by Geoffrey Herberg
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. ---
The life of a college student can be overwhelming. With their newly found freedoms, college students are awash in the liberties, both good and bad, that independence presents. The conflict between study hall and toga parties often distinguishes the survivors from the departed. The juggle can be hectic and the payoff seems miles away in the distance.
Now imagine you are a finely tuned athlete entering college. You have worked tirelessly in club and high school to earn a spot at the Division I level. In addition to the shock of blue books and lecture halls, your free time is eaten away by training and competition. And as you begin to settle in amidst the chaos and confusion of first semester, you are told you are not going to play.
The reality of the redshirt is a common cause on college campuses throughout the country. While you practice and train with the team on a daily basis, there is no carrot of potentially playing in the match. It is a reality that affects student-athletes in different ways.
Seniors Katie Russ, Haley Hawes, Marisa Miller and Stephanie Norton are the last remaining members of a group that once numbered seven redshirt freshmen. As they saw others leave the club for various reasons, the four, as a whole, said the experience of a redshirt season is something they would not give back.
There are other members of the current Matadors who have redshirted. Juniors Haley Chee and Chloe McDaniel both sat out their first season and have since made substantial contributions to Northridge on the pitch. Last season, McDaniel was named a team captain and Chee scored her first career goal.
This season, Northridge features five redshirt freshmen: Cori Deason, Tabatha Dickson, Cynthia Tafoya, Rachel Webb and Soraya Ziarati. The quintet (three midfielders, a goalkeeper and center back) all expressed that while it was difficult to sit out of the action, the redshirt year provided ample learning experiences.
Deason is a midfielder who was a four-year starter at West Hills High School. She helped her team win a CIF championship and earned all-league honors during her prep career. But in her first year at CSUN, she had to face the reality of being a practice-only player.
"For me, I think it was very beneficial to sit out a year," Deason said. "I got to see everything from a different perspective. I got to learn about the team and what Coach West expects from me. I am just really excited to make a statement this year. I feel that taking off a year really did prepare and make me mentally and physically a better player for this team."
Dickson is another midfielder who will look to crack the rotation. She came to Northridge from Bakersfield, Calif., where she was a prep standout at Bakersfield Christian High School. For her, once the shock of not playing wore off, the benefits of the redshirt year began to pay big dividends.
"After playing soccer for so many years and playing every day all year around, it's hard to not play in games when you are used to it. It's what you live for," she said. "It was tough at times, but it was really good getting to watch everything. I think it helped me a lot to learn how the team plays. That made it easier for me."
Ziarati is the third midfielder of the group, a local product from Kennedy High School in nearby Granada Hills, Calif. Having earned numerous awards in high school and a silver medal as a member of the Mexican U18 Olympic Team, Ziarati admitted that her redshirt year was invaluable in making her a better player.
"It was very hard to sit out and watch everyone else play. But I knew that my time would come," she added. "The style was more professional. I was used to club and high school and not training with players at this level. But it taught me a lot and I am glad I redshirted. I have been training very hard and I hope it shows."
Webb, a 6-0 center back from Quartz Hill High School in Palmdale, Calif., viewed her redshirt season as both a chance to recover from injury and assimilate herself into the program.
"Redshirting for me was more to recover from my injury," she said. "Honestly, it was probably the best decision I made. Just coming into college put a lot on my plate, but getting to know the girls on the sidelines and personally will really help this year because I'll have already developed chemistry with them."
Tafoya, a goalkeeper from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., found the year as a redshirt to be beneficial in a lot of ways, especially in her play on the pitch.
"I loved having Cynthia (Jacobo) and Haley (Hawes) there to support me and teach me new things throughout the year," Tafoya explained. "Already, I can feel a huge improvement in my game and that's from learning and watching them. It was a good year to gain experience and I am glad I did it. With these last few practices, I can see the improvement in my game. That is getting me pumped to push harder and make saves I never had before."
West has seen his share of redshirts come and go from the program over his six seasons as a head coach and numerous years as an assistant. But he likes this group of five and thinks they all have something to contribute in 2012 and beyond.
"Cori and Tabatha are both fierce competitors who do not shy from contact and add toughness to our midfield," he said. "Soraya is skilled on the ball and has good speed along the perimeter while Rachel has the size and strength to compete in the center of the field. Finally, Cynthia is a strong athlete with solid speed and technical skill."
As their first season of Division-I soccer commences, the five redshirt freshmen on the 2012 CSUN women's soccer team feel good. They have waited what must have seemed like an eternity to get on the pitch. They are ready to impress teammates and contribute to the success of the squad.
And they would all tell you that confidence comes from sitting out. Quite the statement.