For most high school sports, there’s a separate team for freshmen, allowing them to compete with athletes of their own size and capability rather than older and more experienced ones. Most players go from the freshmen team to junior varsity, and then varsity as an upperclassmen. However, every year a small percentage of especially gifted freshmen make varsity from the start, allowing them to compete with athletes who are often several years older than they are.
Mackenzie O’Neil ’20, who played goalie for the varsity girls’ soccer team this fall, said the experience, although challenging, was positive.
“Before the season, I was nervous thinking I would be playing with older players, but every one of my teammates was extremely welcoming to me and helped me fit in right away,” O’Neil said.
Captain Allison Witt ’17 said O’Neil was, “a phenomenal keeper,” who “really understands the game”. “She became more confident as the season went on, and used her voice more to help communicate and organize our team,” Witt said.
O’Neil has been playing soccer since she was three and played in the field in addition to goalie until seventh grade. The hardest part of playing at the varsity level was, “just having to adjust to the higher level of intensity of soccer being played,” she said.
Witt, who made varsity as a freshman herself, remembers the physical disadvantages of being younger as the biggest challenge.
“I had to go up against girls who were four years older than me. Physically they were much stronger and bigger,” she said. She too had a very positive experience with the team. “I think it helped make the school seem a little smaller. It can be very overwhelming as a freshmen entering the high school and knowing no one. Being on varsity freshmen year helps enables you to automatically know eighteen other girls,” she explained.
Looking ahead to the rest of her high school career, O’Neil hopes to “improve every season and become a leader on the team in years to come”. She recently made varsity hockey as well, where she plays right-wing.
Zach Barry ’20 has also had a very successful start, running varsity for both cross country and indoor track. During cross country, he was consistently among Wellesley’s top ten runners and was the only freshman on a varsity team of almost all juniors and seniors.
“Zach brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the sport. He is also very fortunate to have such a supportive group of upperclassmen to help foster and teach him the ropes,” said head coach Tim Broe.
“It was definitely a unique experience to be able to able to compete with older teammates, but it has been extremely positive. I’ve learned a lot from my teammates, and they have taught me how to be a better runner,” Barry said.
Barry was new to Wellesley at the beginning of the year, having recently moved from Florida. “I definitely think joining cross country made the transition much easier socially, as I already had many people I knew, especially upperclassmen, going into the school year,” Barry said. “The atmosphere of the distance program is really great. There is a great balance between being serious when we need to focus on a workout, and being able to have fun and talk”.
“Zach fit into this group from day one. The rules of being a productive member of this team are simple: work hard, show up every day, and most importantly… be a good teammate. Zach has done all of those things and then some,” Broe said.
Barry has gone on to do very well during the indoor track season, where he has scored in every single meet. “My favorite event is by far the mile,” he said. “It’s a perfect balance of speed and distance.”
Overall though, cross country is his favorite. “The atmosphere is amazing and the team spirit is really special,” he said. The boy’s cross country team won the state championship this past season, a feat Barry hopes to repeat during future years. “Looking back on the day of All-States, I can safely say that it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’d love to repeat that again,” Barry said.