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Freshmen face big challenges for varsity sports
Freshmen face big challenges for varsity sports
By TONY LANGE
With 14-year-olds competing against 18-year-olds, age restrictions don't seem to be written in the high school rule books. Maturity, however, isn't the only factor freshman athletes are up against when they try out for varsity sports.
The impact freshmen have at the varsity level is dependent by sport and school, former Chagrin Falls Athletic Director Lenny May said. The more physical a sport is, like football, it's less likely for a freshman to have an effect on the game, he said, compared to sports such as track and field or soccer where speed and agility are more important than size.
"When putting two people of different sizes, you want to move slowly in football, because it is a contact sport. The other sports, they involve more finesse," May said.
"At Solon, I would imagine you're going to have less freshmen impacting the varsity sports than you do at a Chagrin or a Hawken, because numbers are a key factor in sports."
Solon High School, with over 1,850 students, seldom have freshmen made the varsity football roster.
With Solon's level of competition in Ohio's largest division, it's extremely rare for a freshman to be playing other than on the freshman team, varsity football coach Jim McQuaide, said. His goal is to keep the freshmen together and let them move up as a class, he said.
"You've got to be really careful in moving guys up. It's an experience issue. It's a size issue. It's an age issue," McQuaide said. "Going right from eighth-grade football to varsity football, you know skipping that freshman, JV, I mean, that's a lot to ask of a guy."
Although those types of players are few and far between, every so often McQuaide will spot that diamond in the rough.
During the 2008 football season, one guy who was fit for the challenge was Nathan Hoff. At 6-foot, 250-plus pounds during his freshman year, size wasn't so much a concern. The 14-year-old lacked experience. He was used to playing middle-school ball with his buddies and bulldozing his smaller opponents. Those days were over.
"I love going against bigger guys to see if I can do it or not. I always like going hard," said Hoff, who first experienced varsity play as a defensive lineman his freshman season against state powerhouse Mentor. "I remember when they called me out. I've never been so nervous in my entire life. After my first play, I never felt like that ever again."
Hoff became a starter that season and lettered. After that, he rolled around on the mats with the varsity wrestling team and lettered as a heavyweight. In the spring, he decided to try a new sport -- one he never played before. He threw the discus and shot put for the track and field team. He lettered in that too.
He said his main motivation comes from football though.
His goal is to be the best football player in Solon history, he said. "I want to be the strongest guy, the fastest, and I want to be remembered. I just want to do a lot of stuff," he said. "Yes, that's just what I want to be. The best," he said and then paused. "Ever."
All sports have their own demands, said Jim Doyle, the athletic director at Hawken School. With 430 high-school students and 22 varsity sports, freshmen certainly have the opportunity to make an impact at that level, he said. The Lady Hawks lacrosse team, for example, started four freshmen in its regional championship game.
Another freshman standout last year was Sarah Koucheki, who won the only individual gold medal for the Lady Hawks at the state swim meet. In winning in the 100-yard butterfly, her time of 56.41 was less than a second from besting the Division II state record.
"I think each sport is unique in its own way, and to say that swimming is less difficult than football, it's just not a fair assessment," Doyle said. "I don't like to make those comparisons that one sport is more difficult than the other."
It may be more or less common for freshmen to letter in certain sports, but a lot depends on each individual athletes.
In swimming, it's more frequent for females to contribute at the higher-level meets than males because they are usually a little more matured at age 14, Tod Boyle, Orange High School's head swim coach, said. He also said it's easier to notice freshman athletes who compete in individual sports.
"You start and stop the watch," Boyle said. "With a freshman, I can tell right away by looking at his time whether he's going to contribute at the varsity level. I think it's a little tough to do that with team sports."
The Kenston volleyball program is a prime example of one of those team sports. Not only do freshman athletes have to adapt to a faster game and work into a new team concept, but they also have to adjust to a net that is set more than 4 inches higher than in middle school.
Dan Coughlin, Kenston's head varsity volleyball coach, said he would only bump a freshman up to the varsity squad if she were good enough to be a starter. He would not move up a freshman to sit on the bench or to be with the practice squad, he said.
"Unless a freshman can come and be an impact player, you don't want to do that," Coughlin said. "You'd rather put them down at JV level and let them swing and swing and swing and swing and get used of the higher net and get used to the speed of the game."
He also questioned the disruption of a program that continues to be a success year after year.
"Kenston, we average 20 wins a season," said Coughlin, whose squad has won more than 50 conference games in a row. "We never put a freshman up there, so why would we start now? We seem to get it done without it."
Coughlin said Kenston will have a 5-foot-11 freshman this fall and that there's a first for everything. He would not mention her name -- yet.
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