An assistant coach for the last year, as well as a Pingry teacher, Mr. Hoepfl looks forward to leading Big Blue.
"Having it cut short was definitely painful. People say to play each game like it could be your last, and all of the seniors on our team really know what that means now," he says. "It is a sharp reminder to appreciate every moment you have doing the things you love. On a different note, this catastrophe has also brought out a lot of good in the different communities that I have been lucky enough to be involved in."
In particular, he cites his former coach, Head Coach of Pingry's Boys' Varsity Lacrosse Team, Mike Webster, who reached out to alumni players when Big Blue's own season was put on hold. "He asked each of us to record a video of ourselves teaching a drill that we like to pass along to the current players, for practicing while in isolation," Thomas explains. "The positivity and community outreach that I have felt since the beginning of social distancing have been inspiring and uplifting, and I hope that these videos help fuel that attitude, and pass it along to the younger Pingry players throughout these unprecedented times."
His ability to see the bigger picture is not surprising for the High School Lacrosse All-American, who led Big Blue to its second straight Non-Public B (NPB) state title his senior year, and helped the team advance to the Tournament of Champions (TOC) finals for the first time in the program's more than 60-year history. As a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) throughout college, and now, upon graduation, a freshly Commissioned Officer in the U.S. Army, he's about to report to Fort Benning for training. He is clear-eyed about his experiences, his successes, and his desire to give back. "Growing up in New Jersey, you tend to meet people of similar backgrounds, but getting to meet people who didn't go to college or who have different inspirations for why they joined the Army is something that appealed to me. I'm looking forward to that new perspective."
A small athlete when he began on Pingry’s Varsity Baseball Team, his skills and stature grew quickly. He notched 100 strikeouts in his senior year alone and was one of the state’s top pitchers. His stat line proved it: 5-2, 2.45 ERA, 101 strikeouts in 51-1/3 innings; he hit .326 with 28 hits, 19 RBIs, and four home runs, not to mention seven bases stolen. At his peak, then-Head Coach Ted Corvino '94 recalls the radar gun recording him at 90 mph.
Justin’s college career was circuitous—he switched schools each of his four years—as he searched long and hard for the right program to support his goals. Most recently a right-handed pitcher for Hope International University, he also played for George Washington University, Ventura Community College, and the University of San Diego. In March 2019, the spring of his senior year at Hope, Major League Baseball’s First-Year draft came up, yet again. It marked his third time going through it and, in his mind, his last shot at the pros. In the 26th round, the Chicago White Sox drafted him to their rookie league—the AZL White Sox—making Justin Pingry’s first student athlete ever to be selected to the draft since its inception in 1965.
Fascinated—he would say “obsessed”—by the quest for excellence in baseball, he says Pingry opened his eyes to many other realms of excellence, academic and otherwise. “Pingry let me branch out from baseball, and be in an environment in which people live by principles of excellence and excellence is facilitated . . . It was good to have had all those different experiences and to really understand what it takes to be successful.”
Much to his appreciation, his Pingry coaches—Mr. Corvino and Manny Tramontana—still keep in touch with him and follow his career. To aspiring Pingry athletes, he says, “Don't accept the limitations that other people put on you as your reality. Be willing to put in the time and effort. . . more frequently than most people are willing to do it and beyond when most people are ready to quit. Take the lumps and move forward, and be open to learning from anybody.”
But perhaps the most indelible memory as a Pingry student athlete is the Somerset County Championship finals her senior year, when she led the team to victory with the lone, game-winning goal. "That felt great," she says with a smile. "I remember one of my teammates jumped on me and I caught her mid-air. [Then-Head] Coach [Andrew] Egginton told me after the game that he didn’t think I wasn’t going to make the shot—he thought I shot too early!"
Tanika also claims a successful, four-year tenure as a forward with the Seton Hall University Pirates. A Big East Conference player with an arduous travel schedule, she often saw airports twice a week. But ask her about her Pingry memories, and she recalls them with precision, and a good dose of affection. "In terms of team chemistry, there was nothing better than Pingry. . . .I enjoyed playing for Pingry more than anything else."
The mechanical engineering major plays defense for the Engineers, but still remembers getting hyped for Pingry games by listening to the song September during warmups her senior year. Singing before games was one of the team's many traditions, she says. "What I loved so much about Pingry is that by the time you're a senior you're leading the traditions, and you're hoping to pass them down to classes below you. I thought I was really spoiled in high school, and I still do think that. There's something so special about team bonds and team identity at Pingry."
"I see them a lot at meets. . . We have our own group chat and are always comparing workouts, asking who’s running where on any given weekend, that sort of thing. They have been super helpful in telling me to trust myself and trust the workouts my coach gives me," he says.
At an indoor meet his freshman year, when Ben ran a 1:55 PR for the 800, Jamie Barker ’16, who happened to be there as a Haverford College runner, walked over to congratulate him. "I just love keeping in touch with the guys and seeing what they’re doing, rooting for them when we’re at the same meet," he adds.
Pingry's record-holder in the 600-meter run (1:24.57), the third-fastest male finisher in the 800 (1:54.70), and among its fastest milers, Ben is one of the school's best middle distance runners ever, according to Head Coach of the Boys' Varsity Cross Country Team, Matt Horesta. Qualifying for the Division III National Championships in cross country and track are goals of his at Connecticut College—and he's tapping into Pingry friendships and training history to get there.
“Even the little moments were pivotal—in preseason field hockey and lacrosse, running on that field until we couldn’t run anymore; hanging out in the locker room before practices. The values Coach Carter taught us really molded my expectations of myself and my team, at Pingry and in college. Those memories have had a profound effect.”
Indeed, the Division I Lafayette lacrosse player—who was one of only two freshman on Pingry’s varsity roster in 2011—says she still communicates with her closest Big Blue field hockey and lacrosse teammates nearly every day. And, thanks in part to her mom (a college counselor at Pingry) and sister, Alexis ’18, she returns to campus as often as she can to take in games. She sees parallels between Lafayette and Pingry, both of which, she says, offer opportunities for excellence in athletics and academics. “Winning championships wasn’t the end all be all at Pingry. I was also really able to get into my history courses, the yearbook, and Peer Leadership,” she explains. “The way that Pingry allowed me to balance everything, that was the most important lesson going into college. Lafayette brought the same challenges, but I was prepared.”
A senior history and sociology major, Annelise doesn’t like to dwell on the fact that her final lacrosse season is around the corner. But, she is practical. “It’s going to be a really tough transition, if I’m being honest. Athletics have been such an important part of my life, and made me who I am,” she says. “But I’m excited to move on to the next chapter. I will take everything I learned into account. I’m ready.”
When the two-year Big Blue letter-winner in basketball and three-year winner in baseball realized that playing Division I college baseball might be beyond his reach, he simply changed course. “Athletics were always a huge part of my identity at Pingry; I didn’t want to give up that part of myself in college,” he recalls. “My dad suggested crew as a potential option, so I did a ton of research on it—I became a little bit obsessed. I read The Harvard Crimson archives and found a bunch of old articles about the crew team’s walk-on program. It just seemed really cool. I loved the tradition of it.”
After many summer hours spent working out in the Bugliari Athletics Center and even more hours spent learning technique and building fitness on Harvard’s ergometers the following fall, Zachary was “boated.” He says he’ll never forget his debut race on the Charles: “It was early on a Saturday morning, 25 degrees out, my parents had come up for the weekend to watch—I was so excited. But I was also absolutely terrified. Suddenly the race officials are telling us to go, and I’m rowing as hard as I can. A 5k takes about 15-16 minutes, so I’m exhausted, I can’t feel my hands at all. But I managed to make it through the whole race without doing anything too embarrassing.”
Attitude, discipline, and teamwork are three lessons learned as a Big Blue student athlete that Zachary says he draws on now as a Harvard student athlete. “I have very fond memories of being in team environments at Pingry, of running 17s [laps of the gym] before the basketball season even begins. At the time I felt horrible, but you realize you’re not doing them for yourself; you’re running them for the guy next to you.”
So launched the career of celebrated Big Blue fencer-turned-Olympian Dan Kellner '94, who, 14 years after Coach Li took him under his wing, would go on to represent the United States in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In addition to competing individually in foil, he captained the team to a fourth-place finish, its highest Olympic finish in 56 years.
Among his many accomplishments, he was a four-time All-American at Columbia University; a seven-time member of the U.S. National Team at the World Championships; Pan-American Games Champion in 2003; and the U.S. Fencing National Champion in 2004. He is only the second American men’s foil fencer ever to be ranked in the FIE Top-16, and was awarded The Order of Ikkos by the United States Olympic Committee for excellence in coaching. Capping the list, in 2019, was inducted into U.S.A. Fencing's Hall of Fame.
A 2007 inductee into Pingry's own Athletics Hall of Fame, Dan the fencer is now Dan the coach. As owner and coach of The Brooklyn Bridge Fencing Club, he looks back fondly at his early days as a Big Blue fencer, where his dream of becoming an Olympian took root. “I believe it was the opportunities Pingry presented and its commitment to excellence, not just in athletics or academics, but excellence in life as a whole, that helped inspire me to reach for a goal, that, looking back at it now, seemed near impossible.”
“At first, I didn’t want to go to the same college as Diana; it just ended up happening,” says Julia, a four-year letterer and senior captain of Pingry’s Girls’ Varsity Squash Team. “I loved New York City, and it was definitely really nice to have Diana and all of her friends both on and off the team welcome me.”
By all accounts, playing together on the same collegiate stage has made the sisters even closer, and their game even better. “Playing competitive squash against a sibling for as long as we have, you know each other so well. We’re sisters, but we’re teammates as well, pushing each other to play our best,” says Diana, a four-year letterer, senior captain, and All-American for Big Blue. “We compete for the lineup at the start of each season and play challenge matches. We try to keep it pretty serious, but we fool around a bit, too.” Fellow teammates and coaches are drawn to their matches when they practice against each other. They resemble one another, and even move alike on the court. “Our shots are similar but our strategies are pretty different,” added Diana, who was named captain of Columbia's team her senior year. Oh, and both are majoring in Applied Math (Diana at Columbia’s School of Engineering, Julia in Columbia College, the university’s liberal arts program) and minoring in Economics.
Playing together wasn’t always so enjoyable, they admit. “I think we irritated each other,” recalls Julia. “When I played her at Pingry I remember being so annoyed by what she was wearing!” adds Diana. “It’s way different in college now.” Despite the challenges of being a sister squash “act” (“There’s definitely a balance between being sisters and me being a leader on the team,” says Diana; “Everyone expected a mini-Diana, so I had to carve out my own place on the team,” says Julia), they agree on at least one thing: During Big Blue matches, they were each other’s loudest fans. At Columbia, they are still.
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.”
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.”