Record-breaking first-year class makes waves in sports teams

Historically, Lewis & Clark has always hosted  a small student body. However, with the arrival of this year’s “Classzilla”, of over 700 first-years are young student athletes itching to stretch their muscles after quarantine.

According to Mark Pietrok, LC’s director of physical education and athletics, this is the largest class of student athletes the department has ever had. 

“This is my 33rd year at the college,” Pietrok said. “We had big classes in 2010 and 2015 that created some different issues we had to overcome, but there has not been a class like this one.”

Pietrok explained some of the difficulties that a large class size creates during both a pandemic and a period of overall social and economic distress.

“There is a national shortage of lifeguards, since lifeguard training has been hard to do,” Pietrok said. “We can’t let people use our swimming pool without lifeguards, so how do we manage that? There is a shortage of bus drivers, too, and we have to get students where they need to go.”

Despite these problems, he remains positive about the department’s increased number of student athletes.

“Last fall we were not able to do fall or winter sports, but we were here, so we had to look for ways to manage our kids’ desires to participate,” Pietrok said. “I’m extremely pleased that we have as many people as we do this year.”

However, this increase in student athletes has not been distributed evenly among LC’s sports teams. Jay Locey, head football coach, said that despite this huge class, he has less players than he had wished.

“Usually we would like to get 25 to 30 freshmen,” Locey said. “This year we ended up with 21, so we’re a little short. In total we would like 85 to 90 kids, and we have about 74.”

Ciara Orness ’22, a member of the women’s swim team, reports far different numbers for the members of LC’s swim team.

“There are more freshmen on the team than any other classes,” Orness said. “I think there are 11 new people and 26 or 27 of us total, which is a huge percentage.” 

Last year, the swim team held socially-distanced practices, with one person on each side of the pool and another in the middle. This year, every player is along the same wall again.

“It is a little overwhelming … It just feels like there are so many people, even though it is not that different of a number,” Orness said.

Recruitment practices do not suggest any explanation for the growth difference between the football and swim teams. Last year, LC football coaches were actively recruiting, though with less travel involved due to the pandemic. Conversely, the swim team did not organize any recruiting trips. 

While LC’s swim team had experienced a dip in their incoming class, that had only been during the 2020-21 school year. However, the  current comeback in numbers includes some of last year’s prospective swimmers.

“We have had a couple sophomores … join the team now, which is crazy. I have never heard of people joining after freshman year,” Orness said.

 This  increase in first-years may also lead to a shift in the culture of the team themselves.

“Our coach, Murilo Martins, said that with this many freshmen,  (seniors) may not be the ones setting the culture and tone of the season,” Orness said. “A little bit of that may be true. It is hard to tell this early on.”

After a full school year of confusion and cancelled games and meets, players, coaches and other LC athletic staff face the need to readjust and accommodate new student athletes among the largest first-year class LC has ever seen. Some may be eager to get back to their passions and others may be simply out of practice as a result of the past year.

“I can see how it would be daunting to get back into it and remember what it is like to be a student and an athlete, and to be tired,” Orness said.

For those that love sports, want to socialize with their teammates or would just like to stay active, LC’s sports teams are and have always been the place to do so. Whether the fields are crowded or not, the activity and heart of the sport remains the same.

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