High school presents a handful of challenges.
The elevated standards of course work always take precedent as teenagers rise through the ranks of their learning environment.
Outside of the classroom, kids have other obstacles to overcome. Often in sports, it can be difficult for a lowerclassman to feel like they belong.
Pickup basketball games happen regularly on the blacktop during lunch, but it is more difficult to assemble the numbers, or allocate the time, to play recreational softball.
Those who come to high school with club softball experience have played within their age group for years, and then suddenly, they have to learn to coexist with those who are older.
Class struggle is real, and for Marina High's Emily Rush, it was accentuated last year by the fact that she was trying to become an immediate contributor on a team within the highly competitive Sunset League.
She finds it hard to believe that she acclimated herself so successfully in her first year on the Vikings' softball team, as she was named the Sunset League Rookie of the Year.
"I definitely think it makes it harder to comprehend," Rush said. "Being so young, playing with older kids, it still makes it really nerve-racking. You get really nervous and you start to panic a little.
"It was a hard adjustment to make, being with all of the older kids."
Rush broke into the lineup as a freshman. Now a sophomore, her coaches can see that she has a feel for the game.
Vikings coach Mandee Farish said that Rush has become increasingly outgoing, and many have rallied behind the pitcher, who is quickly becoming a team leader.
"She brings an intensity to our dugout, to the field," Farish said. "It's been a great help, especially for this year with our team and bringing that 'let's go' intensity back to our field.
"We have no, 'I'm a senior … You can't talk to me like that.' It's a really even playing field. They respect each other. They want to win."
Although their record does not show it, the Vikings have come to play in big games. Marina (9-9, 0-3 in league) failed to break through against the top half of the league the first time around, but it was not for lack of trying.
The Vikings lost at Edison 4-3 in nine innings on March 29. On Thursday, Marina fell at Los Alamitos 7-6 in 11 innings. The Griffins (18-1, 3-0) are the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 poll.
In the second leg of league, the Vikings will host the Chargers (10-6, 2-1) and Los Alamitos.
Marina also played well in the Woodbridge Tournament, winning its first three games to advance to the Gold Bracket semifinals last week. In another matchup with a high-quality opponent, Rush allowed three runs on six hits in a complete game against Hacienda Heights Los Altos.
The Vikings dropped the game 3-2 against Los Altos (18-2), the fifth-ranked team in Division 1.
"It was a really intense game for all of us because you either lose or you go to the championship game," said Rush, whose team went 3-2 during the tournament. "I think it brought a lot of intensity on people, knowing the circumstances that we were under.
"I think it really helped us come together, pull through with it. We didn't win, but I think we were really close to it. Everyone played really well."
Rush played especially well, producing a .563 batting average with three home runs, two doubles and 10 runs batted in during the tournament. She had a two-homer game in a 9-4 win against Brea Olinda.
One might say that Rush reminds them of a former Marina power-hitting pitcher in Tera Blanco, who is now a senior at the University of Michigan. Blanco threw a no-hitter against Eastern Michigan on Tuesday.
As players spend more time together, they tend to establish relationships. Few were closer than Amber Baldwin and Ryan King, the Vikings' senior battery from last year that signed to continue their softball careers at Middle Tennessee State.
"I think that's really important with a battery to have a good pitcher-catcher relationship," said Farish, adding that Rush has begun to form a bond with catcher Jacey Henderson. "That's helped not only with Emily's confidence, but just the whole team."
Rush has pitched in nearly every game this year, but even when she is ineffective in the circle, she manages to be an impact player. She also plays third base.
A common characteristic among Marina's team leaders right now is that they have bought into the team concept. Junior Shayla Thomas started out as a third baseman, but when asked to change positions, she did so.
"Once she wrapped her head around it and saw how good she was at first base, I think she really bought in," Farish said of Thomas. "It's been a great move for her. Her leadership has just blossomed. She is another one who wants to win."
The Vikings have additional young players getting an early look at the varsity level. Farish said Emily Farlin is the next in line to earn innings in the circle. Briana Gonzalez and Taylor Lane have also made the roster as freshmen.
"She has good movement," Farish said of Farlin. "It's just going to be a matter of getting that experience in and her confidence [up] in throwing strikes."
Born: Aug. 5, 2002
Hometown: Garden Grove
Height: 5 feet 8
Weight: 160 pounds
Coach: Mandee Farish
Favorite food: Rib-eye steak
Favorite movie: "The Shining"
Favorite athletic moment: Helping her club team, the Firecrackers Hagberg 16U, win a Premier Girls Fastpitch Nationals qualifying tournament in New Mexico last year.
Week in review: Rush hit .563 with three home runs, two doubles and 10 RBIs to lead Marina to the Gold Bracket semifinals of the Woodbridge Tournament last week.