Trying to find athletes that fit into the culture is always challenging. We have created a championship culture, we are not quite where we want to be yet, but we are on the right way. So trying to find athletes that replace the same mentality that we are losing and replace the same type of leadership to keep us going in the right direction. Integrating new athletes into the team takes a lot of team building and we rely on the upper classmen to start to mentor them a little bit to take over the ranks from the people that are leaving. We try to bring them into the same mindset that we want to keep winning conference championships, trying to win regional championships, and move up the ladder on the national level,” said Coach Reiber.
At the end of the day, most athletes look back positive on their time as a student-athlete. The discipline and time management that one has to learn to master keep the balance between practices, classes, and homework. Most student-athletes will have lifelong memories and get other opportunities to have an impact in the world after their athletic career.
“The last three years of college showed me how much I can accomplish. Coming to a foreign country, graduating with a high GPA, and competing on the soccer team made me a better person. Following graduation, I will have to take a break with soccer due to my internship with Adidas in Hong Kong. I will be working 40 hours a week and will not have enough time to play soccer for a club. After my internship, I plan on returning back to my hometown in Germany and to complete my Master’s degree in Sport Management. During this time, I plan on returning back to soccer and will hopefully compete at a semi-profession level as I did before I came to Saint Leo,” said Katerna.