Brand new home at CWU

Hanson Lee, Senior Sports Reporter

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Being an athlete at the collegiate level comes with its own experiences, but being a transfer athlete can be far different from the normal four-year athletic experience. Athletes that arrive at CWU aren’t always freshmen.

Baseball

Sophomore Jesse Unger, a catcher for CWU Baseball, transferred from Odessa College in Odessa, Texas after his freshman year. Unger says he chose Odessa, a junior college, because they offered him a great scholarship for baseball.

“We went to a lot of recruiting tournaments,” Unger said. “I got an offer and that was the best one I got.”

While preparing to play baseball in Texas, Unger sustained a shoulder injury before the season began, which would have forced him to redshirt had he stayed in Texas. After he recovered, Unger knew he wanted to play again, but at a different school.

“I wanted to play and I was getting better by the end of the term,” Unger said. “Coach [Ken] Wilson called me, so that’s how I ended up here.”

This gave Unger the opportunity to avoid his redshirt and move to Washington to attend CWU and start his baseball career as a freshman in 2017.

When a player transfers, it’s not uncommon for them to have to adapt to new coaching, playing styles and even changes in regulations when transfering leagues and divisions.

“Odessa is a junior college, so there’s not as many regulations in terms of practices and how long they can be and how often they can be,” Unger said. “It’s a little more draining on your body physically.”

CWU head coach Desi Storey, who commonly sees transfer athletes, said ones of the most valuable skills the players need to possess is the ability to adapt to a new environment.

“Regardless of ability, we want a guy that fits the program,” Storey said. “With a transfer guy it’s got to be an immediate need… It’s got to be a guy that can help us right away.”

In addition to what a transfer athlete can bring to another school’s program, there’s a lot of different rules and regulations in accordance to NCAA policy that go along with recruiting transfer athletes.

“You can’t work them out during the year. You have to go see them,” Storey said. “A lot of times with transfer guys, depending on the situation, we have to wait to find out what they’re doing.”

 

CWU Softball

Junior Bethany Balucan is a second baseman for CWU softball. She transferred from Olympic Junior College in Bremerton, Washington. Originally from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Balucan says she chose CWU because of the distance.

“I wanted to experience life off the island,” Balucan said. “Washington was far enough away, but still close enough to home.”

Balucan would spend two years playing at Olympic College before transferring to CWU in the fall of 2017. Balucan said that getting the opportunity to play softball definitely had an influence on her decision to commit to CWU.

“I fell in love with the campus and the coaches and the program itself,” Balucan said. “I knew I wanted to be here.”

For Balucan, transferring and adjusting wasn’t an easy process, but her teammates helped her find her way quickly.

“Everybody here is amazing and I love my teammates so much,” Balucan said. “It’s always hard coming into a new school barely knowing anybody. They definitely were really welcoming.”

Balucan described the level of play at CWU as tougher than Olympic, but there’s also a lot to be learned from playing for different programs at the collegiate level.

“I learn something new every day,” Balucan said. “I literally get better every day.”

Softball head coach Mike Larabee said when it comes to transfer athletes, he looks for players that fit in well with the program he’s established over the past three seasons.

“If we bring somebody in, it’s gotta be somebody that we feel can come in and compete and play right away,” Larabee said. “It would make no sense to bring in a junior college or a community college player and sit them on the bench.”

Larabee praised Balucan and what she’s been able bring to the team in terms of her abilities and skill set at second base.

“She runs well, she’s a triple threat, she’s got some gap power, she can bunt,” Larabee said. “That’s set the table for us.”  

Larabee said that what he looks for in transfers athletes is position players who have the ability to play well, both offensively and defensively.

“We talk about playing a high level of catch,” Larabee said. “We’re chasing perfection, but we’re catching excellence.”

Beyond an athlete’s ability to play the game at a high level, Larabee looks for traits that equate to far more than an athlete’s skill set, like character and integrity.

“Are they going to be a good fit for our program,” Larabee said. “Are they going to come in and add value and be an encouraging teammate.”

 

Men’s Basketball

Senior Sage Woodruff is a forward for the men’s basketball team and is originally from California where he first attended Riverside City Junior College in Riverside, California.

After spending two years at Riverside, Woodruff made his way to Washington in 2016 after deciding that CWU would be the best fit for him moving forward.

“I knew there was a couple other California guys here and they seemed to be thriving,” Woodruff said. “I figured it’s not too far from home, but it’s far enough that I got to grow up.”

Fitting in with teammates can always be a struggle for newcomers, but for Woodruff this experience couldn’t have gone much better.

“We all love the game,” Woodruff said. “They made the transition very easy.”

Woodruff said that one of the main differences that he’s noticed between the two schools is CWU looser playing style.

The coaches “let us play a little more here,” Woodruff said. “I think that shows on the court.”

Drew Harris, assistant head coach for the men’s basketball team, explained what coaches look for in transfer athletes.

“Usually with transfers, you’re going to have guys that are a little more experienced and are ready to go right away,” Harris said. “With high school guys, sometimes it’ll take a year or two for them to develop.”

 

Women’s Basketball

Makayla Lancaster is a junior guard for the women’s basketball team. She transferred from Skagit Valley Community College. Lancaster is redshirting this year for the team, but plans to take on an active role for the team next year.

“I knew that they had a really good program,” Lancaster said. “I really liked Randi and she ended up being the head coach.”

Growing up in Lynden, Washington, Lancaster also said that Ellensburg was a great fit for her.

“I really like the area,” Lancaster said. “It’s close to home and I can still play basketball.”

Lancaster says being recruited by CWU was a rather smooth experience and helped make her decision to transfer even easier.

“It was scary at first, but they were all very welcoming,” Lancaster said. “Hands out, hugging… they’ve all been awesome.”

Competing for multiple schools at the collegiate level has been a positive learning experience for Lancaster and something that has helped her improve as a player over the course of her college career.

“The competition is way harder. It’s faster paced and you have to be more mentally aware of what’s going on,” Lancaster said. “You learn different things from playing against different kinds of people.”

Women’s head coach Randi Richardson-Thornley emphasized the importance of strong athletic qualities as well as strong academic qualities when they go about recruiting transfer athletes for the program.

“The biggest thing is what type of impact they’re going to come in and make,” Richardson-Thornley said. “Are they a hard worker, do they get good grades, are they a good student.”

Richardson-Thornley said that one of the nice things about transfer athletes is that they already have college experience. This allows them to have an immediate impact on the basketball court.

“There’s a huge learning curve when you make that jump from high school to college,” Richardson-Thornley said. “They’re a little more mature and so they can usually come in and have more of an immediate impact.”

Between four sports, CWU athletics has a total of 29 transfer athletes. Among these transfer athletes, baseball has the most with a total of 19 transfer athletes.

 

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Brand new home at CWU