By Grant McDonald
“Playing left pine,” “warming the bench” — that’s just some of the sports lingo used to describe the underestimated and sometimes under-appreciated second- and third-string players on sports teams.
The bench-warmers. Before jumping to the conclusion that these players are not talented and are only there to fill a roster, women’s basketball coach Sandy Pothier explained, you have to step back and look at the big picture.
“They’re members of the team and they’re absolutely vital,” Pothier said about her back up players.
She said everyone on the team has a role, and the non-starters are needed to give the team a competitive edge. “I think your 12th man is as vital as your starters,” Pothier said.
Benched talent, she added, does not go to waste. Instead these players are there in case of injury and to remind the starters that their positions are not guaranteed.
Nicole Dubé, who is a back-up player for the women’s volleyball team, feels that the so-called “bench-warmers” are essential for a successful team.
“You can’t run practices without a second or third string,” Dub? said. Of course there is much more responsibility placed on these players than just being able to scrimmage.
Dubé said that by having a stronger second string, they create a much stronger starting line. “They challenge the first line in practice and if anything happens to the first stringers, a good team will have depth,” she said.
Dubé said that since she spends so much time with all of her teammates it is easy to notice when a player is off her game. She also helps support her team by adding comic relief, cheering, or flat out telling players when they can do better.
Ryerson has earned a reputation in the OUA for benches that cheer their players on, instead of the more traditional heckling seen with other team. Sticking with a team can be difficult if no playing time is in sight for the near future.
“For girls who have been on this team for four or five years and never start, that shows character,” Dubé said.
Jackie Vandinther, who has played on the women’s volleyball team for four years, has never started. She does not feel that her position on the team is under appreciated, but rather unnoticed.
“A lot of the time, people look at what is happening on the court, so if you’re not playing on the court you may not get the attention or credit,” Vandinther said.
She added the term “bench-warmer” has a negative connotation, when in reality, she knows that second-string players are working just as hard as the starting lines.
After all, in highschool all players were likely the school’s top athletes and being benched can be a shock. “Just to have that competitive edge for when you are scrimmaging in practice, it is like you are playing another team,” Vandinther said.
Men’s volleyball coach Mirek Porosa has stacked his bench with powerful hitters who rarely see the court. “We’re as strong as the weakest link,” he said, adding that the 18-2 regular season would not have been possible if the team did not have a strong bench.
Although the glory traditionally goes to a team’s starting lineup, Porosa thinks that’s only part of it. “We need everyone, we need a lot of depth in every position.” Pothier echoed his sentiment.
She said the value of back-up players can’t be minimized. “Their moment could come any minute.”
–with files from John Mather