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Clemson’s freshest: Spotlighting this year’s top freshmen

Safety Khalil Barnes in action during the first spring practice of the season for the Clemson football team on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

Everyone loves watching their team win, and as far as winning goes, Clemson fans were spoiled this year. As the spring semester winds down, it’s time to reflect and appreciate the athletes and coaches who made us all feel like winners this year.

The future of Clemson athletics is bright, so let’s look at some of the students who made an impact in their first year as we highlight Clemson’s freshest freshmen.

Noa Vukadin — Men’s tennis
Clemson’s men’s tennis program is building something special, and Noa Vukadin is an integral part of that. Last week, the team’s season ended in the ACC Tournament as it lost to the title favorite, Virginia.

In the loss, Vukadin was the only Tiger to win his singles match as he beat the No. 51 nationally-ranked player despite not even being ranked himself. In the match prior, along with teammate Max Smith, Vukadin beat the No. 8 ranked doubles team in the nation against Notre Dame, which propelled the duo into the top 60 ranked doubles teams.

Throughout the season, Vukadin went 19-15 in singles and 16-14 in doubles play.

Regan Byrne — Women’s lacrosse
In the first year of the newly built lacrosse stadium, Regan Byrne has more than lived up to her five-star recruit status, tallying 31 goals and three assists in 14 games. She has proven to be a big-time performer, too, as her most shots on goal (8) came in the first round of the ACC Tournament against Pittsburgh, where she added five goals in the win.

The ladies are still dancing, and as they prepare for the quarterfinals, they are sure to feel unstoppable anytime Byrne is on the field.

Khalil Barnes — Football
Clemson had three players named to the Freshman All-America Team, including safety Khalil Barnes. The defensive force recorded 38 tackles, one sack, three interceptions and three forced fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown against rival South Carolina.

Barnes will be a rock for the Tigers in years to come; he has also shown his capacity to learn and improve as a player.

“I had a pretty good year, yes, but there’s so many things I could have done to make it an even better year. So that’s the focus this spring,” Barnes said in response to his 2023 season.

Pape Mar Boye — Men’s soccer
The men’s soccer team made headlines with its NCAA National Championship victory. Despite impressive performances from everyone involved, first-year student Pape Mar Boye really found his groove in his inaugural season.

Boye was named to the All-ACC Third Team and the All-Freshman Team as he made the Tigers’ defense impenetrable. He also scored two goals on the year, proving himself to be a multifaceted player.

After just one collegiate season, the Dakar, Senegal native signed with the defending USL Champions, Phoenix Rising FC, in January.

Aidan Knaak — Baseball
Clemson baseball has set a high standard as a consistently top five ranked team. As a right-handed pitcher, freshman Aidan Knaak started in 10 games, throwing 259 pitches with 187 strikes.

He holds a 2.59 earned run average during the year, and he even added some fielding statistics to his resume. While the baseball team is still competing for a title this season, Knaak has shown he can make success the standard for years to come.

Parker Dietz — Ice hockey
Clemson’s club ice hockey team broke out this year, finishing as the runner-up in the College Hockey South DII playoffs and posting the most successful record in club history.

The team’s unprecedented run to the championship was supported heavily by freshman goalie Parker Dietz. The shot-stopper was reliable all season, but he found a clutch gene in the playoffs and Clemson’s run in the AAU National Tournament, which carried the squad to a title shot and cemented him as one of the most essential parts of the team.

Jenna Tobia — Women’s soccer
It was a good year all around for Clemson soccer as the only school in the nation to have both its men’s and women’s teams advance to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament. Although the women’s team fell to eventual champions Florida State, the young talent on the squad will extend its success for years to come.

Freshman forward Jenna Tobia contributed to their deep run nicely, with four goals and eight assists in 26 games. Tobia’s play on the field earned her a spot on the Freshman Best XI First Team as well as a spot on the ACC All-Freshman team. In her first season, she set the tone and gave Tiger fans something to be excited about when soccer kick-starts again next fall.

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Ethan Silipo, Senior Reporter
Ashleigh Snyder
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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