From superstitious to just a little stitious, UA athletes follow precise rituals


CW / Hannah Saad

As soon as he steps into the locker room, Alabama hockey player Vaughan Kavanaugh determines exactly where the goalie’s hockey sticks are lying – that way, he can keep his own sticks away from them. A right-winger whose main job is to put pucks in the net, Kavanaugh is terrified that if his sticks touch the goalies’ sticks before a game, he has no chance of scoring.

“My sticks can’t touch the goalie sticks or I will literally peel all the tape off my stick and redo it,” said Kavanaugh, a junior majoring in political science. “It’s psychotic.”

It may be the strangest and most serious superstition that’s a part of Kavanaugh’s pregame routine, but it isn’t the only one. On game day, he always takes an early-afternoon nap, eats pasta with grilled chicken and red sauce, and orders a medium cup of black coffee with two sugars. 

After he goes through pregame warmups, Kavanaugh grabs a water bottle and sprays it toward the interns sitting on the Alabama bench. Like many superstitions, Kavanaugh dousing the interns’ legs with water became a sacred part of game day because it directly contributed to a Crimson Tide win.

“The first time I did this we won, and I always squirt water at the interns, and they always get mad at me because I get their socks and shoes wet,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s part of the superstition. It’s a part of every game.”

Even though Kavanaugh considers himself one of the most superstitious members of the Alabama’s hockey team, his quirks are tame compared to some players he’s known throughout his 18-year career. There’s one position that’s especially well-known for being superstitious: goaltender.

“They’re all good guys for the most part, but all of them are NASA space cadets,” Kavanaugh said. “I’ve had some goalies do some weird stuff. I had a kid who used to sit fully dressed in the showers. The showers weren’t on, but he’d just sit there.”

Chandler Hill, who plays goalie for the Crimson Tide’s Division 3 team, doesn’t do anything as extreme as sitting in the shower during his pregame ritual, but he does have his own specific way of mentally preparing. During his stretching routine, Hill transitions from a catcher’s stance to a yoga pose while visualizing the saves he’ll make when he’s on the ice.

“Being a goalie, it’s a lot of mental strain,” said Hill, a junior majoring in political science and international business. “What I do is, it’s more of a focus thing. I go on my hands and put my arms underneath my knees and rotate up into a pose. I just started doing it. I’ll be in the pose and put my hands up and do a little more visualization.”

While Hill’s stretching regimen is more of a habit than a superstition, he does have trinkets that provide extra motivation before games.

“I do have lucky charms,” Hill said. “I have two stuffed animals back at home that my mom always sends me a picture of. That’s a weird thing to say, but I’ve had them since I’ve been playing hockey. My mom, especially now, will text me them for good luck.”

If hockey players are considered to be on the higher end of the superstitious spectrum, tennis players aren’t far behind. Rafael Nadal, one of the sport’s greats, is famous for the meticulous way he arranges his water bottles next to his chair when he’s on the court. 

Although none of Alabama’s players share Nadal’s painstakingly particular way of positioning drinks, they do maintain a few eccentric behaviors that have become a critical part of preparing and playing the game.

At a tournament in Birmingham last year, junior Jeremy Gschwendtner turned on the song “Gonna Fly Now” that plays in the background of Rocky Balboa’s infamous run to the top of the stairs outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. 

Junior Riccardo Roberto, who considers “Rocky” his favorite movie, immediately started dancing to the music, throwing ghost punches and imitating the famous boxer’s stance. Since then, Roberto has listened to the song before every match he’s played.

Listening to the song helps Roberto embody the characteristics he admires in Rocky.

“The guy never gives up. He’s always ready for new challenges,” Roberto said. “I try to play like him when I play tennis.”

Besides playing “Gonna Fly Now” before matches, Alabama’s tennis team isn’t particularly superstitious. Some players, like Gschwendtner, even go out of their way to avoid pregame customs.

“When I was younger, I used to be very superstitious, and I just felt like it put a lot of pressure on me to do everything the same,” Gschwendtner said. “And so now I just try to not pay attention to it and do whatever.”

Other Alabama athletes, like junior soccer goalkeeper Alex Plavin, abide by pregame procedures that they don’t necessarily consider superstitions. Before Plavin puts on her gloves, she gets senior defender Nealy Martin to write “mind over matter” on her wrist tape.

“It’s just kind of a habit we’ve gotten into,” Plavin said. “It’s the last thing I see before I put on my gloves … At my position, it’s a very mental game as much as it is a physical game. Just kind of recognizing that piece of playing soccer and being a goalkeeper is something I want to remember.”