Making it at the next levelPublished 7:01am Monday, December 9, 2013
Just about every athlete who competes at the high school level has at least once dreamed about what it would be like to compete at the college level. While that desire may be strong in many competitors, there are very few high school athletes who actually get the chance to compete at the college level.
In college, the sport becomes more like a job, and more time is demanded from the athletes. There’s a lot more competition as everyone on every college roster was probably the best athlete from the area he or she came from.
It’s not easy, but competing in college sports can be rewarding for those who are able to do it. Three 2013 Austin grads are learning the ropes of college athletics this year. Joe Aase is playing Division I basketball at Davidson College in North Carolina, Helen Heimark is swimming at Division I Butler University in Indiana and Tom Aase is red-shirting with the Division II University of Sioux Falls, S.D. men’s basketball team.
Joe Aase played his first game with the Wildcats in one of the most famous arenas in college basketball — Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium — and it was an eye opener for him.
“It was a bit of a jump. I don’t know if you’re ever ready to play in Cameron,” he said.
Joe has been coming off the bench for the Wildcats (3-5 overall) as he adjusts to a role he’s not that familiar with.
Joe was one of Austin’s go-to scorers in high school as he helped lead the Packers to back-to-back state tournaments, but now he’s getting used coming in off the bench.
Joe has averaged 1.1 points and 1.6 rebounds per game while playing 11.1 minutes per contest, but he may see increased time over the next two weeks due to a couple of injuries.
“It’s a lot tougher and everything’s faster. I have to get used to playing in two- to three-minute spurts instead of being out there all of the time,” Joe said. “I have to play good defense and take shots that come to me. It’s a lot different role, but so far, so good.”
Joe said he’s still enjoying himself as basketball is a much bigger commitment for him now. He spends more time working out and watching film than he ever did in high school.
Joe recently played 14 minutes and scored two points in Davidson’s 87-78 win over UNC-Charlotte (6-2 overall) and the game was everything you’d expect from a college basketball contest.
“It was packed, it was hostile and it was intense. It was awesome to win that game,” Joe said.
Joe is adjusting to life in North Carolina and it’s starting to feel like home for him. The hardest adjustment for him has been dealing with a team that doesn’t win every night. Last season, the Packer boys basketball team won 30 straight games before falling to De La Salle in the state title game and Austin has gone two straight seasons without losing a home boys basketball game.
It was tough for the Wildcats to lose five of their first eight games, but they still think they can finish strong.
“It’s weird to lose a couple of games,” Joe said. “It inspires you to work harder and to get better every day. Going into the year we had pretty high expectations and now we’ve had a couple of injuries. Once those guys get back, I think we have a chance to get to the tournament.”
Helen Heimark is literally getting her feet wet at Butler University and she couldn’t be much happier with how things have gone so far.
“I absolutely love it. The girls on the team are great,” Heimark said.
The Butler swim team includes athletes from all around the country, but Heimark had one close friend when she got to the team in Milly Sauber, who used to swim at Rochester John Marshall. Heimark swam with Sauber on a club team in Rochester.
“I get to swim with her again and I love it. We were really good friends in high school,” Heimark said. “I knew right away I would fit in at Butler.”
Heimark is swimming the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard freestyle and the backstroke with the Bulldogs. She already swam in a couple of the ‘A’ relays and she feels herself getting better each day of the season, which lasts six months.
“I know I’m stronger and faster already. I’ve had a lot of practices where I go and just die in my bed afterwards. Getting better makes it worth it,” Heimark said. “It’s really fun to go against a lot of good teams. In high school, it was just for fun until the big meets at the end of the year.”
While she’s living far from home, Heimark has still kept her eye on Austin from afar. Her mom texts the girls swimming and diving team results to her and she stopped by to visit the Packer boys’ swimming and diving team over Thanksgiving break. Heimark’s younger brother, Craig is a sophomore on the Packer swim team and Helen will be following him this season as she swims at college.
“Craig will definitely shine,” she said. “He should have a good year.”
While Heimark and Joe are learning what it’s like to compete at the next level, Tom Aase is learning to be patient. Tom practices every day with the Cougars (5-1 overall) and he spends plenty of time working out with the team, but on game nights he’s a spectator.
It’s the first time Tom has spent a winter not playing competitive basketball in a long time, but he chose to red-shirt for a reason. He wants to be physically ready to play next season and he wasn’t sure how much he would’ve played this season.
“The biggest thing is to get stronger,” Tom said. “It’s tough practicing the whole week and doing the same thing as the rest of the team and not being able to play. It’s hard, but in the long run, it’ll be worth it.”
Tom has his sights set on next season when he can play basketball again. He’ll also have the advantage of having Austin senior point guard Zach Wessels as a teammate next year as Wessels has signed his national letter-of-intent to play with the Cougars next season.
“I’m really excited,” Tom said. “It’ll be nice to have a friend from Austin on the team and our families are pretty close.”
Joe, Heimark and Tom may have achieved the dream of making it to the college level, but they’re certainly not done working yet. As the years pass, they’ll have to put in more time and get even better at their sports.
When it’s all done, they’ll know they truly were the best they could be.