Full-Time, Year-Round, Hyphened-Identity Balancing Acts

Mitchel Achien'g and Mason Opple sit side by side

Student-athletes Mitchel Achien’g (pronounced Me-Shell Aah-Ching) and Mason Opple embarked on much different paths to Hope College four years ago, but they’ve shared a lot in common since they arrived. 

Both are great students, award-winning athletes, and even better people who have excelled on multiple teams over multiple seasons during their Hope careers. They perform at elite levels despite a myriad of expectations and demands on their schedules.

Achien’g is a multiple-event performer in indoor and outdoor track and field. The senior from Nairobi, Kenya, is pursuing an economics major and a business minor and has landed on the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Honor Roll (which takes a 3.5 GPA or higher) and Hope dean’s list multiple times. Achien’g was the 2019 MIAA Most Valuable Field Athlete in indoor track and field last winter, and then helped the Flying Dutch outdoor team repeat as league champions last spring.

Opple plays football, baseball and, for the first time this winter at Hope, basketball. The senior from Hudsonville, Michigan, is majoring in business and holds a B+ average. He was chosen as the league Most Valuable Offensive Player this past fall in football and was an all-MIAA rightfielder for a baseball team that won a school-record 31 games in the spring of 2019. This winter, he has been a role player on the basketball court for the Flying Dutchmen. 

Recently, Achien’g and Opple met for the second time ever and sat down in DeVos Fieldhouse to talk about their experiences as busy student-athletes. Their insights reveal how their dual identities are kept in balance.

What is it about your sports that you most enjoy?

Achien’g:I think the competitiveness through the years is what I enjoy most. In sports, you’re never the same every year. Your sophomore year, you’re better than your freshman year. Your junior year, you’re better than your sophomore year. You grow and develop. Being able to see that improvement through competition is very important to me.

Opple:It is the aspect of hanging out with teammates to accomplish the same kind of goal. You get to compete every day when you practice with your teammates or play against other teams. Competition makes people work together.

Mason Opple runs the football during a home game
This past fall, Opple was a dual-threat quarterback, passing for 1,598 yard and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 858 yard and 16 touchdowns. He finished with 45 career rushing touchdowns, third most in Flying Dutchmen team history.

How has playing in multiple seasons helped you both on the field and in the classroom?

Opple: It is how it has always been. You grow up obviously playing these sports, so you get in a rhythm. We’re always in the whole class-practice-homework mode. You don’t really ever break that, which is nice because then you have a structure that you stay with all the time. Getting away from a sport has power to it, too, which I think some people don’t realize when they try to specialize in one sport. In the spring, I’m playing baseball, not even thinking about football. In the fall, it’s the opposite. I think that really does have a lot of positives. For me, the change of scenery, the change of sports, gives me a fresh perspective as I move from one sport to the next.

Achien’g: For me, it’s different because in the fall, I’m not really competing. My competition season begins in december or January. Just having that discipline of working hard in the off-season, knowing that even though you’re not competing, it counts. I think that matters. Even if I’m not in my official season, it’s healthy for me to be disciplined and know whatever I put in will affect my performance. That’s the same thing in class. You may not be studying for an exam, but just going through your schoolwork and making sure you understand what’s being taught really helps.

Mitchel Achien'g clear a hurdle in a race.
Mitchel Achien’g is a versatile competitor as a heptathlete. She holds the school record in the 60-meter hurdles in indoor track with a time of 9.22 seconds.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a multi-season athlete?

Achien’g: For me, it’s missing that aspect of having a social life. I’m training in the off-season and, of course, practicing in-season. I don’t get to hang out with my friends whenever I want. So, I’m really in-season the whole year. I have to make time to have a social life.

Opple: The biggest challenge is probably being away from the team [I’m not currently on]. In the fall, I rarely see the baseball guys as much as I would like to. The same way in the spring. I don’t see the football guys as much as I would like to. Obviously, I’m not complaining about not having to get up at 5 in the morning all year long, but they’re grinding together. They’re creating those bonds at those 5 a.m. lifts, and I’m not there. So, I miss out on that whole full-year, camaraderie aspect of one sport.

What’s your favorite part about playing in multiple seasons?

Opple: You get to compete year-round. Then there’s the aspect that you get these two completely different sets of friends that is just awesome in its own way. I can go hang out with the baseball team on a Friday night and the football team on a Saturday night. It’s two completely different worlds, and I really enjoy that.

Achien’g: Keeping my physical fitness all year is my favorite part. It’s usually very hard to continue your fitness in the off-season. Having to practice all year helps me keep my fitness going.

Mason Opple up to bat, in mid-swing, about to hit a baseball
Opple is an All-MIAA rightfielder who will soon break the school record for career RBIs once the baseball season starts in March. He is currently tied with Mike Van Beek ’03 with 119 runs batted in.

What’s been your favorite class at Hope College?

Achien’g: My English 113 class. It helped me develop my writing skills. Coming into Hope College, my writing skills were not that good. The class showed me a different way of writing, a different way
of expressing myself.

Opple: My labor economics class. It gave me a different perspective on the typical econ like Micro, Macro. It was a challenging class yet rewarding because I felt like I learned a lot and it was taught by a great professor.

How do you find time to get enough sleep and what do you do to eat well?

Opple: When you have a full day, class at 8 in the morning, practices, film, homework, you’ve got to get to bed. You’ve got to get at least seven, eight hours of sleep. You’ve got to keep to that schedule because our bodies are creatures of habit. Nutrition-wise, I’m not a super health freak, but I just control what I can control or not eat those things that are blatantly bad for me.

Achien’g: I have to make sure that I’m sleeping enough to make my body recover, replenish and get ready for the next day. Same for nutrition. I have to make sure I’m eating the right foods that will help my tissues and muscles. Good sleep and nutrition are the key to being ready even for practice for the next day.

Mitchel Achien'g leaps to compete in the triple jump
Achien’g is the defending MIAA champion in the women’s indoor triple jump.

Where does your energy come from? 

Achien’g: For me, it’s more like I don’t want to not have energy. I want to get better every time, every day. When I have those types of days, I remember: “This will make you better. If you give up right now, you’re not going to become good.”

Opple: I would say sports actually give me energy. Maybe you didn’t do as well on test as you wanted, you’re having a rough day for whatever reason. That two, two-and-a-half hours you get to go out on the field and compete, play the game you love, is that getaway and gives you the energy back.

If you were given some time to relax, no studying, no competing, what would you do?

Opple: I live in a house of five other guys. Four are football players, one is a baseball player. We play video games on the TV in the living room, a lot of Madden. We hang out, make it a competition. Winner plays this guy or that guy and so on. We keep track on the whiteboard.

Achien’g: I like to travel. I like exploring new places and stuff. When I have the time and am able to travel, I do that. It’s kind of relaxing. I get excited to see new things.

How have you felt supported at Hope College?

Achien’g: There have been times when I’ve gone to a professor and asked to be in a certain section for class because of my athletic schedule. They have been understanding and accommodating. I get a lot of support from the Hope faculty and staff.

Opple: To be honest, the coaches couldn’t have made it any easier. They’ve been super supportive of me missing things — whether it’s missing spring football or missing fall baseball. They support me. They go to the games. Professors hear you play these sports and they support you. Everybody at Hope College supports and loves to see you playing more than one sport. It couldn’t have been made any easier for me.

Top feature photography by Steven Herppich; Action photographs by Lynne Powe ’86

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