Column: Fabulous year for fantastic freshmen
Around this time of year, it is appropriate for us here at Marist College to congratulate the soon-to-be graduating seniors on four years of hard work. Four years of all-nighters, group projects, and final exams. For the student- athletes here, it is about celebrating four years of accomplishments both on the field and off.
This year's senior class of Red Fox athletes deserves all the accolades that will be given to them. They have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today, and they have earned the great recognition.
But I would also like to congratulate another class of athletes, one with far less experience than their senior counterparts. At this time last year, they were completing their senior years of high school.
That is right. I would like to congratulate the freshmen.
I would like to congratulate them on not only on their terrific individual seasons for their respective sports, but also for breathing new life into Marist Athletics, bringing about new thrills and excitement.
The freshmen student-athletes reached extraordinary heights this past season in ways that, according to Marist Athletic Director Tim Murray, had never been reached before.
"I know in the past we have had some [freshmen] who have performed well in years past, but as a whole, I don't think we have ever had a year that has been any better," Murray said. "It's terrific."
Indeed it is, but terrific does not even begin to describe the importance that the Class of 2015 has had on Marist athletics this year. Let us look at two of the big stars from this year's freshmen class: Amanda Epstein, and Chavaughn Lewis.
Epstein, a member of the women's soccer team, helped bring the honor that had eluded the program since joining the MAAC: a conference championship trophy. In her first season, Epstein tallied 28 point and scored 11 goals, including eight game-winners, which ranked her third in the NCAA in that category. In her first season, the 2011 MAAC Rookie of the Year tied the all-time Marist program record for most points in a single season.
"The best thing about Amanda is her composure and her technical ability on the ball," women's soccer Head Coach Katherine Lyn said. "She always throws off the best defenders with the way the ball sticks like glue to her feet. That, along with her intelligent decision making, makes her so special."
Lewis came to Marist this season as one of the top-rated high school players in the state of New York, and he delivered on the hype. Finishing second in the MAAC Rookie of the Year voting, Lewis averaged 14.4 points per game, the most on the team. He posted double-digit scoring efforts in 27 of the 32 games he played in this season, as well as averaging 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. Lewis was named to both the All-MAAC Rookie Team and Mid-Major Freshmen All-American Team.
It is like I said before. Terrific does not even begin to describe it.
While Epstein and Lewis may have grabbed the most headlines, there were still many other freshmen that put a new meaning to the term "diaper dandy."
There was Isaiah Morton and Manny Thomas, both teammates of Lewis. Morton, a 5-8 point guard, became the floor general of Marist's offensive attack, leading the team in assists, while Thomas emerged as a defensive stopper off the bench. The women's team also received nice efforts from Natalie Gomez, another point guard who stepped up when starter Kristine Best went down for the season.
There was Greta Leberfinger, a swimmer on the women's team who won four gold medals at this year's MAAC Championships to help lead her team to the conference title. At the ECAC Long Course Meter Invitational a week later, Leberfinger became the first active Marist swimmer, man or woman, to qualify for the Olympic Trials with her 1:11.88 time in the 100-meter breaststroke. Well done.
Even in the heat of the spring season, freshmen continue to make an impact. Drew Nesmith, a midfielder on the men's lacrosse team, has scored 17 points and 21 goals so far this season. On the softball field, pitchers Janine Lalli and Melanie White have combined for 13 wins this season. All three players have won MAAC weekly awards this season.
All of these freshmen athletes have gone above and beyond this year, and deserve all the credit they receive. But the coaches deserve a lot of the credit as well; after all, these players would not be here if they had not been convinced to attend Marist in the first place.
"I think our coaches understand recruiting is the life blood of a good program. They also have an incredible college to recruit for," Murray said.
Murray also gave credit to the upperclassmen on each team, saying that their leadership has been a huge reason for the success of all the talented freshmen.
"It takes solid leadership for freshmen to understand what [playing for] Marist is all about," Murray said. "The leadership of the upperclassmen has really helped the freshmen adjust from high school to the highest level."
In the end, everyone deserves a little bit of the credit. The coaches for recruiting these players, the upperclassmen for guiding these players, and the players themselves for making this season in Marist athletics a truly memorable one.
So, as we raise a figurative toast to this year's senior student-athletes, let's raise another toast to this year's freshmen student-athletes. Congratulations.
The future is bright and I, for one, cannot wait to see what lies ahead.
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