Wildcat pregame rituals


Shay Stark shooting a free throw against Holy Names University. Photo credit: Melissa Herrera

Game day can be a time when emotions run high in anticipation of hopping on the court. Envisioning the plays an athlete wants to make can cause anxiety as they try to keep their cool.

Junior basketball player Shay Stark took me through a typical game day routine.

“Honestly, I’m more calm before a game,” Stark said. “I don’t start getting hyped up until tip off, and that’s when I find myself in an entirely different head space.”

Preparation to play guard and run nonstop up and down the court starts hours before a game. To make sure Stark is performing at her highest potential physically, she starts with a good night’s sleep and healthy meals. It’s the little things that can make the difference between a win and a loss for the team.

“I usually try to get fruit, anything with meat and as much water as possible in my system before playing,” Stark said. “I can tell I might have a rough game physically if I haven’t had enough water or didn’t eat fruit.”

The day of a game may feel completely different for athletes. It’s a feeling that goes beyond one’s individual goals — a college player represents more than themselves.

The community an athlete comes from impacts their journey to play at the collegiate level. Family is the inspiration for Stark to play hard no matter how she is feeling.

“My brother usually texts me in the morning on game day and gives me some motivational words,” Stark said. “They’re pretty important. They remind me who I play for and why I love the game.”

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Shay Stark guarding Holy Names player during home game exhibition. Photo credit: Melissa Herrera

Music is also a huge component for Stark, as it sets the soundtrack to her game and overall personality. Rather than listening to hype music before tip off, she takes the time to bask in her faith by listening to gospel.

Gospel music reminds Stark to remain humble and thank God for another chance to play the game she loves, although she has to hear Post Malone’s “Candy Paint” to set her groove.

“It (gospel music) calms my nerves and puts me into a humbled head space,” Stark said. “It helps me focus on what I feel are bigger things, like just being thankful (that) I have another opportunity to play at this level. It sets me up to put my heart into the game that day. Whereas listening to secular music is kind of like having an alter ego, where I’m really excited and have a different level of confidence when I get on the court.”

The time in between running out of the locker room to take the court is just as important as playing the game itself. She thanks god with a small prayer saying “Thank you Lord for another opportunity,” and it’s all business from there.

Once Stark hits the floor to work on her jump-shot form during warm ups, she has to make sure she is physically and mentally ready to go.

“I can’t really get into a rhythm with my shot if I’m not going hard, so I try to push myself a little bit during warm ups,” Stark said. “Though, sometimes, the heat in the gym itself does contribute to me working up a sweat.”

Game day is not simply hopping out on the floor for a collegiate athlete. Visions of making the best plays to contribute toward a win are the motivators to play well. Family and faith account for a huge proportion to keep players focused. All of these tiny details are what the public does not see before entering the stadium to see watch a game.

Wesley Harris can be reached at [email protected] or @jiggy_wes on twitter.