Julia Costanzo looks to play the ball up the field. PHOTO BY MARTIN BAZYL, COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

First year is hard for everyone, but it is often especially hard for student-athletes, as rookie season is an overwhelming mass of new experiences. Entering my first season on the Varsity Blues field hockey team, I was thrust into a world of new teammates, workouts, practice schedules, classes, and responsibilities. I remember my first season as a difficult transition period — I had to adjust quickly, especially because we compete in the fall — but the lessons I learned then are still relevant now in my third year, and they often inform my actions both on and off the field.

My rookie season also taught me to value my teammates. Playing a varsity sport is a unique opportunity to form lasting friendships. The moment I joined the team, I gained 20 new friends and relied on their support during the beginning of my first year. Since I was usually training at the downtown campus, I didn’t know anyone at UTM, where I attended classes. My teammates were always there to talk to me, give me advice, and support me whenever I needed it most. It was during that first month, as I navigated two unfamiliar campuses, that my teammates made me feel like I belonged somewhere — they became my family. This is why when new players join our team each season, I make sure to welcome them, include them, and support them the way my teammates did when I was a rookie.

My rookie season also taught me how to be a good leader. In my first year, our leadership team comprised of four highly experienced players, three of whom were in their fifth season and three of whom had national team experience. Collectively, they kept us motivated and focused, made sure everyone felt included, and maintained a high level of intensity at practice and workouts. Whenever one of our captains told me I was doing a good job, it always meant a lot and encouraged me to keep improving. Now, as one of the captains of the team, I remember how my captains made me feel during my rookie season, and I strive to create similar experiences for our first years.

My rookie season introduced me to the Blues field hockey culture of excellence. Our coach always encouraged us to be better. Winning games was not enough; we could always be faster, fitter, smarter, more skilled, and play better as a team. We spent countless hours working out, running suicides, watching videos, drawing plays, and practicing to improve as a team. I felt everyone around me — my coaches, my teammates, and our support staff — give their best effort to ensure our success. This atmosphere existed long before my rookie season, continues today, and will continue in the future, even long after I graduate. It’s important to me that I instill this work ethic in my younger teammates just as my veteran teammates did for me in order to ensure that this tradition of excellence continues.

Moreover, my rookie season taught me how to earn my spot on the field. During my first season we had a big squad that required we leave five players off every game day roster. During the first three weeks of my rookie season, I watched half our games from the stands. By the fourth week, I was motivated to prove I was good enough by performing my best at practice and in games. Eventually, I would even earn a spot on our provincial and national championship rosters. My experience vying for a spot on our competition roster taught me to value every minute I play in my Blues uniform. I know I’ve earned every opportunity, and I’m reminded to continue working hard to earn my playing time.

My rookie season taught me what it feels like to win. During the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) final of my rookie season, we were down 3–0 early in the game, but we refused to lose. We fought back and ended up scoring four unanswered goals to win 4–3 and capture the OUA banner. I vividly remember moments from that game: celebrating our tying goal, watching Amanda Woodcroft score a diving top corner reverse stick shot — probably the best goal I’ve ever seen — to give us the lead, defending a penalty corner as the seconds wound down, and, finally, sprinting to join my teammates in a group hug as the buzzer sounded. I will never forget the shared determination to win and the celebration of achievement our team felt that day. In every game I play, I chase these emotions.

My rookie season also taught me how to lose. During our final round robin match at the U SPORTS championship, a last-minute goal knocked us out of the finals. Unlike the win a week prior at the OUA Championship, I didn’t hoist the trophy in the air this time. Instead, it was ripped away in a split second. I still feel the crushing, heart-stopping defeat I experienced standing on the field at the University of Victoria when I realized our chance to win a national championship was over. As a rookie, I experienced the reality of a demoralizing defeat and decided I never wanted to feel that way again. During difficult workouts or practices I always remember this feeling — reminding myself how horrible I felt that day and motivating myself to keep working so that I never feel like that again.

Everything I experienced in my rookie season follows me. As a student-athlete, it influences me everyday. Traits I picked up from my veteran teammates have shaped the way I support our younger athletes. The team’s culture of excellence has never stopped since my first day in a Blues uniform — and I continue to pass on this tradition to my new teammates. I value every minute I play — striving for success and constantly motivated by memories of defeat.

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