Getting to know Tufts athletes: First-year students acclimating to student-athlete experience

Community members exercise on the track on Oct. 14. Aidan Chang / The Tufts Daily

Among the members of the Tufts Class of 2024 that arrived on campus this fall are dozens of student-athletes. The newest members of the Jumbos athletic community certainly transitioned to college life during unusual times, and being an athlete has certainly affected this transition as well.

“My transition to Tufts has been aided tremendously by being an athlete,” Wanci Nana, a first-year center midfielder on the men’s soccer team, said. “The athlete community within Tufts is very close-knit which allowed me to form various friendships prior to, and once I moved onto campus.”

These friendships among teammates are enhanced this year, as most first-year athletes were placed in the same residential cohorts as their teammates in order to limit their exposure to those not on the team.

“Living with our teammates has given us a better and easier chance to get to know one another,” Ashley Zolin, a first-year midfielder on the field hockey team, said. “Given the social distancing circumstances, I think if we were in different dorms, then it would be much harder to spend time with one another.”

Athletes being in the same residential cohorts as their team members was certainly a silver lining to the way the pandemic impacted the fall. First-year track and field athlete Brian Kwarteng expressed that he liked being in the same cohort as his team.

“I like rooming in the same cohort as my team because I am surrounded by individuals who follow the same sort of schedule,” Kwarteng said. “We all try to push each other whether it is academically or athletically.” 

With regard to playing this fall, athletic teams have been able to have small team training sessions as well as lifts. To adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, these small team training sessions are divided into athletic cohorts so that players on large teams are not all coming into contact with one another. These cohorts are divided by position. Furthermore, team training is different from years past in that it consists of noncontact drills. This took form differently for each sport.

Nana shared his experience with regard to the small team training for men’s soccer.

“Our small sessions are a bit more technique, fundamentals and fitness based,” Nana said. “We go through various passing patterns, movements with the ball and defensive simulations to try and mimic the real game as much as possible while still remaining in compliance with the COVID regulations.”

This experience contrasts with the noncontact sports that do not need to worry about athletes coming into direct contact while training. Track athletes have a fairly similar physical training regime as they did before the pandemic, despite the stricter regulations.

Across all sports teams, players wear masks during practice and lifts. Lifts also look different this year, as athletes each have an individual weight rack where they remain for their 30-minute lift session. The weight racks are separated with curtains and are sanitized in between each lift session. These lift sessions and small team trainings have allowed athletes to train, despite not having regular season competition.

Even though teams do not have a regular practice schedule or season, they still dedicate a good amount of their time to their crafts, whether it be in lift sessions, small team training or working individually. Combining these athletic responsibilities with coursework can certainly be challenging, especially for first-years who are adjusting to life as college athletes.

“I would say my schedule is busy. However, it has given me a lot of structure,” Zolin said. “I always say I do best in season because it’s easiest to map out my time for schoolwork given a consistent schedule.”

The student-athlete camaraderie at Tufts is certainly very special and has helped aid first-years in their adjustment to life as college athletes. Athletes also have a support network that includes teammates and coaches who can help aid in the transition to college. Coaches and older teammates are aware of the difficulty of acclimating to college under regular circumstances, but the current circumstances are a new territory to navigate as the semester picks up and training continues.

“It has also helped me adjust to college because it has provided me with a network of people that I can collaborate and learn with,” Nana said.

Coaches and the athletics department have been instrumental this fall, putting in a lot of time and effort to ensure that teams are training both safely and effectively. They have been key in ensuring that athletes not only arrived prepared, but that they use the fall to improve, despite circumstances not being ideal.

“Our coaching staff and athletic department has done an amazing job adjusting to the times and capitalizing on the opportunity to continue getting better,” Nana said.

Many athletes, especially first-years, took advantage of the summer to prepare for the fall.

“The coaching staff has made sure all of us were well prepared by giving us a great workout packet and slowing building up the intensity of each practice,” Zolin said. 

First-year student-athletes have just begun a journey at Tufts. Having a future to look forward to, first-years set personal goals, as well as goals for their program. Athletes are looking forward to the full return to sports for the chance to compete at the college level and heightened competition.

“I am looking forward to winning national championships, forming lifelong relationships and having an immense impact within the Jumbo community … along with strengthening the culture within our community, doing things that have never been done before and by simply spreading love,” Nana said.

Zolin shared a similar goal of winning a national championship, and she hopes for a chance to compete soon.

“I am looking forward to growing as an athlete, student and person,” Zolin said. “I would love to be a part of a NESCAC and national championship team. I truly think our whole team has the talent and dedication to be the best of the best.”

Kwarteng also shared high aspirations for his time at Tufts.

“My personal goals are to break a couple of the records at this school,” Kwarteng said. “I want our 4-x-4 to make a name for Tufts. I think me being an addition to the roster can promote a big change for the Tufts quarter-mile racing.”

In all, these three student-athletes, as well as the rest of the first-year class, certainly have a lot to look forward to during their time at Tufts, as their athletic careers are just getting started.