Senior Year Rookies

The majority of high school athletes were introduced to their sports years before they joined the team through club or recreational programs. In other cases, players pick up a sport during their freshman or sophomore years and work to quickly build their skills to compete at a higher level. While it is a rare occurrence for a senior to enter into a new sport, the introduction of condensed seasons this spring has created an influx of seniors who wanted to try a few months of something new in their final semester at Paly. These senior “rookies” bring both a veteran and newbie presence to teams, and can contribute to the squads in unique ways.

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One of such players is Diego Mazzon (‘21), a swimmer who added water polo to his repertoire this year after joining the varsity team. He has long found success in the pool both swimming club with Alto Swim Club and with the Paly team, where he qualified for his third consecutive CCS in his signature event, 100 Breaststroke, this past season. However, the endless grind that swimming entails can become mentally and physically taxing when you are in the pool over 15 hours a week.
“I’ve been feeling a little burnt out from swimming and I’ve always wanted to play polo so I gave it a shot.” Mazzon said.
Transitioning to a sport like water polo can alleviate some of this burnout for a number of reasons. While the sport still requires a high level of physical training, a large portion of practices are spent on shooting and offensive drills which adds a lighter and more interesting component to training. A new sport is also a change of pace and scenery with new teammates, new goals, and lots to learn.
“I’ve been really impressed with [Diego’s] eagerness to learn about the new aspects of the game,” teammate David Gormley (’22) said. “It’s clear he legitimately wants to get better”.
Additionally, the group component of the sport is a welcome change from swimming. With swimming, you are constantly working on your individual speed and endurance in order to improve your times. In other words, you’re swimming for yourself. The success of the team is still of great importance, however, to do this, swimmers improve individually. Whereas in water polo, the team looks to improve as a group, and individual success means nothing to the team.
“It seemed like a lot of fun to be a part of a team environment and… senior year is supposed to be fun.” Mazzon said.
For Mazzon, the switch to water polo was easier than it would be for many. His two sports have a similar relationship as running and soccer: those who are fast tend to do well. For this reason, Mazzon’s swimming background gave him a head start compared to other newcomers and allowed him to keep up more easily at the beginning of the season.

“I definitely recommend it,” Mazzon said. “Even though you may not be great, it is fun to be there at practice and be a part of the community.”

I’ve been feeling a little burnt out from swimming and I’ve always wanted to play polo so I gave it a shot.”

— Diego Mazzon ('21)

Another change that Mazzon has experienced has been in leadership. On the swim team, Mazzon is a leader as a senior to his teammates, but when competing in water polo, he becomes just another player. While some would lament this return to feeling like a rookie, Mazzon found that the change led to a more relaxed attitude that matched what he wanted from his second semester of senior year.
“It’s definitely different from swimming but it was also a refresher to sit back and let the captains manage the team. It lets you get closer with the lower classmen since it makes you less intimidating when you are inexperienced.”
At the end of the day, playing a new sport is not for everyone. Many want to hone in their skills on a sport they’ve played their entire life, or prepare for an upcoming collegiate season. However, trying something new obviously has it’s benefits.

While Mazzon explored a new sport primarily for fun, Drew Mukherjee (‘21) changed sports as a senior for safety concerns. Mukherjee, a longtime member of the Paly varsity soccer team, decided to pick up football during his last year at Paly. The reason for his switch was simple: he needed to protect his body. After tearing his meniscus in the offseason after his junior year, Mukherjee underwent his third knee surgery in just two years, something that is almost unheard of among high school athletes.
“Once I recovered, I figured I should stop playing soccer at least for the moment to protect my knees.” Mukherjee said.
Regardless, he was still committed to participating in a Paly sport. He had always been an avid football fan, and saw kicking as an opportunity to contribute to the team given his strength on the soccer field. So, with a little help from an encouraging friend that was a kicker last year, Mukherjee decided to try out for the varsity football team his senior year. While it’s unusual to start playing football as a result of health concerns, the switch was beneficial for Mukherjee as he was able to move seamlessly into the team’s starting kicker spot.
As expected when trying something new, Mukherjee’s first season of football required some trial and error. The unique elements of football that require repetitions and not just physical skill were trying at first, yet eventually they became second nature.
“It took a while to adjust to the new elements of football, like wearing all the gear and thinking about playcalls,” Mukherjee said.
Nevertheless, Mukherjee’s senior status and his past experience playing for other Paly sports teams gave him the confidence he needed to find success on a new field.
“The fact that I’m a “veteran” to high school sports helped me to some extent to keep my cool and handle the pressure,” he said.
As a member of the team during this past year, Mukherjee also got access to the perks, some of which were presented when Paly alum and NFL star Davante Adams came to visit the football team. Mukherjee and the rest of the team were presented with brand-new jerseys and shoes, as well as the opportunity to be around one of the best wide-receivers currently playing. For the players, it was a memory that they’ll likely never forget, and was a nice consolation prize for having such a hectic season.
“We never had a professional player visit our soccer team,” Mukherjee said. “But I was 1/1 on NFL players coming to Paly.”
He, like Mazzon, also believes that joining a new sport late in your high school career isn’t for everyone. The nuances and knack for the game that is required in many sports to succeed are difficult to develop in such a short amount of time, and can lead to players feeling like they’re constantly starting on their back foot.
“It depends on the sport, because if you’re trying something really different it could be more of a struggle to learn all the rules and contribute to the team than it’s worth.” Mukherjee said. “But if it’s something that is really similar, and you already have a good grasp of it, I’d definitely say it’s a good experience”.
All in all, Mukherjee’s season was a success. He set out to have fun playing a sport and not get injured, and he did just that, while also getting to meet an NFL star. Now, Mukherjee is living proof that while starting something new might be scary, you never know the great things that can come from it until you try.

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Diego Mazzon also swims club for Alto Swim Club. He is pictured with fellow Paly student and Alto Swimmer James Fetter.