The Challenges of a Club Sport Lifestyle

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The University of Utah Men's Club Lacrosse team practices in the Spence Eccles Field House on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Practicing from 10 p.m. until midnight isn’t ideal, and neither is the alternative — practicing at 6 a.m. That’s the hand the majority of the club sport teams on the U campus have been dealt, and one they make the best of. To put it bluntly, it’s a hand they have to get over if they are going to find success on field.

The lack of scholarships also isn’t ideal, so the players who participate are primarily doing it for the love of the game and not much else.

These programs often get overlooked, however; in these club sports are people dedicated to not only performing well on the field, but also academically. Although they are dealt a tough hand, it’s one they live with, and one that’s better than the alternative — not competing at all.

Women’s and men’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, and rugby are just a few club sports at the U.

PAYING TO PLAY

Typically when the words “pay” and “play” go together, it’s associated with the debate over whether or not college athletes should be paid to play. But for some club sports at Utah, it means having to pay to play — as in students who participate with these club sports are often paying their own money so they can continue playing a sport they love. While the thread of paying to play isn’t a theme with all the club sports, it is the hardship some have to overcome.

The women’s lacrosse team recently hosted tryouts and while the girls were competing for a spot, the coaches were not sure there was even going to be a team. Club president Janessa Milne said they had to decide whether or not having a team would be worth it. It was something she hated saying out loud because she thinks the girls on the squad out-work most anyone else and she did not want to let them down. But the team is alive and well. While this is certainly the best outcome they could have hoped for, it seems to be something that probably wouldn’t have taken the players off guard.

Head coach Tracy Pati mentioned that a few of the girls from last year decided to focus on their schoolwork and others decided they would rather save their money for a study abroad. The girls who stayed committed to the team would do anything to continue competing though.

“As soon as a few players started changing their priorities and commitment, it changed the team dynamic,” Pati said. “It was nerve-wracking, because they could have picked not to be there and we wouldn’t have had a team. But they have chosen to be there and I think we are going to have an a amazing season.”

This year, Pati estimates each player may end up paying around $2,000 for travel arrangements, field times, officials, gear, etc.. They will do some fundraising to combat the costs, but it will most likely stay in a thousand dollar frame.

As for the rugby team, other programs in the country offer scholarships, but sometimes it is not enough to cover tuition for out of state students.

LATE NIGHTS AND EARLY MORNINGS

Late night practice is no one’s first choice, and practicing before the sun is up is not the best alternative. The majority of the people involved with club sports don’t mind the times though, as many other college students would, because they are happy to play.

The men’s soccer, rugby and women’s and men’s lacrosse teams all use the Spence-Eccles Fieldhouse. The county is able to use the field from 6 p.m. until midnight, and the best times typically get filled first, so that’s why these teams end up with abnormal practice schedules.

Not only do they receive unfavorable times, the space isn’t free — one hour costs $75 — so it’s another added cost. Often times to cut down those costs, club sports will share the space with fellow club sports, making it so the teams are practicing at somewhat better times. While the early mornings and late nights throw some people off, it’s something they have to live with. Men’s lacrosse head coach Brian Holman doesn’t like to complain about it.

“If you make those issues bigger than they are then the team senses that, and every little thing becomes a big issue,” Holman said. “If we got to practice at 6 in the morning, then we practice at 6 in the morning. Having that type of attitude helps the team and helps the kids.”

Rugby team captain Gabe Ruflin echoes this sentiment.

“We have to make the best of it,” Ruflin said. “There’s no sense in being down about it. I see no reason why we shouldn’t be getting motivated.”

A lot of the students who compete in club sports are working in addition to attending school, so these practice schedules allow them to get their classes done at normal hours and allows them to work a job if need be. So when it comes down to it, these people would be having to sacrifice something if practices were scheduled differently.

One thing that the late nights and early mornings also prove to show is who are the most dedicated ones to each respective sport.

DEDICATION DRIVES THE GAMES

One of the most attractive things about playing sports at the collegiate level is the benefit of a scholarship — one that makes it so a student-athlete does not have to find a way to pay for school since it will all, or partially, be taken care of. When Milne receives inquiries asking if the women’s lacrosse team provides scholarships, she is always a little deflated to respond to the potential player with a “no.”

There are plenty of Division I programs that offer scholarships for these sort of sports, so recruits may opt for the latter, because not paying a dime compared to hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars surely looks like a better idea. Seeing other schools’ programs can be somewhat disheartening.

Rugby club president Josh Cisar brought up how fellow Pac-12 school in California give a lot of funding to its rugby program, so there is a sense of jealousy. At the same time though, it makes the players want to work harder to prove that they are just as good as they are.

“There’s no reward system for being fantastic at practice, but the group of guys who are there from 10 p.m. until midnight are the guys who want to be there for rugby, not just for fun,” Cisar said.

For the women’s lacrosse team, Milne only wants people on the team who are willing to put in the extra effort.

“They seem to value the little things, and they make the sacrifice with time and money,” Milne said. “The girls who do come out are extremely dedicated and loyal to the program.”

DI ON THE HORIZON

The men’s lacrosse team has been finding quite a bit of success on the field and warrants the consideration of making it Division I. Although nothing has been set in stone, Holman thinks the earliest the team could be competing in DI would be spring of 2019. That’s why Holman came to Utah. Holman was brought in so he could raise the talent level and so he could ready it for the competition at the highest level of collegiate lacrosse.

For nine years, Holman was a coach at UNC. The Tar Heels had just won the national championship, so when Utah first reached out to Holman, he turned them down. When Utah reached out to him a second time, he turned them down again.

Holman spoke to his wife and they realized that what he wanted all along was to be at the forefront of an up-and-coming program. He ventured to Salt Lake City to get a feel of campus and felt at home instantly.

“I could just envision the future of a national powerhouse lacrosse team here,” Holman said.

With the prospect of moving up, recruiting isn’t so difficult for the lacrosse program, because there are plenty of people interested in joining a program that has a lot of upside. For next year’s class of recruits, Holman has about 22-23 guys committed from 12 different states. Holam has been eager to reach out beyond Utah and he likes where the program is headed.

“Our ultimate goal for the school is to be a Division I lacrosse program, but I don’t worry about it too much,” Holman said. “I know the wheels are in motion and the people who have to make those decisions will make them, and I’ll be included at some point, but 2019 would be awesome.”

CLUB SPORTS THRIVE ON SUPPORT

Since club sports are not highly publicized on campus, it’s hard to find when and where exactly these teams compete.

With men’s soccer, they often hear that people were unaware the school had a team on campus.

“Unfortunately we don’t get any publicity from the university itself,” said men’s soccer club president John Goodman.

Just as with any Division I sport team at the U, the crowd motivates them, and seeing their fellow classmates cheer them on is sometimes all they need to get that sense of appreciation.

Efforts can fall flat, however, and it ends up being a lot of friends and family rather than fans. But support is support no matter where it comes from, and often times, these players just need the support of their teammates.

“With all the sacrifice you really learn to love the sport and the team,” Milne said. “The girls really do grow very close because they work so hard to be there. These girls stick together and they’re willing to support each other. They have made these life-long friends and they have found a base of support you can’t find anywhere else.”

k.brenneisen@dailyutahchronicle.com

@kbrenneisen

Kim Brenneisen
Kim Brenneisen has been a part of The Daily Utah Chronicle for three years as a sports writer, assistant sports editor and sports editor. She is currently the print managing editor, and she has interned at MLB.com through the Sports Journalism Institute.

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