The first stop on my tour was the MIAC runner-up St. Olaf baseball team, who I joined just as they were gearing up for this weekends MIAC tournament. After a little stretching and throwing to warm we began daily fielding drills. I initially sought to join the outfielders, but quickly switched to shortstop after learning from infield coach Sean Goldsworthy that infielders are much more popular with the ladies than their outfield counterparts.
We fielded ground balls, turned double plays and executed several drills designed for specific game situations, such as responding to sacrifice bunts. Despite my tendency to cast errant throws, team members were gracious and supportive. It all went relatively well until the drills became contingent upon the catcher giving complex signals to direct infielders movements; these were as foreign to me as Chinese algebra, so I switched back to the outfield.
After inclement weather forced practice indoors, the team shifted their focus to hitting, working through technique drills and taking multiple rounds of batting practice. During my own foray into the batting cage I worked to level out my pop fly-inducing swing, which served me well in Little League but simply wouldnt cut it at the collegiate level. However, I quickly realized batting practice was more hazardous than I had originally thought, as a bout of wildness by the pitcher left me with three black-and-blue reminders of my day at baseball practice.
Again, despite my tendency toward hitting ground balls (or missing the ball completely), team members were supportive and even offered batting advice.
Clearly, the physical rigors of college baseball prohibit casual participation in the sport. However, even more impressive than the baseball skills exhibited by the Oles was the cohesiveness displayed by both players and coaches. This team is good because theyre a collection of talented ballplayers and natural athletes, but what makes them great and perennial contenders for the MIAC title is that every player is committed to and supportive of his teammates (or in my case, even pseudo-teammates).
Having never played volleyball beyond middle school gym class, I decided to avoid a full-blown volleyball practice. Instead, I enlisted the help of volleyball all-stars Andrea Otteman 07 and Audrey Volstad 07, who agreed to design and participate in an informal offseason workout. Despite being out-of-season, Volstad, Otteman and their volleyball teammates work out together three days a week, lifting weights, running plyometric circuits and scrimmaging mens teams.
After stretching and jogging to warm up, Andrea, Audrey and I worked on a continuous drill called pepper designed to help players improve their digging, setting, passing and spiking skills. I did my best to keep up with the experts, but ended up sending volleyballs all over Tostrud Center (although my partners generously insisted that I had excellent control for a first-timer). Im sure I would have fared much better if I had been courageous enough to don volleyball shorts, but to the good fortune of all present, I decided to sacrifice journalistic integrity by sticking with my basketball shorts. After thirty minutes of digging, setting, passing and spiking, I was worn out, and Andrea and Audrey had to compete in an intramural volleyball match.
In parting, I asked what more I should do to finish the workout. Lift for two hours, then run, Otteman said.
For this component of my research, I made my way down to Skoglund Pool for an off-season womens swimming workout, specially designed by Ole swimmer Brooke Walper 07. I was a stellar member of the local swim club throughout my youth and, by all accounts, should have been well prepared to handle the exercise.
Instead, I floundered. The workout began with a 900-yard warm-up swim and only got tougher from there. The main workout consisted of 2500 yards of interval laps with varying strokes and culminated with four 25-yard sprints. Altogether, the workout included more than two miles of butterfly, freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke, interspersed with various kicking and stroke drills.
Despite my initial confidence, I missed every single interval and gave up a little early. Let it be known: anyone who says womens swimming isnt an intense sport is sorely, sorely mistaken.
Mens Track and Field
Im not much of a distance runner these days, nor have I ever thrown the discus or put the shot. But there is a track and field event for every physical build and athletic type, so I quickly found my niche: horizontal jumping (long and triple jump). With the MIAC conference meet approaching, the jumpers were working on their approaches, and head coach Bill Thornton was focusing his attention on the jumpers. It was a perfect time to begin my jumping career.
Jumping is not an incredibly complicated sport. Half of the battle is mastering the basics, which are all oriented about the first three steps of the jumpers approach. Push, push, push, reiterated Thornton, You need to have good rhythm on your approach.
Surprisingly, I found I have a decent intuitive sense of said approach rhythm, and I was able to make two near-perfect approaches.
Upon discovering my natural jumping ability, I commented to a fellow jumper that perhaps I should join the team.
Jumping is all about setting goals, the jumper suggestively replied.
Perhaps that is the track equivalent of Better luck next year.