A Student-Athlete Questioning the Status Quo

By: Mackenzie Albrecht

Hi! My name is Mackenzie Albrecht, a Senior at the Haas Undergraduate School of Business, and a student-athlete on our Division I Cal Women’s Volleyball team. I have been blessed with the opportunity to be a part of these two prestigious groups on the UC Berkeley campus. As a fourth-year senior on the volleyball team and in progress of finishing my second year at Haas, I have learned that these two groups, although aesthetically different, share many characteristics and commonalities.

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The volleyball team is an eclectic group of girls that by design are my teammates; but by choice, are my sisters. I spend at least 20 hours a week with them in the gym and the weight room, but our time together does not end there, in fact it extends to far more than that. We spend weekends, nights, and day-offs together that consist of either watching Grinch for the 100th time, shopping for new Lululemon leggings, supporting our fellow student-athletes at their sporting events, or enjoying the panoramic view from Grizzly Peak while enjoying a noodle dish from Toss. They are my family here at Cal. We grind together and lean on each other through life’s highest highs and lowest lows.

Being a student-athlete at Cal is a dream come true and a privilege, but also the hardest thing I have done in my life. Trying to balance practice, nutrition, performance, academics, social life, sleep, and personal time is an obstacle I face everyday. I understand there is a perception of student-athletes. In the past, I’ve heard “Oh she got into Haas? Probably just because she’s an athlete.” This is not true. Last year I received an All PAC 12 Academic Honorable Mention award and my volleyball team achieved one of the highest GPAs for women’s sports teams at Cal. Student-athletes at Cal are #BrainyBears that strive, nurture and enrich the classroom experience alongside our fellow colleagues/geniuses.

But there are many differences between my life as a student-athlete and my life as a Haas student. For starters, after many late-night group projects with my colleagues in the Haas Library, trying to finish our UGBA 106 Case Projects, or our UGBA 195A Entrepreneurship pitch for Investors the next day, I have to leave around 10 pm, whereas my group members will be grinding till the crack of dawn. This is not because I don’t want to put in the time, but because I have another group I need to perform optimally for in 10 hours, on the volleyball court. My priorities are constantly split between being an effective and productive group member/student and performing at my highest physical, emotional and mental capacity every single day.  

This is what my typical day looks like. My morning alarm interrupts my 8-hour snooze at 6:30 am. I leave my apartment by 6:45 am, do rehab exercises before practice, set up the volleyball nets at 7:40 am, warm up at 7:50 am then practice with the intent to crush Stanford in three sets from 8-10:15 am. Now that practice is over, our team walks over to the weight room drenched in sweat to start our weightlifting session from 10:15-11 am. After front squatting 185 lbs, doing push-ups with 45 pound plates on our backs and holding lunges for 3 minutes at a time, it’s time to go study. Study our next opponent that is. From 11-11:30 am we analyze the hitting and side-out percentages of our opponents, watch their past four matches, with the intent to find and expose their weaknesses during our match. After our film session, I shower, eat, and ride my Cal-blue Vespa up to the Business School for my 12:30 pm UGBA 178 class (shout-out Professor Ross for always keeping me on my toes with the cold-calling). Time to start classes for the day!

Here is what being a student athlete has taught me:

  1. The ability to work under pressure.

Imagine my team is down 13-14 against Stanford (volleyball is best three out of five sets, with the fifth set to 15 points and you must win by two points) and it is my turn to serve to the other team in front of 2,500 screaming fans and on the PAC 12 Network. If I miss my serve in the net or out of bounds, we will automatically lose the whole match, If I ace them we will be tied 14-14. If I miss I will be ridiculed and if I ace them I will be praised. That is pressure. Pressure is a privilege. Imagine you are pitching to investors for your new product. You are dressed to the nines, have your deliverables, financials, slide deck perfected. After your presentation, they ask you, “Ok, but how are you different than everyone else?” How you answer this question could shut down your entire company or lead you to be the next Steve Jobs. That is pressure. Pressure is a privilege.

  1. Team Collaboration and Success.

   The ability to work as a team is an obvious necessity on the volleyball court. As a Captain for the volleyball team, it is my job to lead, make sure my team moves as one, strives for the same goals, develops trust, and performs optimally and efficiently. Similarly, in almost all business classes, there is an intensive team project. Starting as a group of strangers and turning into a compatible group is one of the hardest feats to overcome. It takes many group meet-ups over some Peet’s coffee to learn about each individual, each strength and each weakness. Learning how to manage a team in order to get the best possible outcomes (whether that’s a win or an A) is one of the most valuable skills I will learn at Haas and on the court.

  1. The Competitive Drive.

The biggest comparable characteristic and arguably the one that separates me from most is my competitive drive. The PAC 12 Conference, the “Conference of Champions” is the most competitive conference in the nation. Eight out of the 12 volleyball teams are ranked in the top 25 teams nationally. In my business classes during the week, I am sitting next to some of the smartest, driven, and innovative people in the country. On the weekend, my team is competing against the best athletes, the best teams, in the country. It is truly an honor to be constantly surrounded by greatness in the two most important areas of my life. If you want to be the best, you need to be surrounded by the best. That is why I applied to Haas initially; to challenge myself, to push myself, to test my limits, to change the world.

I am honored to represent UC Berkeley in the Haas Business School and as a PAC 12 athlete. Both the business school and the sports realm are preparing and pushing me out of my comfort zones in order to be the best creator, competitor, leader, student, and individual I can be, in order to leave the world better than I left it. Both environments are designed to push me to my limits, force collaboration and innovation, and constantly work under immense pressure, and I would not have it any other way!

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