BAR HARBOR — When the fall sports season ended at Mount Desert Island High School, for most players, it was a chance to unwind after months of practice, matches and playoff games, but not for senior Julianna Cleaves.
Just a few weeks after she played her final game on the Trojan girls’ varsity soccer team, Cleaves took to the job of the manager of the girls’ varsity basketball team – a sport she has placed since kindergarten.
Come spring, she hopes to be on the high school’s varsity softball team as well.
“I don’t know anything different than three sports a year,” said the 17-year-old, who is among only a handful of athletes at the high school who juggle more than two varsity sports. “It’s my hobby. It’s what I do.”
Growing up, she said, her parents encouraged her to experiment with different sports rather than pressing her to specialize in just one. “I would just try it out to see which ones I liked.” Cleaves tried her hand at gymnastics, swimming and badminton as well, and the three that she stuck with are the ones she said she enjoyed the most.
Entering high school, she said she was fairly certain she would be able to keep up. “I said to myself, ‘Okay this will be fine, this will be fun.’” Her freshman year, along with managing athletics, she secured academic high honors. She strode through her sophomore and juniors years as well, despite battling mono, which set her back two months during basketball season.
Her senior year, however, has been challenging. “Time management is a huge part of it, which I still work on,” she said about attempting to play her best on the field while also handling difficult academic course loads.
The skills she learns from one sport not only benefit her in playing another, but also boost her academic performance.
“When you play a sport, you learn how to control what you do, and it carries from one sport to [another] sport,” she said. After years of playing basketball, she can slide the way she needs to on a softball field. “I have a better awareness of how my body works on the field or on the court.”
Cleaves has been able to gain “game intelligence,” by being on teams throughout the year. She can “break down rules” and “understand how to see the field.”
Communication on and off the field, a skill stressed vigorously by soccer head varsity Coach May Dow, has helped Cleaves in her academic life. On the field, she said it is essential for teammates to communicate because it “creates rhythm and flow” and helps keep a “continuous upbeat flow throughout the game or even in practice.”
That constant attempt to improve communication on field gives her the confidence to ask her teachers for help whenever she struggles. “I’ve been really vocal with that,” she said. “If I don’t get something, I’m going to tell you.”
Discipline is a vital skill she has been able to learn from sports and translate into other aspects of her life. Waking up at 6 a.m. for practice, then heading for her two summer jobs or pushing herself to concentrate on schoolwork after a long day of playing and traveling for an away game has been challenging but worthwhile. “I have days when I just really don’t want to go to school,” she admitted with a laugh. “But it’s all part of the high school experience. You only get to do this once.”
Discipline, she said, is what she will need as she finishes her senior year at the high school and heads on to a college and even thereafter.
Sports are more than simply about a game for her, and Cleaves admitted it is often difficult to deal with failure. Playing on defense on the varsity soccer team, rather than on offense like she had in the past, has made her look at losing a game in a different light since she wasn’t the one scoring. Even though she tries to not take a loss personally in soccer or softball, she considers basketball to be more of an evaluation of herself, and often after losing a match, she asks herself, “What could I have done to get that extra point?”
“Taking a loss has always been hard, but that just pushes me and the rest of my team to do better.”
The three sports, she said, are an outlet for her frustration, stress and sadness. “[It has] helped mold how I handle things in any aspect – studies, dealing with friends, anything,” she said. “It has helped build who I am and the kind of player I am.”