If you think many of Fairmont High School’s varsity athletes look younger than usual, you’re eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. This year, freshman athletes are proving they’re varsity material in everything from basketball and wrestling to swimming and diving.
For most students, their freshman year is all about finding a place to fit it at a large school and adjusting to high school classes. But the ninth-graders who make it onto a varsity team must also face long hours for practice and games, keep their grades up, work with older teammates and deal with the pressure that a varsity contest brings.
By all appearances, these freshmen athletes are getting the job done on all fronts.
The Varsity Girls’ Basketball team is doing very well this year, and five of their players are only freshmen. Danielle Newell, Sarah O’Malley, Emily Pacenta, Makayla Waterman and Kathryn Westbeld join their veteran teammates for 2½-hour practices five to six times a week, plus two games per week most weeks.
That’s a rigorous schedule for anyone, and Westbeld admits the pressure can be immense. “I do feel overwhelmed sometimes with pressure on game days or even at school because I’m a freshman,” she said.
Varsity Girls’ Basketball Coach Tim Cogan says he’s aware of the stresses the ninth-graders face. “I think the freshman girls are skilled athletically, but it is a difficult situation playing against older kids,” he said. “The girls put in a lot of time behind the scenes; the season is going very well. We are 13-1 right now and pretty fortunate for that.”
The girls say that being part of a varsity team is fun and they’re developing great bonds with other players, but it definitely is different to be on a varsity team as a freshman. “It’s really exciting being a freshman on varsity, and all the girls are extremely supportive,” said Waterman.
Freshmen who make the varsity squad can sometimes sense animosity from upperclassmen, but the basketball girls have been there for their younger teammates. “I think all the girls as a group are doing a very good job together,” said Cogan. “They all get along great.”
Freshman wrestlers, swimmers and divers are also doing well this year on varsity.
The Varsity Wrestling team includes freshmen Cody Ball, Colin Delvalle, Vinny Long and Josh Parrett. The wrestling team placed third at the Firebird Classic, and Parrett placed second in his weight class in the GWOC Tournament.
Several freshmen also are getting their feet wet in Varsity Swimming and Diving this year. They include Andrew Arais, Kristian Berning, Summer Courville, Rachel Decker, Veronica Denker, Bailey Kunst, Mary Shampton and Nick Thomas.
“I do feel the pressure building at times with school, practices and games, but I just learn to deal and adjust to it,” said Kunst.
That’s the kind of response a coach wants to hear – that an athlete who faces a difficult situation continues to work toward a goal and makes adjustments as needed along the way. It also helps when athletes have a passion for what they’re doing.
“I give it my all every day with school and athletics, and it does get overwhelming sometimes,” said Parrett. “But I love what I do.”