The Heart Behind the Hoops: Life as a Competitive Student-Athlete

By Myranda Lockwood

The Daemen University women’s basketball team went on to win the ECC Championship earlier this month on March 6, 2022, making it the third consecutive championship win in a row. 

According to Daemen University’s official athletic website, “Daemen (18-4, 16-1 ECC) claims the top seed for the second straight year after earning their third straight ECC Regular Season Championship. The Wildcats are aiming to win their second ECC Championship in three seasons and keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive after coming in at No. 10 in last week’s NCAA East Region rankings.”

While the Daemen community is beginning to continuously expect great things from their women’s basketball team, there is more behind an athlete the community often overlooks.

“My first alarm goes off at 5 a.m., but I set two just in case,” said Alina Estrella, a third-year history education major and a member of the women’s basketball team. 

“I’ll get to practice before 5:30 a.m., practice starts at 6 a.m. and goes to 8:45 a.m. After practice, we take off our gear and usually head to breakfast. Unless you have a 9 a.m. class, then you go straight there,” Estrella said as she described a typical day during in-season. 

 “I come back and shower, usually pretty quick. I get ready for the day; sometimes I take a nap or I use any time I have to catch up on work. Early afternoon we’ll go to film. I’ll have one or two classes after that, depending on the day, and then after class, I’ll reorganize my room back to normal after the chaos of the morning, get some food, talk to people and try to relax. Hopefully, I go to bed before midnight, and it starts all over again,” Estrella continued. 

What the community often fails to see is the determination and dedication; the schedule is rigorous, and time management is essential.

 It is dependent on hard work and perseverance with a constant focus on using each minute of the day wisely. 

“I really wish people knew how much work it actually is. Hours in the gym, community service, classes, and homework, just stuff you don’t see on and off the court,” said Sayeed Osorio, a fourth-year business major and a member of the men’s basketball team.

“Being a student always comes first, but being a student-athlete means pressure to represent the school well. You’re a figure for the school, wearing the jersey, representing your coaches and the school overall,” Osorio said.

To represent the school and the team well is a continuous expectation of student-athletes, as well as the understanding that, alongside sports, the athlete will perform just as well in school. 

“As a student-athlete, you represent your team and the school so you really have to be at the top of your athletic performance as well as your academic performance,” said Sarah Cloutier, a third-year business major and a member of the women’s basketball team. 

It is a standard that is not easily maintained for everyone, and it is a pressure that can only be handled through true grit and stability.

However, the student-athlete mentality doesn’t just come out of the blue. It takes years of hard work, growth, and desire to reach the competitive collegiate level. 

“I was about 7; my teacher handed me a flier one day for a local basketball team, and I asked my dad if I could try out. We went, and I was the only girl there. I realized then that I was really competitive, and ever since then, I grew to love the sport. Since I always played against boys, I wanted to prove that I could be just as good, if not better,” said Estrella. 

Estrella’s love for basketball only grew. 

She honed her craft until she knew she had enough strength of mind, body, and resolution to go after her goals and play at the collegiate level. 

“If she’s the same skill level as someone she’s going to win because of that grit, she’s not going to hurt anyone in her path, she is simply going to win because she has the determination. She doesn’t one-up, she just has hard work and perseverance,” Cloutier said. 

Through consistency and persistence, Estrella maintains that mindset and wholly embodies the strong image of what it means to be a successful student-athlete. 

“The hardest thing is time management and having to do school when you really feel like you mentally and physically can’t,” said Estrella.

“But if anything, I think basketball helps because it keeps me on schedule, there’s no wiggle room, when I need to get something done I know I need to get it done now,” continued Estrella. 

Yet, difficulty and hardship do not wholly define the life of a student-athlete. 

If that was the case, there wouldn’t be a lot of them.

It is the love for the sport, the passion, and the drive that goes into creating and embodying a competitive student-athlete that makes all of the difficulty worth it. 

“Alina has a lot of pride for the team first and foremost, she’s also very caring and has a lot of passion. With basketball and everything else, she’s extremely passionate in all that she does,” said Osorio, when discussing what makes Estrella stick out as both a person and a player.

“Alina stands out in her ability to be competitive while also being a great teammate,” said Cloutier.

Estrella has been referenced as a “key member of the team” and a “kind and caring person” by both members of the community and teammates alike. 

Estrella finds that her love for the team is rooted in “being able to see a development between preseason and in-season” as well as “watching our hard work from start to finish.” 

“I was very excited to win a championship again this season. We were able to play against a tough competitor this year, they’re physical, athletic, and can really drive the ball. Since my freshman year they’ve been a team to beat,” said Estrella.

After all of their hard work, in-season and out, Estrella said seeing the team’s “hard work pay off makes it all worth it.” 

She is proud of the team for “proving consistency” and showing that “what we’re doing is working.” 

For Estrella personally, she said basketball has become a staple in her life, combining both lessons and successes.

It has become less of an activity and more of a lifestyle, one that can only be maintained through true love and dedication to the sport.

“Basketball has taught me that you’re rarely going to be the best at everything you do but you have to believe you’re the best at the same time,” Estrella said.

“Being resilient and maintaining focus even when there’s outside noise. If you want to be the best passer you have to be in the gym practicing consistently, nothing comes for free,” she said.

She acknowledges the pressure that comes alongside playing at the collegiate level; however, she finds that with the right mindset and skill level, it is something that can certainly be achievable. 

“When you come to college you need to be prepared to be in a higher-level environment than you’re used to. You have to make the conscious decision if you want to put in that work to be better. You have to let your love take over and make a decision if that’s what you want to do with your time and passion,” said Estrella.

Athletics at this level is not something that can be pushed to the side. It becomes a large part of a person’s time and focus, and it seeks only to receive those who are willing to “let their love take over.”

If this is the decision a student makes when coming into higher education, Estrella pushes this reminder, “A lot of things seem bigger when your head is in a chaotic space, but it gets better when you take a step back. Even though something feels like a lot it’s still a blessing because you’re able to do it. There’s always something to be grateful for.”

With this, there is no limit to the possibilities for greatness.

“Alina has taught me to believe in myself. To follow my purpose. She has taught me that there will always be people who don’t believe in your aspirations but you just have to believe in yourself. She taught me perseverance,” Osorio said.

At the end of the day, a student-athlete faces more than can be seen at face value. 

The skill level is high and the expectations are higher, and yet, for most of them, there’s not a thing they would change. 

As a student-athlete, the pressure is always great, but the devotion outweighs all. 

Yes, there is more to a student-athlete than meets the eye; what is often missing from a general overview is the time, work ethic, passion, and dedication that it takes to build a collegiate athlete from the ground up. 

“It’s easy to get lost in the negative things in life, but in reality, it’s a blessing to be here, on a team, in school, and on-campus, that when I take a step back, there’s always something I can be thankful for,” said Estrella.

 For the basketball teams specifically, as Osorio would have it said, “You can really do something with this game, you can take the ball around the world.”

And for these student-athletes, around the world, it will go. 

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