Student-athletes: Walking the line of athlete and scholar

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University of Arizona gymnastics, photo courtesy of Isaiah Willhoite/Arizona Athletics

For University of Arizona student-athletes, balancing academics and their sport has never been easy. Schedules are packed with practice times, games and training, leaving little downtime. 

Socializing like a typical college student is taken with a more conscious approach and with some team seasons coming to an end and others ramping up, student-athletes are juggling this more than ever.   

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we caught up with some female student-athletes to see how they managed to juggle classes, athletics and a social life.

Arizona volleyball middle blocker Merle Weidt has spent the past three years of college managing her downtime and noted the sacrifices she has made.

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“One of these major sacrifices was traveling, skiing and hiking. You just can’t really do that in season and even out of season it is difficult,” Weidt said. “Therefore, you are just really restricted to how you want to spend your time and have to be super conscious about how you want to spend it.”

Weidt, a senior studying environmental science, said that during the season she allots 20 hours a week to practice, not accounting for volleyball commitments outside of that time, including watching scouting videos, doing physical rehab and getting to practice early. 

“In general, I would say that this adds another 10 hours per week that you invest in the sport plus travel and two matches on the weekends during our season,” Weidt said in an email interview. “It’s an insanely huge amount of time that literally takes up half your day, which is why schedules play such an important part in the life of an athlete.”

Weidt said that volleyball has certainly stunted her social freedom. 

“I never really had an issue with academics, because it was always a priority for me,” she said. “However, I did have issues with social commitments, like having plans with friends in the evening but then you come home for practice and the only thing you want to do is sleep.”

Hope Hisey, a goalkeeper for the Arizona soccer team, has faced similar challenges. 

“I find pride in being a student-athlete, don't get me wrong, but I don't want that to be the only thing that defines me,” Hisey said. “If not for the Arizona Athletics backpack I have, I wouldn't self-identify as an athlete in my classes. Not necessarily because I feel as though there's a negative stereotype associated with student-athletes, but because I want to immerse myself in the student population that I often do not get to be a part of.”

The Arizona soccer team is not in season, but for Hisey and her teammates, this still means an immense amount of dedication each week. 

“Right now we are limited to eight-hour-a-week schedules,” Hisey said. “I would argue, however, that it's not like we're working an eight or 20-hour-a-week job. You never turn off being a student-athlete. When you're not in the weight room or on the field, you're making sure you're hydrating, making sure you're nourishing your body properly and making sure you're getting a good night's sleep.”

Hisey is content with her current political science major, yet she said that if it weren’t for her intense athletic involvement, she would have chosen a different academic path. Her friends outside of Arizona athletics are STEM majors and she often envies those who are consumed by academics rather than sports.   

“I do think about what it would be like to be able to apply myself to some of the more difficult studies,” Hisey said. 

According to the Arizona Athletics and Recreation department, student-athletes make up roughly 1.1% of the University of Arizona population with 500 players in 20 sports. The University offers numerous programs for student-athletes such as the Student-Athletes Invested in Learning Program and C.A.T.S. Academics, each of which is aimed at supporting athletes mentally and academically.

Danielle Nosek is a member of the Arizona gymnastics team and said she has always had a strong academic focus. Nosek, a junior studying physiology and medical sciences, has never let her schedule stand in the way of her academic performance.  

“When it comes to extracurriculars and social settings, that is the last of my priorities. It is always school, athletics, then social life,” Nosek said. “For other activities, it has to be done on my day off during season but most of the time in season, it is a very strict schedule and I just stick to daily for consistency and less stress.”


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