One thing I get tired of when watching college sports is coaches bagging on underclassmen. Coaches often say they are in a rebuilding year or that players are inexperienced if they are underclassmen. This is belittling to an athlete because what they hear is that they are not good enough or that it is all their fault.
Aren’t you the one who recruited them, coach? If all you do is complain that they are inexperienced, why did you ask them to come play for you?
I have attended a few Arizona sports press conferences and even heard this talk from coaches at the UA. It baffles me because I look at the players they talk about and all I think is how good these players are or how good they can become.
There are many teams at the UA that feature talented underclassmen or feature much of a team that are underclassmen and these teams are the real deal.
Look no further than the Arizona gymnastics team.
The Gym Cats have 19 gymnasts on their roster. Out of all these girls, 15 of them are underclassmen. A person might look at their record for the season and see only one first-place finish and two second-place finishes and think, “They must be having a down year or have a roster full of inexperienced players.”
If you think that, then you do not know gymnastics. Qualifying for the National Championships is not determined by your win-loss record. The NCAA takes the Gym Cats’ best two away meets and home meets scores and adds them together. That score goes to a committee and they decided who is in and who is out, sort of like March Madness.
Arizona’s score was good enough for a bid in the Regional Championships this season. In addition to team competition, three Gym Cats qualified for individual competition. Sophomore Malia Hargrove qualified for vault and floor exercise and freshman Jessica Castles and sophomore Sirena Linton qualified for the balance beam.
I could stop right there and my argument would be valid, but I am not done. The other UA team that is made up of underclassmen is the volleyball team.
Of the 15 players on the Arizona volleyball team, eight of them are underclassmen. This young team finished with a record of 10-11 and again, do not be deceived by their record.
I can argue that the team's best player is freshman outside hitter Sofia Maldonado Diaz. Out of the 21 matches the Wildcats have played this year, Maldonado Diaz has led the team in kills in 14 of them. Maldonado Diaz was awarded the 2020-21 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times, which is the first time that has happened at Arizona.
Freshman setter Emery Herman leads the team in assists every match that she plays in. Freshman defensive specialist Jaleesa Caroccio is one of, if not the team’s best server.
This is a team that swept No. 7 Stanford earlier in the season and won four straight matches against Colorado and on the road at Cal to pull their record to .500. The only reason they did not have a chance to get their record back to .500 was a controversial cancellation of a match against USC. USC had too many injuries and could not play in the match, so rather than it being a forfeit, the game was omitted and did not count.
That cancellation against USC is another opinion piece for sure, so stay tuned for that. However, I digress.
I hope that the facts speak for themselves and just because a coach has a team of underclassmen does not mean that the season is doomed or that the program is rebuilding.
Has anyone ever asked if perhaps it is the coach's fault? That it is not the athletes who are not talented but that they have a coach who does not know how to develop talent?
I am willing to ask that question and I hope many more people will ask that question before judging a roster of talented underclassmen.
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Sean (he/him) is a business administration major from California. He enjoys playing video games and watching Disney+ in his free time.