Expectations and Opportunities: Select Freshmen Compete on Varsity Teams

March 27, 2023


Pam McKenney

Freshman Ethan Zhao defends a Sacred Heart Cathedral player. Photo courtesy of Pam McKenney

While Menlo freshmen usually play on the freshmen or JV level of their sport, a select group of them play for Menlo’s varsity teams. Many of these freshmen have been playing their sport for the majority of their lives and have significant experience in it prior to high school. These younger athletes may not possess the physical maturity of an upperclassman, but freshmen are able to learn from their older teammates and improve as players.

Freshmen Ariya Kaushek, Ethan Zhao and Bianca Putanec all play on the varsity teams for their sports: cross country, basketball and soccer, respectively. While Kaushek has only been running competitively for a year, both Zhao and Putanec have been playing their sports since they were very young. 

Zhao was called up to be on the varsity boys basketball team, although he was initially unsure if it was the right decision. “At first I was hesitant because I didn’t know if I was just going to be on varsity and ride the bench the whole game,” Zhao said. After a conversation with his coach, Zhao decided that being on varsity would help him improve as a player. “It’s definitely worth it,” he said.

Putanec is a goalkeeper for the varsity girls soccer team. “I don’t know if I was expecting to make varsity, but I was really hoping for it,” Putanec said. Upon making varsity, Putanec was the backup goalkeeper for the team until senior Sam Sellers suffered an injury partway through the season. “It almost didn’t feel real when I played that [first game],” Putanec said. 

Being on a high-commitment team has required both Putanec and Zhao to effectively manage their time in order to stay on top of their academic work. Living in San Francisco, Putanec created a routine for herself during the season, determining what work she would do during her commute to school and what she would leave to work on at home.

Zhao feels that spending so much time dedicated to basketball has improved his study skills. “Playing sports helps me do my homework more efficiently because I have less time to do it so I can’t get distracted,” Zhao said.

Kaushek did find that being on a varsity team can inhibit her ability to socialize with classmates. She especially felt this at the beginning of the school year, when she was spending most of her day with the cross country team. “It was a little bit stressful when I was trying to meet a lot of new freshmen,” Kaushek said. “It was hard just because our [cross country] team had a lot of upperclassmen, and it was pretty small.”

There is also the added pressure of being on a varsity team. Putanec attributes this to the varsity post-season, something JV teams don’t experience. Zhao echoed a similar sentiment, citing that his friends playing on the freshmen basketball team are able to be more relaxed. “It’s not that big of a deal [for them], but for varsity, it’s a pretty big deal,” Zhao said.

One of the reasons Putanec enjoyed her freshman season so much was the support she received from the upperclassmen on her team. “I love my upperclassmen. They’re all really funny, and they’re really nice,” she said.

Similarly, Zhao finds that, as the only freshman on the varsity boys basketball team, he has been able to receive helpful feedback from the upperclassmen. “They can also teach me a lot of things and help me grow because they have more varsity experience than me,” Zhao said.

Kaushek has been supported by the upperclassmen on her team not solely about cross country, but also receiving advice about school in general. Kaushek cited an experience when all the seniors on her team helped her with a challenging math problem after one of their meets. “It’s nice to have relationships with upperclassmen, and all of them are really nice and inclusive,” Kaushek said.

When Zhao becomes an upperclassman, he hopes to treat the freshmen on the varsity team with the same support he received. “I definitely want to encourage them because I’ve been in their shoes before so I know how it feels to be a freshman,” he said. “It’s a little intimidating, but I feel like if I give encouragement it’ll really help them grow on the basketball court and off the court too.”

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About the Contributor
Photo of Sonia Dholakia
Sonia Dholakia, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 3

Favorite aspect of journalism: Working with the entire staff to create a great product and becoming friends along the way.

Interests outside of school: Mock trial, traveling, and listening to Taylor Swift.

Class of 2025

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