Nicole Vanasse '20 leads Big Blue to another impressive showing.
In the spring of 2015, as a freshman, she finished second in the Tournament of Champions, a highly competitive contest in which the best-of-the-best across the state face off. In the spring of 2016, with her lowest score ever (66), she won the competitive Skyland Conference Championship, defeating a local competitor who had bested her the year before at the same tournament, and with whom she had been in friendly competition since the age of eight. Her freshman and sophomore years she was named to the all-state golf teams. She also happens to play squash, and has been a member of Big Blue’s varsity team since her freshman year.
Outside of Pingry, Ami competes on the American Junior Golf Association's tour, the highest level junior tour for ages 12-18. She also competes in USGA’s Girls’ U.S. Junior Championship series, the largest series of tournaments for girls under 18. But, in the eyes of this 16-year-old, success outside of Pingry doesn’t diminish the importance of being a part of her school team.
In 20 years, when she looks back on her athletics career at Pingry, what will she say about it? “They were some of my best years ever,” she answers, without hesitation. “Being part of a community that values athletics and academics, where you get to be a student and a team member, what could be better?”
He credits his coaches—and his father, who moved to the United States from Haiti when he was 4, and went on to captain his high school baseball team—for instilling in him the importance of a strong work ethic. His junior year, the first year he made the varsity team, he earned All-Conference honors. It also happened to be his strongest year academically. He doesn’t think it was a coincidence. “When something doesn’t work out, you have to work hard to make it work out,” he says.
Miles, who plans to attend Bucknell University, arrived at Pingry in Grade 5, and began playing Big Blue baseball as a seventh grader. Over the years, he has played baseball on many elite travel teams to hone his skills, all to be at his best for Big Blue. His pride at being a Pingry athlete, and his devotion to the team, are readily apparent.
He remembers one moment in particular, his junior year, when the team faced one of the toughest competitors in the state, Morristown Beard, in their annual Headmaster’s Trophy game. It was the best team they would face all season. Early in the first inning, one of their batters hit a single; Miles, ready in left field, caught the ball and threw to first. Out. The team would go on to a dramatic, 6-2 win. After the game, captain Bryce Weisholz ’16 congratulated Miles, telling him he had set the tone from the very beginning.
“The thing that excites me most about playing baseball for Pingry is the camaraderie with my teammates. These are people I might not usually be connected with off the field, but when we’re on the field together, we’re all one team, with one common goal to win and have fun and make each other proud.”
In third grade, she started playing for the Catholic Youth League. Three years later, she joined an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team, where she met her future Pingry teammate, Megan Horn ’18. By Grade 7, she was on Pingry’s Middle School team. Her freshman year, she took her sister’s old number—32—when she made the varsity team.
A year-round basketball player, Kelsey logs long hours during Big Blue’s winter season. After school, she has practice until 5:30, and then transitions—conveniently, right on campus—to her AAU practice, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. In the spring, she manages to find time to jump and sprint for Pingry’s track & field team (she holds several Middle School track records (she holds school records in the long jump, the 200 meters, and the 400 meters).
But sports aren’t Kelsey’s only passion. Psychology, science, and drama—especially drama—excite her. Her basketball schedule doesn’t allow her to participate in school plays and musicals, so instead, she takes the drama classes offered at Pingry. “I love taking on other characters, finding—and faking—that inner emotion. Drama is a lot like basketball, you have to be quick on your feet, adjust, and improvise. I love that.”
Kelsey has her sights set on playing Division I basketball in college, but no matter her path, for now, she’s happy to be a student, and an athlete, at Pingry. “I take a lot of pride in attending a school that’s so diverse in terms of what it emphasizes,” she says.
Come spring track season, he won every 800- and 1600-meter event he raced. A year later, as an eighth grader, he avenged his runner-up status in both meets the year before by winning the competitive Ed Scott Invitational—on Pingry’s home course—and Gill St. Bernard’s Great Pumpkin Run.
Henry’s love of the sport—and talent—is a family affair. His older brother, Stewart ’14, who captained Big Blue’s cross-country team his senior year, competed for Dartmouth College for a year (an injury forced an early end to his running career). His older sister, Anna ’18, also a standout runner at Pingry, recently broke the indoor track school record in the 3200-meter run. A lover of math, who also plays ice hockey in the winter (“I like to go fast!” he says), Henry embraces the work ethic and persistence that running require. “Like schoolwork,” he says, “you get out of running what you put into it.”
The gesture, which suddenly committed the basketball captain and lacrosse player to a third, nearly full season of sport, exemplifies the tenacity and spirit she feels as a Big Blue athlete. And she loves everything about the role—running out onto the lush green of Miller A. Bugliari World Cup Soccer Field, shooting hoops in the drudgery of winter with a tight-knit group of friends, the bus rides back from lacrosse games, which, even if they followed a loss, still somehow, after some song and banter, felt like wins.
“Together” is the word she would choose to sum up her athletic memories at Pingry. “At the end of the day, we all come out after a hard day of school and we’re with each other. Some days we just want to go home, but we gather our teams, a small nerdy school often facing much larger opponents,” she says. “We have to win together or we’re not going to win.”
“’This is an existential game,’ he said to me. ‘You’re a very good freshman, you know your place on the team, but it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you play like you play and good things will happen,’” recalls Jack. “I will never forget his words. We lost that game, but our defense, which I’m proud to be a part of, held Hillside to 18 points, one of their lowest scoring games all season.”
What word would this three-sport athlete use to sum up Pingry athletics? Pride. It’s not only the school chant, he says, it speaks to the greater character of the school, and the coaches’ commitment to—and expectation of—the players.
She was down in a big tennis tournament, playing poorly against a girl she should have easily upset. She lost badly, and was distraught. “I was embarrassed, but Coach Diaz pulled me over and helped me to regroup. He arranged a time for us to review all my previous matches from the season to figure out what I was doing right and where I could improve. He and Coach Weber were so comforting and supportive throughout the season. Ultimately, I learned from that experience not to stress out so much, to stay positive. On or outside the tennis court, you just can’t let yourself get down.” She adds, after reflecting for a moment: “If a teammate of mine gets sad like I did, I hope I can comfort her the same way my coaches did.”
Indeed, the team community is what Jessica cites as most valuable to her as a Big Blue athlete. A calligrapher and aspiring rock climber, tennis player and sabre fencer, she is drawn to pursuits that require hand-eye coordination and fast reflexes. But far more than honing these skills under the guidance of expert coaches, she says, it’s the close-knit group of friends, her teammates, who have given her the most. When asked to capture Pingry athletics in a short phrase, she replies, thoughtfully, “A sense of belonging.”