In four years

Seniors share how their sport has changed since they were freshmen

Anna Jerolimov

Dandekar believes that the badminton team has become more supportive than past years due to the long 13 month break compared to the usual nine months between seasons this time and because the previous season was cut short. (Photo courtesy of Chinmay Dandekar | Used with permission)

As she watches her teammate cut through the water in front of her, senior and varsity swimmer Riya Chatterjee waits anxiously on the block for her turn to dive into the pool and give it her all. Despite being underwater, she can clearly hear the voices of her teammates cheering. Chatterjee says that she enjoys relays because it requires more teamwork than other events in the mostly individual sport.

“Doing relays, there’s a really strong team culture, so it’s like when we used to have team bonding,” Chatterjee said. “When we do relays, there’s four people and each of them swim a leg, so the team aspect of swimming is more important. Being able to swim with other people [and] doing relays with people, that’s always been pretty fun for me.”

Although this event took place during her sophomore year, Chatterjee believes that the team has been the most connected during her time as a senior. She attributes this to the fact that the team was smaller due to COVID-19 and because of a new coach who’s coaching style centered on prioritizing a set of team values.

“It is interesting because we’ve had a different swim coach every single year since my freshman year,” Chatterjee said. “That really contributes to a change in [team] culture because [of] how the coach decides to run the team. The coach [this year] really encouraged us to cheer other people and motivate each other.”

Senior and varsity badminton player Chinmay Dandekar also recounts that the team was smaller this year due to COVID-19. However, unlike Chatterjee, he does not believe that this decrease in players had a significant impact on the team’s interactions with each other.

Rather, he believes that the team has become more supportive, frequently cheering each other on, due to the long 13 month break compared to the usual nine months between seasons this time and because the previous season was cut short. 

“When we’re not playing matches, we’re watching other people’s matches and cheering them on. That gives a feeling of community and home, and that’s one of my favorite experiences [on the badminton team].””

— Chinmay Dandekar

“When we’re not playing matches, we’re watching other people’s matches and cheering them on,” Dandekar said. “And that gives a feeling of community and home, and that’s one of my favorite experiences [on the badminton team].”

Like Chatterjee and Dandekar, senior and varsity softball player Emma Schuyler has noticed the same trend of there being fewer athletes over the four years she has been on the team. As a result, the coach made the decision to move the softball team from the De Anza division to the El Camino division of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League at the beginning of Schuyler’s sophomore season. This means that the softball team must place in the top two teams in the division to qualify for CCS, compared to placing in the top three teams in the De Anza division. As a result of this change, the softball team played less competitive teams.

Another change the softball team underwent this year was playing without a JV team. Schuyler attributes this to a lack of players interested in softball and the overlap between sports seasons due to COVID-19, which meant that the previous JV softball coach, who coaches multiple sports, was not available to coach softball this year. Despite these changes, Schuyler believes that overall, the softball team has changed positively since she was a freshman, as she says it became more welcoming.

“When I was a freshman, it was more tense and competitive, even though the coaches tried to not make it competitive between the players,” Schuyler said. “I was the only freshman on varsity so I didn’t really know anybody and it was scary. But then it slowly changed as I went through MVHS. Even though the playing quality and the amount of teams we beat was higher in my freshman year, overall I’d rather play on a team like this than on the team I had my freshman year.”

Like Chatterjee, Schuyler also believes that having coaches who prioritize strong connections between teammates is crucial to maintaining the softball team’s environment.

“I would definitely say that [being on the softball team] is a great experience if you’re a freshman,” Schuyler said. “Whether you’re experienced or inexperienced, it’s a very inclusive experience. The coaches want you to improve and have a good time. There’s not a lot of competition, nobody seems very intimidating, everybody’s friends with each other so it’s really nice.”

Although they play different sports, Schuyler, Chatterjee and Dandekar all emphasize that they are grateful that they joined their respective sports teams as freshmen, and encourage any interested students to do the same.

“Definitely, 100% [join the swim team] because there’s nothing to lose,” Chatterjee said. “There’s no cuts, at least as of now. So if you just love to swim and you like getting in the water, I think just go for it, because whatever your level is it doesn’t really matter, you can always find a spot.”