Vanessa Roscoe is a freshman on the Cal Poly women’s beach volleyball team. Roscoe grew up in Ontario, Canada playing indoor volleyball with her entire family.
Roscoe would play beach volleyball during the summer with her friends, and realized she liked it more than indoor. She decided that she have to leave Canada to pursue it.
“Since theres only 20 schools in Canada total, the competition level isn’t as good because theres only so many teams. I really wanted to come somewhere where I would be really challenged and pushed to a whole new level in sports,” Roscoe said. The weather in Ontario is very cold, and doesn’t suit the preferred climate of beach volleyball, according to Roscoe.
The women’s beach volleyball team recently finished up their season ending at the National Collegiate Athletics Association tournament in Alabama, according to Mustang News.
The team traveled around the United States visiting Florida, Texas, Arizona, Hawaii and Alabama.
Before the season started, the team lost “a really strong player,” Roscoe said due to an injury, “We had a new player come in before season started, so it was just a lot of confusion at the beginning of season, but I think we really came together as a team to combat that.”
“It was definitely hard, but we just became stronger because of it, which made our end of season even better,” Roscoe said when reflecting on the ups and down the team faced.
Although eliminated at the the NCAA Tournament, the women’s volleyball team has had a historic season.
Freshman Tuukka Jaakkola, originally from Helsinki, Finland, has had to adjust to the cultural and athletic changes that come with being on the Cal Poly men’s basketball team.
Majoring in construction management and playing forward on the team, Jaakkola’s schedule is anything but easy. “Being an athlete is a lot of work. It’s a 24/7, 365 day kind of thing,” Jaakkola said.
Jaakkola’s passion for basketball was inherited through his family. “My grandfather played when he was young, my uncle played, my mom played, my dad played, my sister, my brother and now my cousins play, so it’s kind of a family thing to do,” he said.
He began playing at five years old. Jaakkola realized that basketball was more than a hobby after seven years of recreational playing.
He began to play for the International Basketball Federation. Jaakkola played in Finland’s under-16, under-18 and under-20 teams at the FIBA Europe championships placing sixth, ninth, and fifth.
He also competed in Finland’s under-17 squad for the 2017 FIBA world championships placing 12th.
He decided to leave Finland to pursue basketball, because the sport is not as popular over there. “I got the idea [to leave] on my 1st year of high school when I saw how many guys were leaving. I kind of understood how it actually is possible to get to come here [the states] and do basketball and study at the same time,” he said.
It’s hard to balance basketball and sports in Finland according to Jaakkola. “Of course, there always is the chance of combining both, but usually that means that one of them suffers or then you really have to work hard. So most likely something is going to suffer. Either you’re going to have to skip some practices, some classes or graduate way later,” he said.
At Cal Poly, Jaakkola’s day starts at 6 a.m.. He spends his morning eating and watching YouTube videos. He often watches tech or gaming videos.
Jaakkola practices with the basketball team from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.. In the fall the practices are often longer, and more intense; however, as the season ends they go down in length, and focus on film and taking care of one’s body.
During practices, Jaakkola noticed the difference between American sport attitudes, and Finnish sport attitudes. In Finland, basketball is played as a hobby, according to Jaakkola, but in the United States it is about individuals and competition.
Not only is the player competing against the opposing team during games, but also against his own teammates for play time during practices. “It’s like, if you don’t compete, you’re going to be sitting on the bench. Almost like don’t even bother coming to practice,” Jaakkola said.
The constant competition is mentally and physically rough, but as time goes on players can see their improvement, according to Jaakkola.
The men’s basketball team recently received a new coach according to Mustang News. “Now with the new coach it’s been really great. It’s been super intense, working hard and competing all the time. Everyone is cheering each other on. We have a great thing going on right now, and I feel like everyone is getting a lot out of the practice,” Jaakkola said.
He noted that the team spirit has been high, and everyone is getting along great.
Jaakkola jumps into studying or classes after practice. This quarter he is doing over 25 hours of class a week. On Mondays and Wednesdays he has seven hours of class straight, Tuesdays and Thursdays he has five hours of class straight, and two hours on Fridays.
He usually only has a 30 minute lunch break between the stretch of classes. “It’s certainly a rough stretch to do 5 hours straight,” he said.
He tries to schedule a lot personal time. “That really makes it a challenge to manage to do all [my] homework before I get out of school, because I really feel like the time after school is when you need to relax,” he said.
The basketball team is given at least one day off a week, according to the National Collegiate Athletics Association. For Jaakkola this doesn’t feel like a day off. “It usually is not really an off day to be honest since you’ve got to do something on your own. Take care of your body, maybe shoot more, or study,” he said.
Speaking and learning in a different language is a big challenge Jaakkola had to overcome. The culture shift of the U.S. was also something he didn’t expect.
Eating large meals before practice was one of the things he didn’t understand, along with having to “get used to asking how’s it going, or what’s up every time you see someone,” he said.
Being far from home was also a difficult shift. “There are mornings when I wake up and I am so happy to be here, and there are mornings when I wish I was back home. It’s hard to say which one is better since I like being in both,” he said.
His father visited over Christmas break, and Jaakkola found time to go home over spring break. He plans to fly home over the summer for a month and a half but doesn’t know when he’ll go back after that. “It’s really hard to say when the next time [I will go back] after that is, because it might be next summer, or spring break. It depends,” he said.
Still he finds support with his Finnish friends that he plays PlayStation with. They also came to the states to play basketball, so they often relate experiences.
Jaakkola’s classes end around 5 p.m. He typically gets dinner, and heads back to his dorm and is in bed by 9 p.m.. “I try not to schedule anything before I go to bed, because that is time I can spend on my own,” he said.
He often thinks about his future plans. The goal is to go professional with basketball, and possibly play for an American, Chinese, or European team. If basketball doesn’t take off, he said he’d want to go back to Finland to get a master’s degree. “[I want to] spend that two or three year process to rethink where I want to spend my life. There are so many options in the world. There’s over 200 countries where you could basically go, so trying to choose one of them is a hard choice,” he said.
International students make up over 20,000 of student-athletes according to the NCAA. Despite, this large demographic, international students are often underrepresented in college athletics.
The NCAA’s office of inclusion’s mission is to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity for student-athletes and coaches regardless of gender, race, or ethnic background. The office of inclusion offers a NCAA Inclusion forum every year, to connect students and learn how to accommodate to their needs and improve the system.
The NCAA allowed student-athlete Alex Auster and Coach James Winchester to host a panel on how to improve the international student-athlete experience in their seventh-annual NCAA Inclusion Forum.
This opened the door for many other student athletes to share their stories on twitter under the #NCAAInclusion hashtag.
Students owned their backgrounds, and made their presence known.
The NCAA noted the increase in international student-athlete participation in college sports. With international student-athletes becoming a growing community in college sports, the NCAA should continue to learn how to accommodate their needs.
The NCAA has been moving toward more a more inclusive environment since last April. They have also begun sharing the “international student-athlete experience” to shed light on their growing community.
By sharing their story, and learning what they struggle with, the NCAA can help assist those who struggle in new cultures and with new workloads.
International students made up 1% of admitted students in fall 2018, according to Cal Poly View. Of this 1%, only six are international student-athletes.
Kinesiology major and goal keeper for the Cal Poly men’s soccer team, Carlos Arce-Hurtado stood in their shoes in fall of 2017. Freshly admitted to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, he was five hours away from his home, Tijuana, Mexico, by car, and 10 hours away by train, according to rome2rio.com.
Soccer is equivalent to a tradition in his family. His father’s side of the family dabbled in professional soccer, ranging from Division I teams to being retired from the career. His family gathering’s discussions centered around the ins and outs of professional soccer teams.
Arce-Hurtado began playing soccer when he was 3 years old and dreamt of playing professionally. He knew that one day he would have to make the decision between education and soccer, because in Mexico you couldn’t pursue both due to the club system, according to Arce-Hurtado. For him soccer is, and was, always Plan A, with the World Cup being his main goal. Still, he realized the value of education as his Plan B. Cal Poly gave him the opportunity to do both, in the form of a train ticket to visit the campus. He was enamored by Cal Poly and downtown San Luis Obispo, because it was so different from Tijuana’s big city, and a nice change of pace.
Nothing would prepare him for the feeling of leaving home. Arce-Hurtado said that the plan was always to leave by the time he was 15 years old because Tijuana did not have a professional soccer team. However, when Tijuana gained a team, he was able to stay longer and play in his hometown.
Being so far from home, he found solace in his teammates. More specifically, he connected with out-of-state student athletes, as they could relate to the feeling of being far from home and support one another.
Still, Arce-Hurtado faced challenges in his freshman experience. His hometown high school was full of Spanish-speaking students; however, he did know the basics of the English language. At Cal Poly he was astonished by how students were expected to study alone, and also faced learning material in another language.
His entire fall quarter was filled with soccer and classes as he was blocked into 20 units. Arce-Hurtado said he would practice until 11 a.m., and then sit in class from 12-7:30p.m, along with Saturday practices. Although overwhelming, he didn’t realize how abnormal his schedule was, as soccer was the objective. “I’m doing what I love,” he said. Arce-Hurtado said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without help from his academic counselor and the Mustang Success Center, who helped him curate his schedule.
On top of his hectic days, Arce-Hurtado was redshirted during his first season. Redshirting allows student athletes to develop and enhance their skills, while adjusting to the new academic climate, according to sportingcharts.com. Those who are redshirted train separately from the team, and often don’t attend the games, although he did sit in on some. Arce-Hurtado said this was especially hard because he wanted to play but had to sit on the sidelines and watch.
Whenever he doubted his own abilities, he said he would tell himself, “you sacrificed too much to go back.” He grew up missing out on a lot of family events like birthday parties and weddings, because he always had a soccer game to attend. He doesn’t want all his sacrifices to be vain.
“It’s better to fail than to wonder ‘what if’ ”
– Carlos Arce-Hurtado
He would also reminisce on his trip to Seattle, Washington, because the soccer team spent a day riding bikes around the city. More importantly, the trip solidified his desire to become a professional athlete, as he spent his two weeks in the city only thinking about soccer. He reminded himself that everything he’s doing how is so that soccer can be his life, like it was in Seattle. According to Arce-Hurtado, “it’s better to fail than to wonder ‘what if’,” and he knows he has to give it his all no matter the consequences.
Arce-Hurtado doesn’t really know where he would be without soccer. “Don’t ask me that question,” he said when reflecting on it. He credits everything he is now to Soccer. Soccer taught him everything, he said. He learned how to be responsible on the field. It shaped who he is today.
In fall 2018, Arce-Hurtado was finally able to make his debut. In a game against UC Riverside, he set a new record with 10 saves in one game. “I felt like I had to prove myself,” he said when remembering his first game. Finally stepping on the field of Spanos stadium reignited his passion for the sport. Playing on the field is like one big adrenaline rush according to Arce-Hurtado. “The day I stop being nervous is when I’ll stop playing soccer,” he said.
“The day I stop being nervous is when I’ll stop playing soccer”