Stanford's newest athletes are ready to take their place


Anticipation, excitement, nervousness and questions.

Those are some of the words that describe Monday night's New Student-Athlete/Parent Orientation. More than 200 members of the Class of 2018 and their families and friends attended the annual welcome, most having just arrived on campus.

They were split into two groups: student-athletes and parents, and each heard from Director of Athletics Bernard Muir, senior staff, academic advisors, department staff and current and former student-athletes.

"First, welcome to Stanford," said Muir. "The coaches have been at this for so many years in some cases, and they're finally here. Hopefully they can take a breath and sigh easier because they know that our coaches are going to be here and our administrators are going to be here trying to make sure they have the best experience possible. The journey starts today."

A senior staff member and at least one current student-athlete, including senior quarterback Kevin Hogan, sat at each table. Director of Championships Jenny Claypool kicked off the dinner by telling the freshmen, "Meet as many people as possible, because you're going to spend the next four years with your teammates."

With that in mind, new student-athletes switched tables halfway through the program and sat with freshmen from other sports. Cookies were served, along with a pair of #NerdNation sunglasses.

"By the end (graduation), I hope red is your favorite color, not blue," Claypool said.

Some newcomers are participating in fall sports and already have become acquainted with campus. Many also have connected through social media. But for most, this was their first face-to-face meeting with their teammates, many of whom will become life-long friends.

"I'm really excited to meet my fellow student-athletes," said Kyle Dagostino, a libero on the men's volleyball team from Tampa, Fla. "I know it's going to be a big change moving across the country. The climate for sure, and just getting used to being away from my family."

Dagostino and his parents spent the previous week in Southern California watching his older sister, Mackenzie, play volleyball for the University of Florida. They shipped Kyle's belongings to a teammate's house in Newport Beach, and took a leisurely 12-hour drive up the coast to The Farm.

"We got to campus a little bit early yesterday and walked around to refresh my memory," he said. "My desire to come to Stanford started when I was really young. It's kind of been my dream school and goal to get here and play volleyball."

His mother, Lauri, remembers the genesis.

"Mackenzie came here for a camp," she said. "Kyle was outside playing and hiding under a tree outside Maples (Pavilion). I think that's about the time he decided he wanted to come to Stanford and play volleyball."

Having been through one freshmen orientation with his daughter, father Randy, seemed calm and relaxed.

"Until a parent actually goes through this, you never really know what to expect," said Randy. "But since we've been through it once, we know what to expect."

Asked how she felt about her son attending college on the West Coast, Lauri said, "I guess I'll tell you in a month or two. I couldn't ask for a better place for him to be."

At Stanford, first-year student-athletes are housed in different dorms with the rest of the incoming freshmen, not the norm at many schools.

"I like it," Dagostino said. "We're treated just like everyone else. We're just trying to mingle with the rest of the crowd."

Anna Laman, a track and field athlete from Sydney, Australia, made one of the longest treks to Stanford. A standout in the 800 and 1,500 meters, she flew 14 hours to reach the Bay Area, arriving two weeks ago to participate in a preseason training camp at Mammoth Lake, near Lake Tahoe.

"A very long one," she said of journey. "I'm finally here and I'm really loving it."

Laman said the camp was a great ice-breaker and way to get to meet her new teammates.

"We were training at altitude; it was like double the altitude I'm used to," said Laman. "So it was quite challenging, but I really enjoyed the experience. I liked getting to know the team and making new friends."

Although most freshmen didn't receive dorm assignments until Tuesday morning, Laman already had done some exploring.

"I had lunch at a few places, rode around on my bike and got to know the place," she said. "I'm feeling much more comfortable now. I'm still getting a bit lost, but I'll get there."

Ken and Kathy Diekroeger of Woodside experienced the New Parent Orientation at Stanford for the third time. Their older sons, Menlo School grads Kenny and Danny, were standout baseball players, while their youngest, Mikey, hopes to follow in their footsteps.

"Déjà vu all over again," said Ken Sr., who earned two Stanford degrees, while his wife graduated from Stanford Business School. "I think it's a great event. It's one of the only chances that parents and kids in the athletic program can get to meet all the kids from not only on their team but the other teams. It's a great way to kick off the year."

Asked if he felt any different than his first orientation night, Ken said, "Five years ago, I was asking a lot of questions. Now, we're answering all the questions."

New student-athletes aren't alone in creating lasting friendships on this night.

"The people I met four and five years ago are some of my good friends now, and I know it's true with the kids, too" said Ken. "Like I told my son (Mikey) when he was coming here, especially before classes get started, 'This is chance to get to know people and have some fun.' "

Rob Urstein, Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Director of Undergraduate Advising and Research, and Dean of Freshmen, told the new student-athletes their lives are about to change.

"I encourage all of you to think of the entire year as a year in transition," he said. "I want all of your fellow students to be enriched by all of your perspectives."

Senior strong safety Jordan Richards, two-time Pac-12 All-Academic First Team selection and a preseason All-American, conducted a Q&A session during the parents' portion of the night. Meanwhile, the featured speaker was junior Mariah Stackhouse from Riverdale, Ga., a two-time first-team All-American on the women's golf team and a member of the victorious 2014 U.S. Curtis Cup Team. As a freshman, Stackhouse shot a Stanford Golf Course and NCAA women's-record 61 during the Peg Barnard Invitational.

"Having a team is like having an automatic family, and making sure this transition is something you can handle," she said.

Stackhouse encouraged the new student-athletes to step out of their comfort zones, meet new people, get involved and have fun. She also reminded them that Stanford has won the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup awarded to the top athletic program in the country for a record 20 consecutive years.

"I think I can speak for everyone: we want to keep the Directors' Cup rolling in," said Stackhouse.

Next door at the New Parents Orientation, men's golf coach Conrad Ray talked to parents about what to expect, promising growing pains while urging them to trust Stanford academic advisors, staff and coaches.

"I think the biggest message to the parents is that their kids are going to be in good hands," he said. "It's probably a tenuous time. There is a lot of support and great people here. It's going to be hard; you can expect a fork in the road and challenges along the way, but that's all part of it."

Ray has unique perspective. He was a three-year letter-winner on the golf team at Stanford and was a member of the 1994 NCAA Championship squad. He earned a bachelor's degree in public policy in 1997.

"Twenty-one years ago as a student, I sat at a similar dinner," said Ray. "I remember, because I sat at the same table as Brevin Knight, and he was a big-time basketball player and a good guy. I think that's the cool thing about the whole experience is that kids and parents get to meet some really neat people. They will expand their horizons for sure."

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