Cal Lutheran and UCSC players compete to head the ball in the air. Photo by Nick Paris.

Her heart is beating fast. She is nervous, but she feels so ready. It’s Sunday, game day, and the adrenaline is running through her body.

Erica Wheeler-Dubin knows that in two hours she is about to have another battle on the field. She had to miss last night’s party, and she will have another sleepless night tonight just to finish the homework that has been piling up on her desk all week.

As a student, committing to a sport means having to split your life between schoolwork and practices ­­— yet athletes like Wheeler-Dubin know that their academic lives are not complete without sports.

“If I’m not focusing on my work, I go for a run and do exercise and then I find it easier to focus afterwards,” said Wheeler-Dubin, captain and senior defensive midfielder of the women’s soccer team. “They go hand in hand: playing soccer and being a student.”

But committing to a competitive team and combining it with studies can be very demanding.

At the end of last season, four players left the team because they no longer wanted to divide their lives between competitive college soccer and their studies, Wheeler-Dubin said.

This season’s team has 12 freshmen and four transfers on the 31 player roster. With four players out and seven seniors graduated, the 16 new players know they have a big role in making this team successful.

The commitment to the team began early this quarter. In order to be selected for the team, new players had to spend their summer at try-outs.

“We’ve been here since August, before everyone else came to UCSC,” said Kiku Koyano, a second-year Cowell student and new member of the team. “Try-outs consisted of having three practices a day.”

The team played four games with all the prospects — after the fourth, the coach made the final cuts.

Becoming part of a team proved to be a good way to start new friendships, said freshman midfielder Gloria Hernandez. Being with people with the same interests, even before school actually started, meant that “we didn’t have to worry about making friends and feel awkward like other freshmen do,” Hernandez said.

This season, the team’s record of 0-6-1 has not been encouraging. With so many young talents, wins have been hard to come by.

Head coach Josh Schelhorse said he knows it is a challenge for such an inexperienced team to win.

“I like the players that we have and they have a lot of talent but they need to learn how to get results,” he said.

The 16 new women are still learning how to be great soccer players, and how to balance being athletes with their studies. Ultimately, in four years they will have to decide whether or not they want to take soccer to the next level.

While Wheeler-Dubin plans to play in either Italy or Sweden after college, the new players are only beginning to figure out what they will choose.

“By the time I graduate, I’ll be focusing on jobs and graduate school,” Hernandez said. “After four years, I’ll be done with soccer.”