When he’s not virtually roaming the eastern seaboard of Rebirth Island in Call of Duty: Warzone, Rams men’s hockey player Jackson Doherty is covering all areas of the ice and soaking in the first-year experiences as the days roll along. Taking it one day at a time has been the forward’s motto all season long, putting future expectations for himself on the backburner as a means of staying in the moment.

Student athletes at Ryerson University have always juggled school and sport, but this year, first-year players also had to factor the Ontario University Athletics hiatus and a transition to in-person learning into the mix.

“Even if you're not doing the best in school [or] some other thing’s going the wrong way for you, going to the rink is kind of an escape,” said Doherty.

Getting in the right headspace and managing his time have been two of Doherty's biggest hurdles this season. Living in the moment is important to Doherty, and so is the youngster’s goal to “be polite, be thankful and be grateful for the things that you have.”

When it comes to mental-health, the freshman doubles down on reinforcing his outlook on the game and said he checks in with a sports psychologist weekly to keep his mind fresh and engaged.

Doherty emphasized the importance of having a “neutral standpoint”—like a psychologist to turn to—and has learned not to worry about things beyond his control as the year has progressed.

The freshman’s method of blocking out the noise associated with being a student-athlete is similar to another Rams rookie who can be found just one floor below the MAC rink, on the volleyball court.

Haley Fedick, a first-year forward for the Rams women's basketball team, has witnessed her first full season at Ryerson with a more mature set of eyes than most OUA rookies.

Fedick was recruited prior to the 2020-21 season, which was later cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While only a rookie in eligibility, heading into this season Fedick was the oldest of the young bunch, which led to pressure to meet expectations set for players her age.

“I came in with super high expectations for myself which was unrealistic for the circumstances,” she said.

As the season inched along, Fedick’s “unrealistic” expectations began to evaporate as the rookie came up with strategies to tackle the first-semester problems that wore her down.

Like Doherty, Fedick approached a sports psychologist and found the remedy to relieve some of her unattainable expectations. Through understanding her role on the squad as being a rookie producer, Fedick revisited the presumptions set for herself at the beginning of the year and began to reduce the personal criticisms of her own game.

Trying not to be too hard on herself was the mental tweak that changed the tides for the Rams rookie, helping her set her own manageable expectations.

While the Rams have been putting in work on the hardwood all year long, very few athletes have had to deal with the complete change in scenery experienced by outside hitter Zoe Kuck.

Born and raised in Montpellier, France, Kuck always possessed a dream to one day take her talents overseas, with Toronto being one of the cities at the top of her list. Despite it being her second year living in the city, the outside hitter is adapting to life both on the hardwood and in the classroom—but certainly not without some bumps along the way.

Playing her entire career in a foreign country forced Kuck to learn the sport’s unique language on the court. She said terms such as ‘31’s,’ ‘51’s’ and ‘step-arounds’ were the most difficult concepts to grasp.

For Kuck, every second on the court grew in importance as the year progressed—something she especially realized following the OUA pause in early January. The rookie said she spent the break regathering her thoughts, and came out of it with a clear objective in mind. “This could be gone at any second, we can go back into our quarantine any second. Have as much fun as you can with it, while obviously being serious about it.”

Although her consistency on the court remained unaffected once play resumed, Kuck’s approach to the game changed drastically, as she said the early season reps made it a lot easier to put the game into perspective.

It was a tale of two seasons for the young Ram whose nerves turned to normalized confidence both on and off the court. Kuck set career highs in both kills (five) and assists (two) following the conference-wide pause—a testament to the first-year’s reestablished approach.

Kuck credits much of her redefined game to some of the veterans on the squad, who reminded her to “just play freely” and have fun with the game, she said.

The freedom to play away from both the interior and exterior pressure has been an element to each of these rookie’s games that have put them all in a position to succeed.

This year, Fedick has enjoyed contributing to her squad’s flawless regular season and pictures herself recycling the lessons she learned from her veteran teammates. With seven of the team’s seniors moving on to the next chapter in their careers next season, Fedick is set on being the next focal leader on the squad. She looks to have “more of a voice,” and help the incoming set of rookies with their struggles.

It’s a changing of the guard for the Rams, with many teams at the university set to say goodbye to core players from the last handful of years. But the lessons established by veterans have passed down to the current crop of rookies and will be carried into the university’s next chapter.

And before they know it, these rooks will be established veterans too.