Nicole Vanasse '20 leads Big Blue to another impressive showing.
But ask about her best memory as a student athlete, and her voice alights as she takes herself back to Pingry’s softball field, her senior year. It was May 20, 2016 when the team clinched the Prep A State Championship, and Katie amassed her 1,000th high school strikeout. “We weren’t the most successful team on campus, but that day, a group of girls from so many different backgrounds—some had never played softball before joining the team—came together for that one goal. We had all worked so hard for the Prep title , and we did it. We made something awesome happen.” She recalls running up to her catcher and good friend, Amanda Van Orden ’17, and hugging, and exchanging an awestruck look with Coach Carver. They, too, embraced. “I was so happy to get that win for him,” she says.
The Fighting Irish are her new family, but Big Blue memories are never far away for Katie. The pre-med major credits Pingry for preparing her to balance the rigors of Division I softball with demanding coursework. “I wouldn’t be able to be pre-med and a softball player if I didn’t have Pingry, if I hadn’t learned how to prioritize, manage my time, all these integral skills that I needed to succeed. I am most grateful for that.”
A two-time Division III All-American for the Panthers, Eric considered pursuing ice hockey in college, but decided to focus solely on lacrosse. Both of his Pingry coaches, he emphasizes, have been influential.
“Coach Webster did a great job preparing all the guys who had aspirations to play college lacrosse. I felt like I had a leg up on some of the guys even coming from more nationally recognized high schools. I felt as if I had been better prepared,” he says. “And on the hockey side, Mags [20-year former Head Coach John Magadini] is definitely one of the more influential guys in my life. He’s a great mentor and friend. Last spring, he came out to an Amherst game to watch Jamie [Jamie Smith ’15] and me.” Yes, former Big Blue teammates and still good friends, Eric and Jamie now play on opposing teams.As he prepares for his senior campaign, with hopes of capturing an elusive NESCAC Championship (his team lost to Wesleyan and Tufts in the finals the last two years), Eric, an economics major, is also unequivocal about what being a Pingry athlete taught him. “The importance of teamwork. I’ve been part of some great teams at Pingry, and I learned a lot from how the players interacted, I learned what works and what doesn’t. And the guidance of mentors like Coach Webster and Coach Mags has been invaluable.”
Recipient of the 2016 Tom Boyer Football Award and a Skyland Conference Scholar Athlete, Michael says when he was little, he thought basketball was his calling. But then he started Pingry in Grade 5, joined the Middle School football teams in Grades 7 and 8, and hasn’t stopped playing since. Memories of his senior-year Homecoming game—“my best game at Pingry”—and Friday Night Lights remain vivid for him. “I was really stressed out that whole game. I thought ‘I have to win.’ I didn’t want my last Friday Night Lights game to be a loss,” he recalls. “I couldn’t relax the whole game. But then I had a punt return that Coach Shilts later called the play of the year. After that, I could relax.”
Despite playing on—and captaining—a football team that fought hard but fell short of a winning record, Michael cherished the experience, and brought lessons learned with him to Middlebury. “It really taught me how to compete,” he explains. “We weren’t winning a lot but I learned to get into that mental state and keep going even when it’s not going your way. That transfers into life.”
Come late August, he will say goodbye to Pingry and his old teammates, and return to Vermont. He’s looking forward to his sophomore year. “It’s cool to be a college athlete. It’s something I have always dreamed of. But I will always remember the friends I made at Pingry, the connections with the guys on the team. The high school experience is really unique.”
Accolades aside, she learned many skills as a scholar athlete at Pingry that she took with her to Williams, she remarks. What were the two most significant? Proper time management and effective communication, she says. "Between school work, athletics, sleep, and social activities, it is often difficult to find time to do them all," she says. "The rigor of Pingry's academics paired with the time commitment of athletics (both in and out of school), helped direct my work ethic to ultimately become more efficient. Additionally, Pingry taught me how to successfully communicate with my peers, teachers, and coaches, which has been extremely beneficial in my time at Williams."
Her success playing for the Ephs hasn't overshadowed her memories of Big Blue. "I miss the quality time spent on buses traveling to and from games and the never-ending laughter in the locker room. I also miss our frequent Panera trips and our game-day spirit attire," she recalls.
A psychology major, she plans to work in marketing/advertising after graduation. And, of course, play hockey.
"It's no secret that you have a lot of work at Pingry and you have as much if not more in college, so time management is extremely important," he says. "I think the pressures on and off the field at Pingry helped prepare me for life now and what it takes to be as successful as I can regardless of the situation."
During his first Macalester's football season, he was 3-of-6 in field goal attempts and made 22 out of 27 PATs. His senior year, he ranked second in the Midwest Conference in field goals, seventh in total points, and tied the school record with four field goals in a single game (the fourth was a go-ahead with less than five minutes left in the game). At one point, he ranked fifth among Division III colleges and universities in the country in field goals per game. He also played for the school's club ice hockey team, sang with their coed a cappella group—the ChroMACtics—and served as a campus tour guide.
An economics major, he is considering work in finance or graduate school. Because he transitioned from soccer to football he has a year of eligibility left, so playing a third year of football may be on the horizon.
Captain for the Lions, she has earned All-Ivy League honors and has been named to the NFHCA Division I National Academic Squad every year of her collegiate career. A double-major in Economics and Psychology, with a concentration in Business Management, she recently accepted a marketing position with Unilever in their Future Leaders Program.
“Pingry taught me how to balance both academics and athletics, while also having time for friends and family. Most importantly, I think Pingry also shaped me into a true team player, both on and off the field. I have carried this team attitude with me throughout college, and I know that it will be fundamental to every part of my life."She also fondly recalls the less serious moments in her career as a Big Blue scholar athlete. “Before field hockey’s final game each season, our team [at Pingry] would come together and blast Céline Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I can vividly remember our team, arm in arm, shouting every single word to this song together, with tears in ours eyes because we didn’t want the season to end. I miss these little moments that we spent together, and I wish I could go back and do it all over again, because these moments were so special. They are Pingry memories that I will quite simply never forget.”
As a freshman, he joined the cross country team. When he decided to try track his sophomore year, competing in the 3200-meter (2 miles) run, he was pretty sure his strong suit was as a distance runner, and that’s just what he focused on. Until, that is, Boys’ Varsity Cross Country and Track Coach Matt Horesta had him try the 800, a grueling, nearly all-out sprint for half a mile. Coach Horesta’s instincts were right. His junior year, Justin placed third in the event in the state group meet (he was seeded seventh), qualifying for the New Jersey Meet of Champions, and catching the eye of college coaches. By his senior year, he clinched second at the state group championship in a meet-record time, and qualified for the prestigious Emerging Elite 800-meter run at New Balance Nationals, where he ran 1:54.66, the second-fastest time in Pingry’s history.
“That was a big moment for me,” he recalls, four years later. “Coach Horesta definitely helped me to develop in an event I hadn’t before considered. I began talking with college coaches, and the door really opened for me in terms of being able to compete on a collegiate level.” (He is also quick to credit his other Pingry track & field coaches and mentors, Tom Cladek, Mark Sepkowski, and Gerry Vanasse.)
The accolades piled up from there. As a freshman at Williams, he was a member of their 4x800 NESCAC Championship team, a team that went on, the following week, to win Division III New England’s. His achievements earned him First Team All-NESCAC and All-New England honors. And that was just his freshman year.
Looking back at his Pingry athletic experiences, however, the big meets and big honors aren’t what stand out for him. “The days leading up to an important race—talking to Coach about my goals—were almost more memorable than the race itself,” he says. “That’s when the training is done, you know you’ve put in all the hard work, and Coach Horesta was always confident that I could succeed. He taught us that it’s not a question of whether you can, but whether you will.”
And when Justin is home during college breaks, he meets with Coach Horesta and his old teammates for dinner, just to talk, once again.
“They were so warm and welcoming, and made me so excited to start Pingry. I remember they took me out to Panera after I was named first singles—they were nothing but excited for me.”
A two-time Somerset County Athlete of the Year and two-time New Jersey state sectional champion who helped to lead her team to two state titles (2012, 2013), Madison says, looking back, the little moments stand out more than the big ones. Take, for example, the team’s match against arch rival Bridgewater her sophomore year, during their regular season. It had been years since the upperclassmen on the team had pulled out a victory over them. It came down to the wire, and the girls surrounded the last court in play, anticipating every shot. When the Pingry player won, they all stormed the court, hugging. “The state titles were exciting moments, for sure,” she says, “but these underdog experiences, the sense of family and friendship, were also really meaningful.”
Now, as the statistics major prepares to step into more of a leadership role on Cornell’s varsity tennis team, she recalls these memories playing for Big Blue well. “I really want to make the younger classes and newcomers feel welcome. I want to be the way the older Pingry girls were towards me.”
What stands out the most for him, when he recalls these competitive years? “Honestly, it’s not the big tournaments,” he says. “Pingry students and parents were always there, cheering us on, and at the end of every meet, they would bring us food. That’s one of my fondest memories. It shows what a tight-knit community we were.”
Time constraints as a student of Penn’s Wharton School of Business (he is triple majoring in finance, statistics, and operation/information systems) led him to close the chapter on his fencing career, but he, he says, he still regularly draws on many of the leadership skills he learned from being a Big Blue athlete. “I began fencing at age 12, but many of my teammates were new to the sport and had a lot to learn. I tried to put myself in their shoes, help and mentor them.” A member of Phi Gamma Nu, a business fraternity on Penn’s campus, Wharton Investment and Trading Group, and the Wharton China Business Society, he has ample opportunity to bond with and mentor students on his new campus as well. For Wenrui, even looking back on his days as an accomplished sabre fencer, that is what is most important.
“Winning a tournament was just one aspect of the game. I value the connections to the community a lot more.”
Her first year with the Hoyas she played beside her sister, Daphne, then a senior stand out on the team, who now plays professionally overseas. Still, she managed to carve out an admirable place for herself, earning selection to the Big East Freshman Team. In 2015, she earned All-American Third Team recognition as well as Big East Midfielder of the Year honors. To be sure, she has plenty of reasons to be distracted by present-day achievements. But, perhaps because her brother, Mael ’12, was also a Big Blue standout-turned-college-star (soccer is in the family’s DNA!), Pingry memories still hold strong.
The government major, environmental studies/French minor, who began playing at the age of six, keeps in touch with several former teammates, many of whom play in college. She also keeps in touch with Coach Egginton, who welcomes her back to practice with the team during summer breaks. Twenty years from now, what will she remember most about her Pingry soccer days? “The friendships—going to a school that I loved and getting to play a sport that I love with so many great friends.”