Prep Sports

Athletes search for a mental edge

HS journalism: I.C. West seniors shooting for perfect swing, serve

Iowa City West’s Grace Fleckenstein (center) holds the Battle for the Spike trophy as she celebrates with her teammates after winning the match against Iowa City High in August. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa City West’s Grace Fleckenstein (center) holds the Battle for the Spike trophy as she celebrates with her teammates after winning the match against Iowa City High in August. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Sweat streaks across his forehead, his skin stickier than pancakes drenched in syrup on a lazy Sunday morning.

His ears are pounding, muscles tightening.

This feeling never gets old.

At least, that’s the case for Iowa City West senior golfer Kyle Spence.

“I could just play a hole and then walk back to the tee box and play it ... 10,000 times (again), and it would be a completely different experience every single time. That’s just the nature of the game,” Spence said.

Having moved to America from Ireland, Spence’s father learned golf through work and later introduced it to his son.

“(My dad) didn’t know a lot about basketball, didn’t know a lot about football, baseball (or any) American sport,” Spence said. “He gave me a little plastic golf club when I was 2-years-old to mess around with in the backyard, and I’ve pretty much been in love with it ever since.

“It’s been my lifelong passion.”

Even with a love and dedication for the game, Spence still spends hours improving and perfecting his swing. From working on his grip to analyzing videos of his own performance, Spence always is looking for ways to improve.

“If I win a tournament, I could always go back and say there’s five or six shots there that I still left out on the course,” Spence said.

Athletes can spend hours a day pushing their bodies, but that’s only half of the battle.

“(In) golf, one of the most important traits is to make sure that you run through the tape,” Spence said. “And to make sure that you know if you have a bad hole, you pick up and go to the next one, because the next one shouldn’t be affected by the last one.

“It’s a different hole and that’s the only way to recover.”

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While the physical components are important to getting a perfect swing, the mental aspects are just as important.

“I consistently pick the most terrifying, terrible shots because my (signature) is that if I make myself really, really uncomfortable in practice and pick the worst possible lie, worst possible shot in practice, nothing is going to faze me when I play in the tournament,” Spence said. “The worst break (or) the worst hit off of a tree on to a terrible spot can’t faze me because I’ve done it before ... It’s better to be faced with it (in practice_ than to be faced with it in the tournament having never seen it before.”

THE PERFECT SERVE

For senior Grace Fleckenstein, getting the perfect serve is all about mentality.

“Volleyball is so mental. If you have any doubts in your head that you’re going to miss a serve, you probably will, even if you’ve served thousands and thousands of balls,” Fleckenstein said.

However, the mental components in volleyball differ from other sports.

“Since it’s a team sport, you can’t get in your own head because it will create islands, and we can’t have six individual islands on the team,” said junior Rylee Fay.

The key to getting that perfect serve is knowing how to recover from the bad ones.

“I just brush it off. I focus on (the fact that) this is a team sport,” said senior Haley Gallagher. “You have to play (as) one team. Your teammates have to have trust in you and have to know that you’re going to come back with the next pass or ... whatever you do next.”

The team strives to leave their personal lives behind when stepping onto the court.

“Our coach says ... ‘Be where your shoes are,’” Fleckenstein said. “So if we’re in the gym, we’re supposed to leave all outside things outside of the gym.”

The still-recent death of Caroline Found continues to put day-to-day struggles into perspective. Every year, the team visits the tree where Found crashed her moped, writing something down on a ribbon and tying it to the tree to honor her life.

“That was such a big event that happened,” said Fay, recalling the tragic accident.

“(There are) little things in our lives that you bring into the court; there could be something so much worse that could happen to us, and we just need to let everything that isn’t big (not) affect us, because something could happen any day,” Fay said.

In the end, getting that perfect serve all comes down to being a team.

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“We’re teammates, and we all are trying to accomplish the same goal,” Gallagher said. “You can’t let your problems affect you when you step onto the court. I feel like if you do it, affects the whole team’s mojo.”

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.