By Gabrielle Eyl
When you think of the greatest moment in sports history, what do you think of? Exact statistics like Mike Eruzione’s goal in the third period against the Soviet Union during the infamous 1980 “Miracle on Ice” hockey game? Or do you think of grander collective victories such as the inspiration that gold medal-winning hockey team left for decades of athletics to come, as a country watched a team compete for something greater than themselves?
Competitive athletics stands as one of the greatest teachers because it forces you to compete in so many ways—against other teams, against teammates of similar positions, and against yourself. We are constantly striving to be the best version of ourselves and a better team than we were yesterday. We are trying to support one another, trying to improve with each rep and each practice. But most importantly, we are trying to win in every aspect of our game, from winning the starting spot to winning the championship match. It’s in our DNA, it’s why we are where we are today. We stop at nothing to be the best. But what makes an athlete the “best”?
Ever since the day I committed, I knew there were high expectations for me. While a generally upbeat and positive person, I’m not naive and I knew the writing on the wall. In fact, I even looked up the all-time dig record, set by Natalia Skiba, the girl who had played right before me and who I would be replacing as I came in my freshman year. Fair enough, I figured. Let’s give 2,382 digs a run for its money.
However, instead of using that as motivation, I soon started to compare myself to 2,382 and the person who set this record. It all but drove me into the ground. I was constantly getting on myself for not being good enough, not fulfilling the expectations set for me by the coaches and my teammates, not doing even half the job my predecessor had done. It was a frustrating season for me as I flirted with the idea that I wasn’t what this program thought that I was going to be.
As the season came to a close and I prepared for the off-season, I realized that I needed to focus on being the best teammate I could possibly be. After all, volleyball is the absolute epitome of a team sport. Who cares about records and expectations and personal bests? I needed to ensure that I was working hard for my teammates, not for some irrelevant number of digs.
The thing I came to understand is that people don’t remember records. Sure, your name is written some place, but in ten years, someone else will be above you and ten years after that, someone else will be above them. Records are set to be broken. Being a good teammate, however, now that’s forever. This realization might have been the best thing to happen to me.
As I look back on my four seasons on Huntington Avenue, I am full of gratitude for so many reasons. The most important of all those being the relationships I have formed with my teammates. My sole mission for my senior season has been to ensure that every girl on my team works hard, works for and with each other, and competes day in and day out, both on and off the court. What am I but a composition of the girls who I’ve played with over my four seasons here? I owe everything to them and the grit and determination they’ve instilled in me. While I feel honored that the hard work of my teammates and coaching staff has put me in a position to attempt to break a record, to try and chase anything other than team success would be an insult to all the people who have gotten me to where I am today.
People remember the 1980 Miracle team for playing together in one of the most incredible athletic feats of all time. Setting records requires a craving for greatness. Championships require a craving for team success. And people don’t remember individual records, they remember the championships and the teams that won them.
Gabrielle Eyl, volleyball
Featured image by Brian Bae.