The Next Level: Catching Up With College Athletes

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At this time of year, The Press takes the opportunity to catch up with student-athletes from our coverage area who have continued their athletic careers in college. This week, we spoke with Southampton graduates Matias Ruiz, Ben Moritz and Marcelo Carvalho, and East Hampton graduates Ashley West and Austin Heneveld. They spoke about the transition from the high school to college level, their individual goals and their plans for the future.

Matias Ruiz

After a four-year varsity career at Southampton, during which time he became the program’s all-time leading scorer with 66 goals—which also ranks him among the top 10 all time in Suffolk County—it’s no surprise that Matias Ruiz has continued his success on the soccer pitch in college.

Ruiz, a first-team All-State player in high school, just finished his sophomore season with the C.W. Post men’s soccer team and was a big part of the reason the Pioneers were once again one of the top Division II teams in the country. Ruiz started most games at center midfield on the senior-laden team and finished with five goals and five assists. The Pioneers won the East Coast Conference Championship for the second year in a row, and were ranked number one in the country at one point during the season. They finished with an 18-2-2 record, after losing to Southern New Hampshire in the third round of the NCAA Division II Tournament at the end of November.

Ruiz said he was happy with his improvement from his freshman year, which he admitted was difficult. He started only a few games as a freshman and said that adjusting to the college level, both athletically and academically, was not easy.

“I think I’ve been playing a lot better than last year but need to keep improving, and with that my stats will get better,” Ruiz said. “The transition from high school to college was difficult at first, but I started getting used to it in the spring semester of 2013. I think the hardest part was the amount of work given from each class. I had to figure out a way to manage that, with soccer practice and soccer games.”

Ruiz said that the expectations will remain high for his team next year. “The goal for our team is to keep improving and to win the conference championship again next year, and also to win the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “For my goals individually, I want to keep improving my game, as well as have a major impact on each game I play. I want to get my goals and assists better and better every year.”

Ruiz said he’d like to keep his soccer career alive even after college, hoping to play professionally. As for advice he’d give to prospective college athletes, Ruiz had this to offer: “There is always someone out in the world working harder than you, so if you want to be good or play higher-level soccer, you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else out there.”

Ben Moritz

Southampton graduate Ben Moritz, a classmate of Ruiz, was the starting goalie for the Mariners boys soccer team, helping his team to an undefeated League VII regular season championship in his senior year. Moritz is now a sophomore at Houghton College in western New York, about an hour from Buffalo. Moritz is currently the back-up goalie but saw time on the field this season for a very good Houghton team, which finished the regular season with a 15-2-1 record and earned a spot in the National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament, which was set to begin in Kissimmee, Florida, on Tuesday.

Moritz echoed the same sentiments of other college athletes when asked about the transition from high school. “It’s a whole new level in college,” he said. “Coaches push you harder, and you’re expected to do more. You have to adjust to the higher level and the expectations of the coaches and teammates.”

He said that while playing a sport takes up a lot of extra time, it forces a level of organization and discipline that might be lacking without it.

“I find it’s helpful, because you are put in a position where you have to manage your schedule to allow for practices, games and academics,” he said when asked about juggling academics and athletics.

Moritz has a double major in physical education and health education, and hopes to become a phys ed teacher and soccer coach and work as an ocean lifeguard in the summer. His advice to kids who want to continue their careers in college is simple: “Go for it, but come in to it in shape and ready to work for a purpose greater than oneself.”

Marcelo Carvalho

Carvalho was another classmate of Ruiz and Moritz and an instrumental player on the same Mariners boys soccer team, as a speedy left defensive back with a strong left foot. Carvalho’s journey to Wheaton College in Illinois had a few more twists and turns—he joined the team this year as a walk-on, after transferring from Stetson University, where he spent his freshman year and was not a member of the soccer team.

Carvalho said that when he decided to try out for the team at Wheaton, he had to spend the summer before his sophomore year making sure he was ready, physically, after taking a year off from soccer. “I practiced individually and with friends to make sure I was prepared for college soccer,” he said.

Carvalho didn’t see a lot of action on the field this year for the Thunder, which started the season ranked fourth in the country in Division III. The team finished with a 17-4-2 record after a rough start in which it lost three of its first eight games. Wheaton ultimately won its conference and its conference tournament, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Wheaton finished ranked eighth in the country after losing to Kenyon College in the second round of the tournament.

Carvalho spoke about the transition from the high school to collegiate level.

“No doubt the biggest adjustment for me was the speed of play,” he said. “The college game is a much faster game, where you need to know where you’re going to pass prior to even receiving the ball. The speed of the college game also demands much more from a player in the technical area—this includes touch, vision, positioning, anticipation, etc.”

Carvalho said that balancing school and sports is all about keeping priorities straight. “Having experienced college life with and without soccer, I can definitely see the differences, but it all comes down to time management and discipline,” he said. “Knowing that soccer is only going to take me so far, I put a lot of emphasis on academics, and usually soccer isn’t a burden as long as you are disciplined and allot your time wisely so you can finish all your work. This sometimes means not being able to hang out with friends because you had soccer and have work to get done.”

Carvalho is majoring in both international relations and history, although he is still unsure what he wants to do after college. His advice to prospective college athletes: “Practice, practice, practice,” he said. “If you want to not only play but excel in the college game, no matter what sport, you need to put in extra work. It’s easy to train during the season, because you have mandatory practices, but you need to continue putting in that same effort during the offseason. This often means practicing by yourself. But if you really have a passion for that sport, it will not only pay off but you’ll enjoy practicing even if you’re by yourself.”

Kesi Goree and Paris Hodges

The college careers of two other standout Mariner athletes—Kesi Goree and Paris Hodges—are just getting under way this year. Goree and Hodges were the stars of the Southampton girls basketball team in the last four years, leading the Lady Mariners to back-to-back Suffolk County and Long Island Class B Championships as juniors and seniors. Goree, a forward, and Hodges, a guard, each passed the 1,000-point plateau in their senior year.

Goree is now a freshman at the New York Institute of Technology. Her team is 2-2 after a 101-60 win over Post University on December 1.

Hodges has earned a spot in the starting lineup as a freshman at Brandeis, scoring 10 points with seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in a win over Mount Ida on November 15, her first college game. Brandeis is currently 2-3.

Hodges’s younger sister, Noelle, currently a senior at Southampton High School, has committed to play at Brandeis next year as well and will join her sister on the team.

Ashley West

East Hampton High School graduate Ashley West has found success at the next level, competing on a year-round basis as a member of the women’s cross country, indoor track and outdoor track teams at Susquehanna University, where she is a sophomore. In cross country, West specializes in 6K races, and in winter track she runs in the 400- and 800-meter races, as well as the mile and the 4×400-meter relay team. In spring track, West runs the 800, 1,500 and the 4×4 relay.

This past fall, West earned All-Region honors and last year was the Rookie of the Year in her conference for all three sports. She broke the Landmark Conference record in the 800 in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, and also broke the school record for the 800, both indoor and outdoor. The 4×4 relay team in both seasons also broke the school record.

West says her goals for the rest of her career are to qualify for nationals in each season.

She admitted that the transition to the collegiate level was tough, particularly because she is essentially a three-sport athlete.

“Participating in this sport is really hard, because I never get a true offseason,” she said. “My mileage has been pushed to 65 to 70 per week since I have been at college. Also, I race every weekend and have practice every day. So my true day off is on Sundays.

“Also, the workouts are much tougher than I was used to in high school. The biggest challenge I face is still adjusting to my schedule. My schedule changes every semester, and I have to plan out when I will get my work done and have enough rest between going to classes and going to practice.”

West is majoring in secondary education for mathematics, and would like to go to graduate school and get her master’s degree after her time at Susquehanna and, hopefully, get a teaching job in her hometown.

She said focusing on academics is important for high school students who want to keep playing a sport in college.

“The best advice I can give to high school athletes who want to keep playing a sport in college is to find a coach that will understand that academics come first,” she said. “I say this because the only way you’re going to get a job is through academics, and if that coach doesn’t understand that, that is not a good coach. I know that if I need to go to extra help for a class, my coach always understands and lets me go and finds a way where I can get my miles in for the day, whether it’s in the morning or at night.”

Austin Heneveld

East Hampton graduate Austin Heneveld will begin his final season as a member of the Naval Academy men’s lacrosse team this coming spring. Heneveld, whose older brother, Heath, graduated from the Naval Academy in 2011, had a strong 2013 campaign for the Midshipmen. He played in all 13 games, starting in five of them as a midfielder, and finished with seven goals and five assists. His best game was in the season opener against VMI, where he scored two goals and had four assists.

If you’d like to suggest a college athlete for us to profile, email cailinr@pressnewsgroup.com

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