Leaders of the season ahead: the roles of winter sports captains


Credit: Left and bottom: WSPN Staff top: courtesy of Lori Caddoo

Senior girls basketball captain Haley Melvin (left), senior Nordic skiing captain Andrew Zhao (top right) and senior boy’s swim and dive captain Jason Shu (bottom right). “For me I think the good captains I’ve always looked up to have been ones that have the respect from the team,” Melvin said. “I think it’s important to be friends and have everyone trust you and believe in you because without that respect, you just don’t get the same chemistry in the team.”

As winter sports begin, captains prepare to lead their teams to success. In the hopes of winning a state championship, captains must take on the responsibility of being a leader while working hard and pushing their fellow players to do their best.

To many, not only should captains demonstrate excellence within their sport, but they should also be mentors towards their fellow teammates.

“A good captain is one who leads the team, motivates and guides other swimmers and assists the coaches in doing their job to the best of their ability,” senior boys swim and dive captain Jason Shu said.

For most sports at WHS, coaches announce the captains at an annual end-of-the-year team banquet. To many, it’s a big honor to receive the leadership position.

“This is the first time I have been a captain for any sport, so I’m excited to lead the team this year and see what we can accomplish,” senior Nordic skiing captain Andrew Zhao said.

Although many are first named captain their senior year, some earn the opportunity to be a captain earlier. Two of the four girls basketball captains from last year are current seniors. Seniors Haley Melvin and Sammy Johnson will both continue being co-captains of the girls basketball team this season.

“[Coach Amanda Rukstalis] ended up naming four captains [last year], so Sammy and I were both captains, which was really awesome,” Melvin said. “I was definitely pretty excited because it wasn’t necessarily something [that] I was expecting.”

As winter sports kick off, many of the captains’ focus is on helping strengthen their team, including any new players to the sport.

“I think our main goal is to rebuild,” Zhao said. “We lost a lot of seniors last year, so our goal is to focus on any kind of new recruitment and developing new skiers. As a Nordic skiing team, not many people play the sport up until high school, so for many new skiers this is the first time that they’ve ever skied or cross-country skied.”

Due to COVID-19 shifting the structure of practices and games the last winter season, athletes stepped up to assist their coaches. Many teams adjusted to different schedules and mandates, which ultimately helped players become better fit to be captains.

“Our whole team was split into three different practice groups with each lane split on other ends of the pool,” Shu said. “There were no team events, and the boys and girls were completely separate.”

COVID-19 also affected teams in the sense that they had fewer opportunities to connect outside of practices and games. Many teams were unable to have fans watch them, and it changed the atmosphere of games, races and meets.

“We weren’t able to have team dinners last year, and we weren’t able to do a lot of the team bonding stuff that is typically how the team gets really close with each other, so that was unfortunate,” Melvin said.

Many of the captains feel like they have been able to comfortably step into the role of being a leader by following the actions of their past captains and helping out during the pandemic last year.

“Because of Covid-19 last year, I was already stepping up and acting like a co-captain,” Shu said.

Melvin has been a part of the girls varsity basketball team for all of her high school career, and she has been influenced greatly by her past captains.

“For me, I think the good captains I’ve always looked up to have been ones that have the respect from the team,” Melvin said. “I think it’s important to be friends and have everyone trust and believe in you because without that respect, you just don’t get the same chemistry in the team.”

Zhao joined the ski team his freshman year and had never Nordic skied before. This is his third year on varsity.

“It was really enjoyable because the environment [with] the team was great for developing a passion for the sport,” Zhao said.

For most captains, they feel a responsibility to shape team goals. Although there is a lot of pressure on them, it is expected for captains to lead their teams and help out whenever, or wherever, they can.

“I think a good captain is welcoming and sets a good example for younger players [on] any team,” Zhao said.

Although captains are the primary leaders for the team, most have the same goal in mind as all other players: to have a season full of successes.

“My goal for the season this year is to have everyone come together as a team and play well,” Melvin said. “We have a lot of players who have been in the program for a few years, so I think we have the experience to get a lot of wins and be a successful team.”