When most people think of student athletes on campus, their mind automatically goes to non-stop work, with no free time to actually experience college as a normal student would. Student athletes don't have enough time to socialize and make friends outside of their sport. They don't put as much focus into schoolwork as they do into their sport.
Angela Bucci, a freshman hockey player from North Royalton, Ohio, has a different perspective.
"I'm in clubs," Bucci said. "I'm able to go to all my classes. I like spending time at the library. I go to the rec center when I have free time. Practices go from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, I go to my Sports Leadership club, and on Thursdays, I do the same with my Women in Social Entrepreneurship group. I think I'm experiencing college as much as I can. We get one week off a month. When I decided to play hockey in college, I knew what I was getting myself into."
Sometimes it does get a little bit much to juggle everything at once, but ultimately Bucci doesn't regret anything.
"It's not hard to balance school and life with sports," Bucci said. "Sometimes I wonder if the grass is greener on the other side, if I was less busy, but hockey is something that teaches you time management and responsibility. I've met a lot of my close friends through hockey," Bucci said. "I've been playing my whole life. You can build stronger relationships through hockey."
And while it is true that a lot of Bucci's friends consist of her teammates, she believes this is an advantage.
"I've met a lot of my close friends through hockey," Bucci said."Your teammates see you at your lowest points, and it's things like that that can really define a friendship. There's no better point than seeing someone at their lowest. Those moments show you who really has your back, and you're both striving for the same goals."
The women's hockey team, technically a club sport but considered to be the most serious and demanding club sport on campus, recently traveled to Texas for the 2019 American Collegiate Hockey Conference National Tournament during spring break. The team managed to make the Final Four for the sixth straight year before being knocked out against Liberty University, the No. 1 team in the country and eventual winner of the tournament.
Gameday routines typically remain the same: warmups, drills, and player rituals. Each player goes through their own rituals separately, but they unite together right before they go out on the ice for a specific team ritual.
"We play a certain song - we chant as a team, shut off all the lights, slamming lockers, things like that," Bucci said. "The captain [Michaela Goguen] leads a chant - 'What kind of day is it? A great day to be alive!' The rest of the chant probably isn't allowed to be printed in the school paper, but you get the idea."
One of the tougher parts of college hockey, even though she got over it quite quickly, was adjusting to new teammates and a new environment. She hadn't played with a whole new team in three years, when she first joined her travel team. North Royalton High School doesn't have hockey as an official school sport.
But, it didn't take her long to adjust.
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"My first collegiate game was a great experience," Bucci said. "I can't quite remember the team we played, but I had a good game."
And even though Angela went through a five-game scoreless streak, "the longest of my career," she scored two goals in her first game and ranks fifth on the team in scoring this season.
Not everyone manages to play sports at a collegiate level. Usually, it's the best of the best who are lucky enough to do it, the ones who work the hardest and put the most time in. For Bucci, working hard is her mantra, and it resonated with her throughout her time in high school, playing on her travel team.
"Work hard now, because you'll thank yourself later," Bucci said. "You want to keep that fire inside you, and keep that flame as bright for as long as possible. As long as you're doing what you love, it's a very thrilling and enlightening experience."