“Love for the Game” and friendships motivate walk-on athletes

Junior Kayla Eichler, a walk-on athlete her freshman year, said she continues to play for the "little girl who fell in love with the game of softball". Photo by Steven Christy.

Junior Kayla Eichler, a walk-on athlete her freshman year, said she continues to play for the "little girl who fell in love with the game of softball". Photo by Steven Christy.

For most athletes seeking to play collegiate sports, the time commitment and the physical and emotional strain includes the incentive of a monetary scholarship. However, some athletes decide to participate in collegiate athletics as walk-ons with no scholarship money.

For three athletes at Oklahoma Christian University, their experience as walk-on athletes brought them more than a scholarship. It brought them friendships, competition, and opportunities.

Senior Tanner Cate joined the Oklahoma Christian cross-country and track team his freshmen year and continued to run all four years of his career.

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about the fact that I am a walk-on,” Cate said. “I didn’t get paid in high school to run, so getting paid in college wasn’t a big deal to me.”

Despite the lofty time commitment of collegiate athletics, Cate said it was one of the best decisions he has made because of the friendships created with his teammates.

“I enjoy everything about it so much that it has never been something I question,” Cate said. “My teammates are some of my closest friends here. It can make things more stressful sometimes due to the commitment level, but to me it’s totally worth it.”

Sophomore Dani Maniguet decided to play soccer at Oklahoma Christian and signed a walk-on contract her freshmen year.

“The main reason I wanted to play soccer was for friends, the fitness aspect and for the enjoyment of the game,” Maniguet said.

Maniguet came to Oklahoma Christian for the art program and the small, Christian university environment. For her, she said soccer was an added bonus.

“I enjoy it now,” Maniguet said. “I think it’s worth the time put in, because of the family I’ve made. Plus, it’s just fun to play. I don’t need to get paid.”

Although Maniguet has found a family on the team, she said there is a different dynamic being a walk-on.

“Obviously, you’re not getting paid, because you’re not as skilled as the other players,” Maniguet said. “There is a whole power complexity.”

Junior Kayla Eichler joined Oklahoma Christian’s softball team her freshman year as a preferred walk-on, meaning she was recruited by the coaches but was not offered any money.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to come to Oklahoma Christian, especially as a walk-on,” Eichler said. “In the past, I hadn’t ever really had to compete for a spot on the team. A spot has always been handed to me, because the competition I was up against wasn’t very good at the high school I came from.”

Eichler said being a walk-on took a toll on her mental strength, but it caused her to push and work hard to prove herself.

“It definitely caused me to get into my head a lot about whether or not I was good enough to be playing college ball,” Eichler said. “I was watching from in the dugout for the first half of the season and it really hurt, but I kept pushing through because more than anything, I wanted to prove myself. Coach Farris and Coach Gault really helped me stay positive throughout the year and always believed in me.”

After her freshman season, Eichler earned a scholarship to continue playing college softball at Oklahoma Christian. Regardless of the money, Eichler said her love for the game continually inspires and motivates her to stay committed to the sport.

“My love for the game keeps me going always,” Eichler said. “I could sit at a ball field for hours on end and not know a single person out there and watch all day long. My favorite quote says, ‘Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back. Play for her.’”

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