Men’s volleyball outside hitter Salvatore LaCavera III, and women’s soccer center midfielder Brooke Atkinson, both freshmen, came to UC Santa Cruz in very different boats. LaCavera III was a highly-touted volleyball prospect, while Atkinson still needed to make the soccer team. Hard practice earned Atkinson a spot on the traveling squad by midseason, and she won real playing time by the end of the year. By season’s end, both LaCavera III and Atkinson were impact players on their respective squads.
Atkinson scored two goals this season, while LaCavera III earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Newcomer of the Year award, a spot on the second team D-III All-American squad and a place on the Molten D-III Final Four All-Tournament team. City on a Hill Press had a chance to meet two of UCSC’s most talented freshmen athletes at Stevenson Café this Tuesday to ask them a few questions.
City on a Hill Press (CHP): You two were both great high school athletes. How was the change from being star athletes at your old schools to being the new kids on the block at UC Santa Cruz?
Brooke Atkinson (BA): It was kind of a big transition, actually. I dealt with it and pushed myself a lot harder, and I’ve definitely seen improvement.
Salvatore LaCavera III (SL3): For me, it was a pretty easy transition. I mean, it definitely had its difficulties, but the seniors and upperclassmen on our team fought to have a mutual respect on the team, instead of this huge unbalanced seniority. That just made it really easy to play, and I think that is part of the reason why we did so well this year.
CHP: How do you two plan to help incoming freshmen with the move to Division III athletics next year?
BA: I’m definitely going to be really motivational and talk to them a lot, because coming here and seeing the seniors was super intimidating at first. Then, once you get to talk to them, you’re like, okay they’re real people — they’re not scary seniors. You want to get that comfort level, so you can build that team chemistry.
SL3: And just the whole freshman jitters thing. I think you just have to say, ‘Calm down, it’s just a game.’ If you just tell them to just have fun, talk to them about the game, you’ll take their mind off the pressure and the fear, because that’s just one of the things that comes along with being a freshman at any level.
CHP: Both of you are lucky enough to have three years of NCAA eligibility left. What are your aspirations for these next three seasons?
BA: Definitely to get a lot more playing time next year, because we lost a lot of seniors, so a lot of the freshmen this year are going to have to step it up. I’m hoping to be one of [them] and really help my team out.
SL3: Ours is a team goal. We’ve been trying to win the national championship for the past 10 years, so for us to actually do it in the three years that I would be here would be really special. It didn’t work out this year, so next year we have to go harder.
CHP: Right now, sports are not really a focal point at UCSC. How do you think the athletics at the school will change by your senior year?
SL3: I hope we can change it.
BA: Yeah, I hope we can just get the campus a lot more excited about our sports. No one knows about us, really. We’re like, ‘Hey, we have a game today, come out and watch us’ and no one really supports us at all. It’s kind of a bummer. I’m hoping that by senior year maybe we can get some funding to make some T-shirts to give out to the campus. Everyone can have slug shirts, slug wear — something to support us and support athletics.
SL3: The problem is just the funding. Did you guys have to pay for your season?
BA: No, we didn’t have to pay for anything, but we had to put in 40 charity hours.
SL3: Oh, see, we have a bill at the end of the season, which, I mean, I’m willing to pay, I’m willing to work harder, but it’s not a real collegiate program, in that sense.
CHP: If I were to have this interview with you guys three years down the road when you are graduating, what direction do you think you’ll be headed in?
BA: I’m planning on going to med school, so I’m working toward that. I know it is going to be difficult while playing soccer at the same time. It is a lot of commitment to be a health science major and to play soccer, so I’m hoping to keep playing for all four years. That’s my goal.
SL3: I’m actually looking to go to law school. Really solid academics and athletics will take us really far after graduating, because that definitely helps on your résumé. It shows that you are able to cooperate with others, that you are goal-oriented, and that you will do anything to win. That’s really important.