A Freshman Start at UCI

Steven Shi | New University

Whether it’s moving away from home, having to find a new group of friends or tackling the new, elevated course work, the transition from high school to college can be a difficult experience for anyone. But for the select few, “true freshmen,” their transition is a little more difficult than usual.

Having to not only tackle the world of academia at UCI but also the competitive athletics at a Division I school, these “true freshmen” transition straight into college, ready to represent the school in each of their respective sports. This year, two true freshmen have entered fall quarter, making quite a splash for the women’s volleyball team — Victoria Dennis and Sydney Wright.

Making some memorable plays and impressing not only the crowds but also their division, these lady Anteaters are a welcome addition to the UCI family. But despite their grace in the hallways and their prowess on the courts, they too had to transition to the new rules of life here at UCI.

“The first week of August was when we arrived here for double days … and we thought that we were never ever going to have a social life here at UCI. We thought that a social life was being able to eat with people other than our teammates at the dinner table,” Dennis said.

Having to acclimate to a whole new school and the new dynamics of a developed team, things were bumpy at first, as the girls tried to find their roles in a team of others who have been through a lot. But over the course of the season, things looked up, as the two were brought together as they fought their way up the ranks.

“With us being such a small recruiting class, it was nerve-wracking trying to break into the new bubble, knowing that they were all so close and have been playing together forever,” Dennis said. “But I really think we gelled and they let us into the family.”

And aside from the dynamics of the volleyball team, both girls had to adjust to classes here at UCI. Tackling new major coursework and the stress of in-season course loads, they had to learn how to support the juggling act that became their schedules.

“Balancing school with volleyball is difficult, but we have athletic advisors that help us schedule everything. From classes to practices, having that study schedule to keep you on track really helps,” Dennis said.

Steven Shi | New University

But there are some advantages to starting right out of the gate freshmen year. Both girls have dealt with hectic schedules throughout the course of their careers, and transitioning straight into a college environment was not as difficult as expected.

“For me, I feel like I kind of didn’t really skip a beat,” Wright said. “I really think that going to a college prep high school prepared me for all of this.”

Both girls came from highly-ranked high schools and have learned how to balance academics and athletics impressively well. But ironically enough, it’s the volleyball team — which consumes a majority of their studying time — that helped them through the season.

“I think that having 16 girls there to support you, to help you find your classes, was really helpful,” Wright said.

Their support was obvious on the courts. This season, the girls faced tough new opposition and some strengthening teams, but cohesively came together stronger throughout the season. Despite not winning their conference, the girls had a laundry list of memorable games and plays, with the most memorable being their 2-0 wins over UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly SLO in the same weekend.

“It was a really good way to start not only the season, but our four years here,” Wright said. “And even though we didn’t really accomplish what we wanted to accomplish this season, I think it kind of set the tone of what we want to do with our four years here.”

Their first season was definitely an impressive one, as the girls fulfilled some personal goals and strove to prepare for next year’s new competition as the Big West conference expands in the upcoming year. However, the girls have found much more than athletic achievements here at UCI.

“For me, UCI is a great school, so I really want to take advantage of it,” Wright said. “Obviously volleyball is a huge passion of mine, but I also want to focus on what comes after this because volleyball will always be there for me.”

And they have also found a new family here at UCI — the athletic community and all of its players.

“The athletic community at UC Irvine is really close, given the fact that everyone knows each other. The social life in the athletic world is really nice and really fun because all of the teams come together and support one another at games,” Dennis said. “When you join a team you enter a set family, so when you go out and meet the other families, you kind of just click.”

But with everything else in life, it’s all about what attitude one brings to the table. Both girls have excelled and have a positive attitude despite coming out of a taxing season.

“It’s a whole new ballgame and world for both of us,” Dennis said. “It was exciting.”

Transitioning into the off-season, the girls are hopeful about what their first-year experiences will continue to be as they tackle new classes, finals and the prospect of branching out on campus and meeting new people. But they are keeping volleyball in mind even in the off-season.

“Out of season, I think we are going to prepare a new mindset with the goal of beating all of the new teams and winning the conference,” Dennis said.

“We will be focusing on bettering ourselves and our own technique, as well,” Wright said.

They’re excited about the prospects next season brings for the team, and are so thankful to have been “true freshmen” this year.

“Being a ‘true freshman’ is a great experience,” Dennis said. “We trained so hard growing up to come and play at this level and I feel like we’re so lucky to be in this position where we come in and play right off the bat.”

What advice would they give incoming “true freshmen” of future classes?

“Come in with your guns blazin’! Be ready to work hard and bring what you’ve got to make the program that much better,” Dennis said. “Even if you get frustrated, just know that if you work hard, it’ll all pay off in the end.”

They’ve had to overcome a lot in their first few months here at UCI, and have already had quite the journey. But they are adamant that their journey, despite its bumps, has been an experience of a lifetime.

“I wouldn’t want to scare incoming freshmen, but be prepared for things to get bumpy and difficult,” Wright said. “I know for me, with all of my injuries, it has been hard to stay sane and keep my eye on what I want to do. But I believe that if you keep your goals at the forefront of your mind you can achieve it.”