Morgan Engelbert doesn’t have a lot of down time.
But the 5-foot-9-inch senior forward for the Keuka College women’s basketball team likes it that way.
“It’s kind of how my life has always been,” said the Elmira Heights native, who played volleyball, basketball and softball all four years at Thomas Edison High School.
At Keuka, Engelbert has continued her three-sport career, playing outside hitter for the Storm in volleyball, and third base or outfield in softball, in addition to basketball.
“I work better on a schedule that’s busy. It doesn’t let me slack off,” she said.
Her fall semester also included student teaching assignments in Dundee and Hammondsport. Next semester, Engelbert says she’ll be able to “float” a little more, since she is “only” planning to carry an 18-credit academic course load.
Engelbert is one of at least 23 dual- or triple-sport athletes (spring rosters have not yet been finalized) at this Division III school playing sports for most or all of the academic year. That’s in addition to keeping up with classes, Field Period responsibilities, and minor aspects of life like eating or sleeping, to say nothing of a part-time job that might also be in the mix. Such is the case for senior Heather Fish, a middle hitter for volleyball who also plays guard and forward in basketball.
During the fall semester, Fish squeezed in a work shift at the front desk of the Weed Physical Arts Center before back-to-back morning classes, rushed through lunch and on to afternoon classes, and sometimes had to work a shift at her second job – the Division of Occupational Therapy – before afternoon or evening practice.
These “multi-sporters,” can also have the challenge of juggling conference or tournament finals for one sport with pre-season training for another. For Engelbert and Fish, the NEAC volleyball tournament ran all the way to Nov. 6 this year; meanwhile, basketball practices started Oct. 15. The College has a rule that a student-athlete must finish one sport before starting another one, said Athletic Director Dave Sweet, who coaches both women in both sports.
Fish said playing back-to-back sports seasons is tougher because of missing the pre-season bonding that naturally develops between teammates. Engelbert tries to counter that with occasional visits to “a half-a-practice just to get a feel for what they are doing,” she said.
Since both women are already in shape thanks to their prior sport, they don’t need to spend a long time on conditioning, explained Sweet, adding that both “are motivated young ladies and learn [the plays] really quickly.”
Nonetheless, Fish said she was surprised to start the first basketball game of the season after only logging about one week of practice.
As freshmen, both Fish and Engelbert agreed they felt a little overwhelmed juggling school, sports and life. Fish didn’t attempt to add a part-time job to her school schedule until second semester when she felt more confident she could handle it all. And Engelbert sat out basketball season her first year. But during the long January Field Period, she discovered something she hadn’t anticipated: “I was bored and wasn’t myself.”
That’s why since sophomore year, Engelbert has been back to playing all three sports, and wouldn’t have it any other way. While Fish, too, played three sports at Newfield High School, near Ithaca, competing three years in track and one in softball, she never developed a passion for either as the third sport. So, she’s settled into her two favorites – volleyball and basketball – at college.
Fish guesses that had she picked a school with higher enrollment, she might not have made the cut in both her sports.
“I’m sure you don’t see a lot of two-sport athletes at bigger schools,” she said. While being a multi-sporter may be challenging, it’s rewarding too, said Fish, pointing out that if she didn’t think it was fun, there would be no point in doing it.
In his 26 years at Keuka, Sweet said he can’t remember a time when the College didn’t have multi-sport athletes, and believes high school is a major predictor of it. He’s also noticed another trend: more women than men trying out for multiple sports, and the women more likely to play three sports, or two sports plus participating in other school clubs or extracurricular activites.
“Typically, [multi-sporters] tend to be our better students, only because they’ve learned to manage their time. And they have to,” Sweet said. Both Fish and Engelbert are on the dean’s list.
Still, within the athletic department and the various academic divisions at Keuka, professors and coaches are working with the tighter schedules of student-athletes to, for example, provide alternate times to make up classwork or tests if a student has to leave class early for a game.
“We try to make it work, because we want student-athletes who are broad-based and well-rounded. It gets back to experiential learning and everything else to prepare them for life after college. You have to learn how to balance life that pulls you in various directions, be that family, work, continuing education or various social responsibilities,” Sweet said. “We just push for them to be involved in the campus community. That’s the philosophy of Division III.”