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First-year student-athletes lean on teammates when acclimating to UCLA

(Sharlene Chen/Daily Bruin)

By Felicia Keller

April 18, 2023 10:39 p.m.

After starting classes in winter quarter and missing out on an orientation, a number of athletes relied on their teammates’ support to adjust to college life.

While the experience of the UCLA student-athlete is certainly unique compared to that of the average student – with the former making up about 1.5% of the total student body – the club of those who begin classes in winter quarter is even more exclusive. Yet every year, a select few take the plunge.

Women’s water polo freshman Sienna Green joined the team at the beginning of its season from Australia – where secondary schools end in December – while women’s soccer freshman Ally Lemos and incoming freshmen Taylor Cheatham and Milla Shafie all graduated high school a semester early to train with the UCLA team during the spring.

“Coming in early gives us a six-month advantage over our own class that will be coming in six months later,” Shafie said. “It’s six extra months of playing with really talented and amazing players who are bigger than us, stronger than us, who are just going to push us to get better quicker before the season starts.”

Lemos’ two extra quarters of experience aided her during the team’s run to a national championship, in which she played in every game of the season. Through the water polo season so far, Green boasts 33 goals – including nine multigoal performances.

But on the academic side of things, the group didn’t attend an orientation of any kind. They were left to rely on their teammates and the athletic department staff for the kind of help and information students would usually receive from their New Student Advisor.

For their first quarter as students, all four were assigned classes rather than getting to make the selections themselves.

“Everyone already went through enrollment and stuff, so you kind of get the last of the last,” Lemos said. “I got poli sci (political science), and I absolutely hated it.”

(Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)
UCLA women's soccer freshman midfielder Ally Lemos prepares to kick the ball. Lemos started in every game during the Bruins' national championship winning season. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin staff)

Now that all four are truly immersed in the college experience, they will go through enrollment for future quarters just like every other student-athlete: with an advisor that helps them coordinate their education.

But even as the transition to selecting her own classes begins, Green said her teammates have been very helpful with recommendations for the best general education classes to take.

“Everyone’s in the same classes, and people will send a text like, ‘Oh, who’s doing this one?’ and people reply,” Green said. “It’s really helpful to have someone in the class. You do end up studying with them.”

Lemos added that her teammates helped make her transition to college as smooth as possible, whether it was inviting her on Starbucks trips or hanging out on the weekends.

Having experienced what Cheatham and Shafie are going through, Lemos knows she can provide guidance for the two newcomers.

“They’ve been doing a great job adapting with soccer and school,” Lemos said. “They’ve been handling it really well and reaching out if they need help. I think my team is really good at that stuff – just being very open arms towards everyone.”

In addition to becoming close with their own teammates, Cheatham and Shafie said they have also had the opportunity to meet student-athletes from other sports in class and on the weekends.

Lemos said she also met other student-athletes during her first months through her teammates’ introductions and in the weight room.

Despite having planned to enroll in winter quarter – with Shafie and Lemos taking summer classes in order to graduate in time – all four didn’t meet their teammates until December.

Green first met her teammates right before they headed off to Hawaii for preseason training. She said it was a great opportunity to bond with her new teammates.

(Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)
UCLA women's water polo freshman utility Sienna Green looks toward the goal as she lifts the ball. (Julia Zhou/Daily Bruin)

“Hawaii was the best trip ever. We got to go surfing. We visited beaches on the North Shore. We were playing volleyball on the beach,” Green said. “It was such a nice experience because we were training hard but then the rest of the time was up to us. That was an amazing experience to get off the bat.”

Despite the support of their teammates, there were still some wrinkles in the beginning of the transition.

Green said she missed some attendance points early on because of not knowing about iClicker and relied on Google Maps to make it to class in the first week. She added that she is getting the hang of it now.

“I’ve hit every dining hall, and I consider myself a pro. I probably swiped six times today, swiping people in and also swiping myself twice,” Green said. “The food here is so good.”

Lemos emphasized that she would absolutely make the choice to start early again.

“It was totally worth it,” Lemos said. “All the sacrifices and stuff was totally worth it.”

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Felicia Keller
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
Keller is a 2023-2024 assistant Sports editor on the men’s soccer, swim and dive, women’s water polo, and softball beats. She was previously a contributor on the swim and dive and women’s water polo beats and a contributor in the News and Photo sections. She is also a second-year sociology student.
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