Six Stories of Exploration, Camaraderie, and Leadership

A season’s close provided a half dozen Thacher athletes an opportunity to reflect on their experiences and lessons learned.
The end of the fall sports season is a milestone for senior athletes. Some hope to compete in college, others will keep up their sport recreationally, and still others aren’t certain that they will find opportunities to play ever again. Regardless of their future plans, each of the athletes profiled below has played his or her last game at Thacher and will miss the camaraderie of a Thacher team.
* Athletes were interviewed by media heads Isabel ’19 and Trevor ’19.

Abby—Rock Climbing
Thacher is unique in that it offers rock climbing as one of its sports. Abby had a bit of experience on a climbing wall in middle school, but found the Thacher climbing experience more fulfilling: “I like the opportunities to go outside and be on real rocks. I feel that’s pretty unique. You can go to a climbing gym in any city, but I think what Thacher has is really special. We can actually go into the Sespe, into the outdoors, and use the rocks that are around campus.”

What will she take away from her two seasons of rock climbing here? “On the first day I was just trying over and over again and falling over and over again. And I finally got it and now [Jameson] is one of the climbs that I know I can just go to. It feels good to know that you can improve so much in just one day with perseverance.”

While football is his first love, Alika (wide receiver and cornerback) has participated in four sports during his time at Thacher: “I have to say that Thacher helped me expand my sports interests. I never would have played baseball, and I probably would not have run track if I hadn’t come to Thacher.”

Along with expanding his interests, Alika shared that the team has been the source of close connections: “The first friends I made were through sports. I vividly remember all the guys on the freshman football team bonding in the dorm and at practice.” His final year on the team has engendered a sense of poignancy: “As a senior, I value each moment a lot more. Everything feels a little bit more finite. Freshman year, it seemed like you had forever to play with your friends and I had forever to play football on the Thacher field. Now, each practice is numbered.”

Jessica started playing volleyball in middle school and hopes to play club ball or intramurals in college, but doesn’t expect to find the same kind of connections she has developed at Thacher. “I’m really going to miss Thacher volleyball. I love the team. I love our coaches, Doc V and Ms. Popa,” was her response to a question about what she’ll miss. Her favorite memory is of “having fun with the team at every practice... or maybe it was beating Bishop Diego when we really came together as a team.”

Baseball is JJ’s main sport, but he has played football all four years. As seniors, Thacher athletes have an opportunity to expand their leadership roles, “My senior year has probably been the most enjoyable year when it comes to playing sports. Because, when you are a freshman you are always looking up to your senior leaders. I’m happy to finally be that guy who’s a senior leader on the team. It’s fun to be one of the older guys on the field and work with the younger guys,” he reflected.

What would he like to share with incoming freshman? “My main advice is don’t limit yourself to the sport you’re good at. Try things you haven’t played before and you might end up liking it and being a lot better than you thought you would.”

Ford—Cross Country
Last year, Ford was a member of Thacher’s Southern Section, Division 5 championship cross country team. Along with that accomplishment, they finished second at the state finals. This fall, like the other seniors on the cross country team, he has taken on a leadership role. “Mr. Popa is coaching us now. I’ve certainly learned a lot from him in terms of leadership and being a captain and we’ve made mistakes together and had successes together,” he said, about his senior experience. Ford plans to run competitively in college.

His advice for new Thacher athletes speaks to the athletics program’s goal of helping students explore their own relationships to commitment: “The more sacrifice that you are willing to give, the more success you’ll see. That’s what makes the difference between somebody with natural talent and somebody who is great. So, if you are willing to make that sacrifice, you will excel. But, it’s certainly not easy.”

Many might think that practice is the least exciting part of playing a sport. But for Piper, it’s what she will miss the most. “I think [I’ll miss] feeling like I’m part of a family that exists outside of any familial connections, but just as a part of a team. Working together and being able to go to practice everyday,” she said. “My favorite part is being on a team. [Tennis] is an individual sport when you are on the court, but you compete as a team. So it’s a lot about how you are able to hold yourself together individually, but then the team can help support you.”

What is her favorite memory? “Definitely when we won the championship my sophomore year. That was amazing! We went all the way and won the Division 4 Southern California tennis championship.”

Each of these athletes will play other sports during the year, but this is the end of Thacher rock climbing, football, volleyball, cross country, or tennis. They all leave with the resilience and persistence that will help them succeed no matter what they do.

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Notice of nondiscriminatory policy as to students: The Thacher School admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other School-administered programs.