After graduating from St. Stephen’s in 2016, Erin Mikeska matriculated to Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she played on the women’s Division I soccer team, serving as captain of the team in her junior and senior years.
Briefly describe what it was like to transition to the life of a college athlete.
I was lucky in that my sport started before school started so I had about three weeks of preseason to adjust to the level of practices before classes started. I remember being very excited at how intense the practices were and feeling like we were getting something out of our time. Once school started, though, we went to early morning practices and I think that was the biggest adjustment for me. I had never had practices that early and I found myself not being totally awake for about the first 30 minutes of practice and having to sort of snap into it. I also was much more tired in my classes due to waking up so early and started taking daily naps. By my senior year, though, I was totally adjusted and actually enjoyed the morning practices. Plus, getting to watch the sunrise over the medical center was a great way to start your days.
Do you have a favorite moment from your college career?
It's hard to pick a favorite moment, because there have been so many, both big and small. The ones that pop immediately into my mind are winning the conference championship my sophomore year, getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament that year, traveling to Spain with my team, getting to watch a Barcelona vs. Chelsea Champions League game at Camp Nou, pre-game dances with my team, bus rides and roadtrips.
In addition to these big moments, there were truly so many little moments that made my experience so special, and I can't help but thank my teammates and coaches for it.
What has been the most challenging or the most surprising part about competing collegiately?
Fall of freshman year was definitely the most challenging time. It's hard to describe, but I think just about every athlete goes through a tough freshman year, regardless of playing time. I actually got a lot of playing time freshman year, but I still felt a lot of stress and I wasn't nearly as happy as I came to be in the spring semester and my other three years. There's just something about it, but it's important to know that everyone, and I mean everyone has a hard freshman fall; whether you're getting playing time or not, far or close to home, even an athlete or regular student.
What’s one thing you learned at St. Stephen’s that brought you comfort, allowed you success, helped you adjust or changed your perspective of college?
Being a boarding student, I had learned how to self-manage my duties, including soccer practice, school, cleaning and spending time with friends. I knew how to balance my life and I knew my priorities. I wasn't shocked by the freedom in college as a lot of other students are, so I was able to stay on track with my studies and soccer schedule. I also was much more comfortable going and asking for help than other students were. St. Stephen's encourages so much student-teacher interaction that going to office hours in college was normal and I wasn't afraid to ask for help.
What advice would you give graduating seniors moving on to pursue their sport at the collegiate level?
To seniors, I would say that you need to evaluate what you want out of your athletic career and practice accordingly. If you want to be a starter coming in, you need to put in the extra work and realize that your breaks are not really breaks. You've got to stay on top of your workouts and be doing extra to earn your spot and continue to earn it throughout the years. If you don't think your role is going to involve playing time, you still need to be doing each and every workout your strength coach is giving you because you don't want to be the one who kills the drill. It is very frustrating and easily noticeable when you have someone on your team who isn't committed, doesn't put in the work, and slows down practices. Also, no matter what your role is on the team, you should always be your teammates biggest supporters. Coaches and other teammates are always taking notes and the coaches especially will value your presence on the team infinitely more if you are a team-player.
What advice would you give underclassmen considering competing beyond high school?
To underclassmen, I would say that it's important to consider what you want out of your collegiate experience. Even though soccer is a fall sport, we still had few weekends free in the spring. You're also going to have practice just about every day, so weekend-trips, visiting home and staying out late more than once a week are not things you'll be able to do very often. But, if you love competing, love being a part of a team and want to win championships, those sacrifices won't seem like much to you because it's probably something you're already going through as you play your select sport.
Academically, did you feel prepared to take on college-level work?
Absolutely. St. Stephen's teaches you how to manage multiple courses requiring homework which isn't the case for a lot of other students. The material is obviously harder as you get into your advanced courses but St. Stephen's teaches you how to use your resources to do well.
Have you declared a major? If so, what are you studying?
I will be graduating in May 2020 with a degree in kinesiology and will be going to medical school in the coming years.
Editor’s Note: John Sullivan, assistant director, athletic communications at Rice, commented on Erin’s soccer career at the university: “Erin was Rice Soccer’s team captain these past two years. She was named the team captain even before her senior year, and she also had that title bestowed by two different Rice head coaches, as the team had a head coaching change. Both those coaches came to the same conclusion: Erin is a leader, case closed.”