For most Princeton High School athletes, senior year marks the end of their competitive sports careers; for some, however, it marks the start of their lives as collegiate athletes. As a result, PHS alumni can be found playing varsity sports at many colleges and universities across the United States.
The differences between playing a sport in high school and playing a sport in college include the intensity of practices, the level of competition between athletes, the amount of time spent with teammates, and the lengths of the seasons. But the clearest distinction between high school and college athletics is the skill level of the athletes involved, as only the best high school athletes are able to continue playing at a varsity level in college.
“When you’re in high school, there are a few superstars on each team,” said Timothy Brennan ’13, a hammer-and discus-thrower at Dartmouth College. “Then when you go to college everyone was a superstar on their team [in high school], so it’s a pretty big adjustment. It’s a humbling experience to be with so many fellow great high school athletes, and it takes a while to find your place and develop.”
“I’m 6’7”, and in high school I was mostly going up against people that were a couple inches shorter than me and a little weaker. In college, people are a little older [and] stronger, and I’m going up against people that are my size,” said Lior Levy ’13, a center for the Franklin & Marshall College basketball team. “Adjusting to that was a little tough, and I’m still adjusting.”
In his first collegiate season, Levy still had a height advantage, but two other players on his team tied for tallest at 6’7”.
“Day in and day out, everybody’s fighting and everybody’s competing for spots … When you get to college, every single person thinks they deserve to be on the field, and every single person has come from being one of the top players on their team,” said Zachary Halliday ’13, who now plays midfield for the soccer team at Tufts University along with his brother, Kevin Halliday ’14. “Every practice is a tryout. No matter how late in the season, no matter how many games you’ve started, [practice] is competitive.”
Other athletes interviewed agreed that practices in college are more intense than those in high school. According to Levy, coaches in college expect more out of their athletes, and concepts are covered more quickly in practice.
The shift from high school sports to college sports is marked by a change in the level of participation, as the expectations for student-athletes increase both on the field and in the classroom.
“In high school you probably have a two- or three-hour practice, which might seem long, but in college if I have a three-hour practice, it’s probably the shortest one of the week,” Brennan said. “Practices can go to four-plus hours each day.”
“Time management gets to a whole new level in college … It’s what you do in between [your] classes, what you do in your free time—are you going to spend it watching Netflix or get ahead on school work? … It’s being efficient with your time,” Zachary Halliday said.
Playing sports at a collegiate level can drain the amount of free time an individual has to socialize or relax, but it can also act as a catalyst to make new and long-lasting friends. College athletes are able to bond with their team as players practice and live together for extended periods of time in a serious work environment.
“[In] high school you make friends, and you’re lucky to have them on the team, but in college I think my best friends at school are definitely the kids on the soccer team, and that happens because you spend so much time with them,” Zachary Halliday said. “Playing a sport with anybody and getting through the tough times makes a bond and makes a friendship that is much stronger.”
This increased competition forces players to adapt to an unfamiliar playing environment. For Zachary Halliday it involved relying on a new set of abilities once he joined the new team and was no longer the fastest and strongest in the group. A departure from a player’s forte can help develop new skills as the athlete is forced to try out new techniques to gain an advantage.
“I’ve gotten a lot tougher, and mentally stronger in my approach … A lot of times in high school I liked to play short and connect with the people around me, but now more often I play longer balls and try to spring the attack more from defensive-center mid,” Zachary Halliday said.
With a season or more under their belts in college, many athletes have a specific moment from their NCAA careers that they remember most fondly. Eva Reyes ’14 remembers her goal in the home opener against Washington College, which Widener won 1–0. Levy’s proudest moment thus far came in a game against Muhlenberg College, when he scored eight points in Franklin & Marshall’s 66–46 victory.
Despite the many positive experiences college athletics have provided these alumni, they still miss the team experience at PHS.
“All of my best friends were on the team with me, and it was always fun playing against rival towns,” Levy said.
“[I don’t miss anything] about the game itself because the game is the same here, but I miss everyone [on the team at PHS],” Reyes said.
So, considering all the sacrifices that must be made, is pursuing a sport in college really worth it?
“Definitely. The team provided a huge network of friends right off the bat, and they’re still my best friends now, even though I’m a senior,” Peter Deardorff ’11, who swims for Bowdoin College, said. “I highly recommend all athletes taking up their sport through college and not just using it as a way to get in.”