Whether it is baseball, soccer, basketball, cross-country, or rugby, athletes usually begin playing a sport at a young age. They compete at level after level, ultimately playing through high school. When they reach college, however, that ascent can sometimes take a pause, as they ride a bench on a varsity sports team, or don’t make the team at all, due to heightened competition. While that’s the case at many colleges, it’s not the case at Christendom, where freshmen student athletes often get ample playing time throughout the season.

Due to Christendom’s intentionally smaller size, it offers freshmen the chance to compete and shine during their first year of college. Freshmen Owen Kennedy, AJ Nkere, Judah Ehart, Nicodemus Kaufman, and Caroline Howerton all competed in different (and sometimes multiple) sports their freshman year, and each walked away with a similar story.

In 6’ 9” Kennedy’s case, he came to the college carrying an Athlete of the Year award for basketball from his high school. He joined Christendom’s basketball team and quickly found more playing time than he expected, excelling on the team and helping it win as a result.

From left to right: Caroline Howerton, AJ Nkere, Nicodemus Kaufman, Owen Kennedy, and Judah Ehart.

“I was surprised by the playing time — I expected to sit the bench at least for the first year,” says Kennedy. “As a freshman athlete, I came in with very few expectations so it was difficult to predict how things would go and I didn’t know of some of the dynamics on the team. However, I was also able to provide a new perspective to the team which I think was helpful. It was very important for me to be able to look up to the seniors — they really showed me the ropes and were great role models.”

Kennedy also played rugby for Christendom’s Crusaders, competing in his first National Championship this past spring as a result. The time spent with players on both teams had a tremendous impact on Kennedy, who walked away at the end of his freshman year feeling like he was part of a family.

That feeling was the same for Nicodemus Kaufman. After four years of playing rugby in high school, he was excited to join Kennedy on the rugby pitch. His previous playing time helped earn him the position of 8-man on the team — a position that demands speed and a high level of knowledge of the game. He was able to bring both to the team as a freshman — a tremendously rewarding experience.

“I played rugby for all four years of high school, so I expected to get a fair amount of playing time,” says Kaufman. “It is a lot of fun to bring glory to the school.”

For Caroline Howerton, that feeling of playing for the school was infectious. A homeschooler during high school, Howerton did not play many organized sports growing up but came to Christendom with a passion for soccer and basketball. She was surprised to not only make both teams but to receive playing time as well, joining a group that inspired her, encouraged her, and helped her to have an amazing freshman year.

“It was so fun being a Christendom athlete. I loved every minute of it and hope to be one all four years at Christendom,” says Howerton. “What I love most is the people and the coaches. By playing both soccer and basketball I was able to meet so many great people and make friends I wouldn’t normally have, and both the coaches were always so encouraging and helpful. They really wanted to help me learn and do well. It’s like being a part of a family.”

On the cross-country track, AJ Nkere enjoyed a terrific first season with the Crusaders, competing in multiple invitationals and helping the team win its first-ever trophy at the Westmoreland Invitational. Before coming to Christendom, Nkere received interest from other big colleges, but he ultimately chose Christendom due to the unique challenge he would receive from the school.

“Being a freshman athlete at Christendom has been a rewarding experience,” says Nkere. “Competing and training at the collegiate level has allowed me to improve my athletic skills and to have fun while doing it.”

Judah Ehart felt the same. A member of the baseball team, Ehart played mainly in the outfield, and felt that being a part of the baseball team further helped him learn how to juggle a packed collegiate schedule.

“Being a freshman athlete at Christendom, for me, is interesting because although I do get playing time, which many college freshman don’t get, keeping up with studies along with baseball is harder because of the education here,” says Ehart. “It takes a while to get used to balancing studies and practices and everything that comes from being a student athlete. It’s all worth it, however, and I’m grateful I get to play baseball in college.”

Being a Crusader helped Ehart grow on both sides of the baseball diamond, and even spiritually as well, due to Christendom’s constant focus on Christ as the center of everything.

“Another thing I like about playing at Christendom is praying before and after every game and practice. Most colleges won’t or can’t do that, so it’s great that our faith is part of our athletics here at Christendom,” concludes Ehart.

From the amount of playing time to the spirit of camaraderie, being a Christendom athlete is an opportunity to grow tremendously as a freshman. The experiences had that first year can positively impact all four of them, as students grow as athletes, in their academic life, and as human beings, ready to compete for the ultimate prize both during and after college.

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