Maroons get a head start on new season

By Kate Fratar

For most of us, the new school year starts with classes on September 24. For the Maroons playing this fall, however, 2007–2008 got underway when they reported for training that began in mid-August.

DIII, the UAA, and the University of Chicago all put a premium on fielding student-athletes who can tackle their academic demands just as well as they can handle their opponents between the lines. Striking that balance is no easy task, but for a few weeks at the end of summer, some South Siders get to revel in their roles as athletes.

“It’s nice to have a few weeks of football camp,” fourth-year running back Mike Serio said. “We’re here to do just what we have to do for football.”

“Once classes start, it’s hard to be mentally ready for practice when you’re racing over from a class or lab,” fourth-year midfielder Stuart Phelps added.

It’s about the only time all year that the Maroons get to devote all of their energy, both physical and mental, to sports. Summer jobs and internships can be just as taxing as keeping up with the life of the mind when it comes to squeezing in off-season workouts. While NCAA regulations prohibit coaches from assigning specific training exercises, they can suggest some conditioning for maintaining stamina and preventing injuries. From there, it’s on each player to stay in shape and be ready to go upon meeting up with the rest of the squad.

“For the most part, I think the guys do a decent job of getting the work done,” Serio said.

Once back on campus, the typical preseason day for Serio and his teammates as well as for the rest of the Maroons on the soccer, cross country, and volleyball squads goes something like this. Wake up. Eat. Go to practice. Eat. Go to practice. Eat. Go to a team meeting.

At least that’s the way it works until they cut back on two-a-days as they get closer to their first competitions. For many Maroons, that day came on August 31 with cross country, volleyball, and men’s soccer all suiting up to kick off the 2007-2008 campaign for Chicago.

Fall warm-ups ran a little differently for volleyball and women’s soccer, which took off for China and Italy this summer, respectively. They’re not the first Chicago squads to leave behind the Windy City for season tune-ups, either. This is the third trip to Italy for women’s soccer, who first made their way over in 1999 and then again in 2003. Most recently, men’s and women’s hoops also traveled the boot with a trip last September, and in preparation for 2005, men’s soccer headed to Brazil while softball pulled off a stint in Australia.

“It’s an experience unlike any other, getting to see such a different culture,” said third-year outside hitter Kerry Dornfeld of the softball squad’s globetrotting. “The fact that you experience it as a team brings everyone closer together.”

Fundraising for the China trip took volleyball a year and half to pull together, starting in winter 2006. Getting ready to face UAA powerhouses Emory, Wash U, and NYU, the squad took on a match against retired professionals, who in their twenties still had a decent bump, set, and spike. The Maroons also got a rare session in the Olympic training facilities thanks to alumni in China with some clout.

Whether gearing up in Italy, China, or on the South Side, first-years joining the Maroons’ ranks are likely to get stuck with a few extra team chores. The nine rookies with men’s soccer, for instance, have to carry the bulk of the equipment, including goals, the half mile from campus to the squad’s practice spot in Washington Park.

“It’s a little bit of a humbling experience,” said fourth-year defender Jon Cartwright of the initiation onto the team.

But even though the up-and-comers shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for hauling the equipment, over time everyone starts to pitch in. At this early stage in the season, these kinds of traditions can be just as important to strengthening a team as practice drills. Individual talent easily goes to waste if teammates don’t know how to work together and pick each other up come game time.

“Seeing everyone out there working together and seeing what they can do, that’s definitely my favorite part of training,” Cartwright said. “We’ll become even closer once games start because that’s when we kind of go through battle.”

Here’s to charging into another season.