First-Year Spring Athletes Ready to Take the Field

Practice doesn’t quite cut it anymore for College first-year Alaina Di Dio, one of the pitchers on the softball team. Di Dio is hungry for some strikeouts. She is ready to compete. 

“You can throw pitches in practice for hours, but when you finally get a batter in there, it’s just you against them,” she said. “Every single batter, every single pitch is a new competition.”

Di Dio is one of many Oberlin first-year spring athletes finally getting to put their hard work to the test after being deprived of competition for so long. After her junior season ended in a devastating district finals loss, Di Dio planned to redeem herself and her team during her senior season. However, she never got this chance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It was pretty heartbreaking, but it is what it is,” Di Dio said.

Many high school seniors responded by reimagining their college decisions. College first-year and lacrosse player Nolan Savage originally chose Oberlin because of a desire to study creative writing. Lacrosse wasn’t part of his college plans. After his high school senior season was canceled, however, Savage reached out to the Oberlin program. The pandemic had left him with unfinished business on the field.

“If I had played my senior season, there’s no guarantee I’d be playing in college right now,” he said. “It felt like I was losing something, and I didn’t want to let go quite yet.”

Meanwhile, Savage kept up his competitive spirit in quarantine by playing video games against his friends.

“It really gets your adrenaline going, even though it’s through a screen,” he said. “That feeling is still there. It’s obviously not physical competition, but that mental aspect is a huge part of what I was missing.”

College first-year and men’s tennis player Rohan Gold recalls feeling grateful at first for the break COVID-19 gave him from his busy tournament schedule, but he quickly grew tired of resting. Like Savage, he needed to compete. So Gold went straight to the gym and competed against himself, pushing his body through weight and fitness training.

“That kind of personal growth has been my main form of healthy competition that I’ve used to cope with the lack of tennis,” he said.

Throughout the nearly year-long break, fall and winter student-athletes began to accept the reality of practice routines without gamedays. With the disappointing news in mid-January that there would be no spring sport competitions, spring athletes at Oberlin likewise settled similarly into seemingly endless practice routines, longing for the day when they could compete again.

“For the past few months our coaches have been trying to encourage us to keep up the intensity, but they also knew it was hard because we didn’t have an end goal,” Di Dio said. “Now knowing that we’re playing, there’s been a complete mentality shift with the whole team. We’re so eager to compete.”

The sudden switch from training to game mindset can be especially jarring for first-years. Gold is the only first-year on the men’s tennis team, and he felt that pressure before his first collegiate competition. With that now under his belt, Gold is confident about the next three matches.

“It was my first taste of college tennis, and the team atmosphere was incredible,” Gold said. “Everyone was yelling and cheering and supporting each other. It was very euphoric.”

As the men’s lacrosse team prepared for this past Wednesday’s season debut against Lourdes University, Savage felt cautiously optimistic about the game truly taking place, remembering the fickle nature of the pandemic and its impact on athletics.

“It’s not that we’re expecting disappointment,” Savage said. “Maybe it’s kind of a defense mechanism. I don’t know.”

With the reentry into competition comes new risk of infection, but there is hope there too thanks to the increased availability of vaccines for Oberlin students. Even with all of the challenges of competing during a pandemic, first-year athletes have already proven themselves unstoppable and are ready to get out on the field for the first time in their college careers.