For freshman volleyball outside hitter Marta Levinska, coming to ASU meant traveling to the U.S. for the first time from Latvia. She was being introduced to an entirely new group of people and their culture.
On top of adapting to a new environment, Levinska spent her first few days as a freshman adapting to a new level of intensity in practices after going a long stretch of time without playing.
"The first couple of days were harsh, I hadn't done anything in a month," Levinska said. "My muscles were aching. I was really sore, but it got better with time."
The intensity of practices isn't the only thing freshmen student-athletes have to adapt to coming into college this year. With the pandemic, this first semester has been especially challenging for those freshmen, including adjusting to online learning and adapting it into their routines.
Before coming to ASU, freshmen student-athletes were acclimated to a high school and club training workload. Initial team workouts were more difficult than before considering the inability for athletes to play in games and train during the height of the pandemic in the spring.
“How much time that is put into volleyball at this level is different,” freshman setter Ella Snyder said.
Players are also adjusting to the workload of college and adapting to the unique experience of virtual learning and fitting it into their schedules. Online classes have forced students to do most of their education independently, with some courses forcing student-athletes to teach the material to themselves.
"School is very difficult. It is basically school and practice, there is no time in between," Snyder said. "Online is super challenging."
However, freshmen have support from the athletic department and the team to help them in transitioning and succeeding in online college classes.
"I feel like it's really manageable because of all the people we have to support us. Our academic coach, our coaches and our older teammates; it is really manageable with their support," said freshman libero Jinna Zeng.
Socializing with new teammates that would usually take place over the spring and summer had to be adjusted due to the pandemic, something that is important to make incoming freshmen comfortable.
To work around not being able to meet in person, ASU's upperclassmen began to help new players integrate into the team culture by holding virtual meetings in March and messaging newcomers to ease the transition.
"I'm from Canada, so I came here by myself. Everybody was texting me, and they would take me to go get stuff I needed," Zeng said. "It was really nice, they are always there for us."
The pandemic has also posed a restriction to what freshmen can do outside of practices and team meetings.
Since freshmen are required to live in on-campus dorms, they are coming into contact with more people than anyone else on the team.
Snyder says she and her fellow freshmen teammates are hesitant to mingle with other students in dorms because of their increased exposure to other students and student-athletes.
Players are encouraged by coaches to only socialize with their teammates.
“We have to put thought into what we do outside of volleyball because of COVID,” Zeng said.
With social and physical restrictions in place due to the pandemic, freshman athletes are continuing to acclimate to their new normal.