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Profiles of coaches and student athletes

Student-Athlete Profile: Rachel Johnson '14

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why did you choose Carleton?

Unlike most prospective athletes, my first visit to Carleton wasn't great. I got sick and felt pretty miserable but liked the people so much that I decided to visit again. My second overnight was way better - I  went to the Drag Show during accepted student days, met people who are now Geology majors with me, and met teammates who've been my captains and housemates. I looked at and visited a lot of liberal arts schools similar to Carleton, both in and out of the MIAC but didn't get the "feeling" like many people talk about until I stepped on campus as a freshman. Making a decision was tough. For me, it came down to the fact that I felt like I could be challenged as a student, be a collegiate athlete, AND be able to do other things at Carleton. Never once have I regretted coming to Carleton. I couldn't have picked a better school.

What have been some of the differences between college and high school sports?

From a team perspective, at Carleton, I've been surrounded by a group of awesome, supportive, smart, and talented women. We all truly care for and look out for our teammates. We're mature enough to address problems right away to avoid drama. Although we might not all be best friends, we respect and support each other. We've all found other interests outside of volleyball too. We all care about our academics and remember that they come before sports. But, we also know that when we enter the gym, we can leave our school worries at the door. We've all worked hard to get to play in college and we all continue to work hard everyday in practice. We don't get any extra incentive playing Division III sports, so we're all there because we love to compete and we love the game.

From a volleyball perspective, at Carleton, I've been challenged by the speed, intensity, and intelligence of the game more than I was in high school. The MIAC is a competitive conference for volleyball, and every year there are upsets and close five-game matches. Last year, we made it to conference semi-finals and were one of two MIAC teams to take the top seed, St.Thomas, to a five-game match. St. Thomas went on to win the D3 national tournament!

How do you balance academics, sports, and other activities?

During volleyball, I know that I have to be super productive with the time that I have. No time for procrastinating! I actually think some of my best academic terms have been during volleyball season. Practices are in the afternoons, except for one morning practice a week (which lets people take morning labs), so most days I have class before practice. Homework time I'm able to squeeze in before and after classes. The library is close to the gym, so I'm often able to go there between class and practice. On away game days, most of the team can be found doing homework or studying during the bus rides. Chances are, someone else on the team has taken your class, had your prof before, or is a whiz at whatever you're struggling with.

If you tell your professors up front that you're an athlete and let them know in advance if and when you have to miss a class, they are really understanding. Often, they're excited that you play a sport and will come to Faculty night games! In my three years at Carleton, I don't think I've missed more than a couple classes each season. Coaches are understanding that academics come first too. My coach has been great about moving around practice times when there are classes or labs that people need to take. As a Geology major, I've also had many lab field trips. Heidi has been flexible in helping me do both.

Having a job during season has been really manageable too. Most campus jobs acknowledge athletes' schedules and can help you find times to work that don't interfere with practice and class times. One of my jobs on campus is lifeguarding, so when I sign up for shifts, I know when I have practice and class and am able to sign up for times before, after, and between classes, at nights, and on weekends. It's definitely possible to work 10 hours a week and be a student athlete.

Being a collegiate athlete hasn't stopped me from doing any other activities on campus either. With more free time in the off season, during various winter and spring terms, I've joined alpine ski team, club ultimate frisbee, voice lessons, and the Carleton choir. I've also studied abroad in Peru, played IM sports, and gone on class field trips to the Black Hills, Southern California, and Belize. During season, I've taken piano lessons, volunteered in a bi-lingual kindergarten class, been co-president of a campus organization, lifeguarded, been house manager of Culinary House, and coached the men's club volleyball team.

What is a regular day like for you during your season?

Practices are usually Monday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons for 2 to 3 hours, Tuesday mornings for 2 to 3 hours, and also Wednesdays and Saturdays that we don't have games. Unless we have a tournament, we usually get Sundays off. Normally practices start with setters practice for a half hour where setters, new team members, certain hitters, or whoever is free can come in and get extra setting and hitting practice. Then, the whole team arrives, we blast music, and warm up for 30 minutes or so doing passing drills, warming up our arms, peppering, stretching, and conditioning. After that, we'll often split into groups for position specific or general drills. Most days, the last 30 minutes or more of practice involve scrimmaging. After practice, the team eats dinner together in one of the dining halls, and then its off to homework, studying, and other campus activities.

What are some of your team's traditions?

Our team traditions start from when we arrive on campus for preseason. On the first day, we decorate our locker room with team pictures, quotes, and funny things collected by teammates over the years. During preseason we also have planned activities at night. Every year we have a scavenger hunt around campus, play Family Feud and other reality tv themed contests as a team, and have game nights, movie nights, and ice cream socials with other fall sports teams. Before games, we wear our warmups during the day, eat a pre game meal together, cheer in the locker room, high five the "high five hand" on the wall, and dance around to "Seize the Day" from the Newsies. The last day of official practice, we have crazy dress up day, where we come to practice dressed in silly leotards, leggings, swim suits, socks, hats, etc. At the end of the season, we pass down team awards like the "Fireup" trophy and the honor of picking the season's photo from the Fireman's calendar. My favorite tradition though is the freshman scrunchies. Every year, the sophomores are responsible for making hair scrunchies for the freshmen. Freshmen have to wear the creative and weird scrunchies for every home game. People become so attached to theirs, that when we play St. Olaf for the last game of the season, the whole team wears their freshmen scrunchies!

What are some of your favorite moments playing volleyball at Carleton?

Preseason is one of my favorite times of the year. For three weeks (or more) in August before school starts, it's just us and the other fall sports teams on campus. The team lives together in a dorm for the first two weeks and we basically just eat, sleep, play volleyball, and do team bonding stuff. It's so great being on campus early, especially as a freshman! Every other year during preseason we also go on training trips. My freshman year we went to Colorado Springs and played at a Colorado College tournament then stayed at a teammates cabin in the mountains near Breckenridge. Last year, we went to Chicago to play at an Elmhurst tournament, then spent a day exploring the city. We also watched a lot of "Say Yes to the Dress".

Two of my (many) favorite volleyball memories are from this past season-  coming from behind to beat St. Mary's and beating our rival, St. Olaf. At an away game at St. Mary's earlier in the season, we were down, having just played two rather embarrassing games. Our captains pulled us over to the side of the court and we completely re-engerized ourselves to go out and take back the match. It was incredible how much each person on the team stepped up, both on and off the court. In the past three years, we hadn't beat St. Olaf and had lost to them just three days before at home in three games. We came into the second match a little slow, but stepped it up took the fifth game with many nail-biting moments and amazing plays. There was so much energy in the gym, on the court, and on the bench. Everyone ran onto the court after. It was such a wonderful feeling!  

What is your favorite thing about Carleton?

The diverse, talented, worldly, quirky, caring people I've become friends with and the endless opportunities available! 

What would you say to a high school student-athlete considering Carleton?

Come visit! Read up online and in college books, check out the mail that they send to you, and then visit campus. Don't be afraid to contact current players. Do an overnight, stay with a team member, meet the coach, get a tour, sit in on a class, talk with a professor, and get your questions answered. Talk with people that aren't athletes too. If your first experience isn't that great (mine wasn't!), come back again. Visit other schools and do overnights, etc. there too. It's easier to know what you're looking for when you can compare. Make a pros and cons list for all the schools that you look at. Remember that if you get injured or for some reason can't play or decide not to play anymore, you don't want to transfer because you hate the school. Pick the college that feels right for you first, and let sports be the added perk. 

The city of Northfield is also great! There are some wonderful coffee shops, restaurants, bars, beautiful old houses, and cute stores all close to campus. Having St. Olaf across the river really gives it a college town vibe!


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