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 Hampton Bays graduate Genna Kovar, Eastport South Manor graduate Maverick Passaro and Westhampton Beach graduates Zach and Conner Bass, Kristen Polan and Stef Vickers. They spoke about the transition from the high school to college level, their individual goals and their plans for the future.
It’s been about a year since Kovar graduated from Hofstra University, and she’s been busy since that time. After volunteering with the Westhampton Beach varsity girls lacrosse team last spring, the 2008 graduate of Hampton Bays spent this past fall as an assistant coach on the Sachem East varsity field hockey team, which lost in triple overtime in the New York State Class A Championships.
“It was my first time coaching field hockey at the high school level and it was a great experience,” she said. “I love the girls. I loved the program. It was a nice opportunity that I had.”
Sachem East’s run to the state final was a first for Kovar, who played field hockey at Hampton Bays, but was never able to reach states with the Lady Baymen.
“It was great to get upstate,” she said. “I wish I could play again. I was going up to the girls and asking them, ‘Could I borrow your uniform?’ They were laughing at me, but I wanted to jump on the field so bad.”
During her senior season at Hofstra, Kovar was asked to play on the women’s lacrosse team, based solely on her athletic ability—she had never played the sport competitively. Her one year of experience taught her a lot, though, so Westhampton Beach varsity girls lacrosse head coach Ann Naughton had Kovar join the team to help with the coaching duties.
“It was a good challenge and something I needed since I had nothing else going on,” Kovar said. “It was so close to home, so I either knew a lot of the girls since they were little or knew their siblings.
“It was weird coaching instead of playing,” she continued. “And even though I only played for a year, I learned so much from that one year, and to bring it to the girls and share it with them was great. The joy of teaching the kids something and watching them learn never gets old.”
Kovar still plays field hockey competitively; she was named to the 2013 Women’s National Championship Team back in May. Each team is broken up into regions and Kovar was named to the team out of Pennsylvania. Each player on the squad has the opportunity to one day play on the World Cup team, something Kovar is looking forward to one day.
“Each time I play for the team, it’s like a tryout for the World Cup,” she explained. “Making the World Cup team really depends on who is leaving and who is staying each year. But I’ll keep playing and I’ll keep my fingers crossed, and maybe I’ll play for a World Cup one day.
“I’ve represented my high school, my college, now I’d like to represent my country,” Kovar added. “It’s a big deal to me and I want to take that one step up.”
Passaro solidified himself in Eastport South Manor’s wrestling history books when he took home the program’s only state title in 2012, his senior year. Following graduation, Passaro went to Rutgers University to continue wrestling, but broke his hand before his first match and then suffered from back issues the rest of his freshman season.
Since then, Passaro decided to move a little closer to home and transferred to Hofstra, where he’s been able to redshirt his freshman season due to the injuries he suffered at Rutgers. He recently placed second for Hofstra at the New York State Collegiate Wrestling Championships.
“Being hurt, it was hard to show what I had,” Passaro said of his time at Rutgers. “I wish things went a little bit different at Rutgers, but Hofstra is just a better fit location-wise. I’m at home now. Plus, it’s Long Island wrestling.”
Passaro explained that the coaches at Hofstra are starting to take more notice of the hotbed of wrestlers that Long Island has to offer. Passaro joins a team that has familiar names, such as Jamel Hudson (St. Anthony’s), Michael Hughes (Smithtown West) and Nick Terdick (Elwood/John Glenn).
“I wrestled with some of these kids all through high school, or I knew of them, and now we’re wrestling together and supporting Long Island,” Passaro said. “Hopefully, we get some more recruits from Long Island and can put together a strong team.”
Travis Passaro, Maverick’s younger brother who is in his senior year at ESM, recently declared that he will be attending Hofstra next fall.
“That’s all good news,” the older Passaro said. “He’s going to be here training with me. We trained together all through high school and he helped me to get to where I got, so hopefully, we can do that again.”
Twin brothers Conner and Zach Bass, graduates of Westhampton Beach, were All-County wrestlers and are now competing for the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Zach Bass is in his third season at the school but is a sophomore in terms of eligibility after redshirting his freshman year because of an injury. Zach is now competing in the 174-pound weight class and is second string behind senior captain Ryan Dorman, who is ranked in the country. Zach is currently 7-7 on the season, 7-5 in Division III matches, and just took sixth at the Doug Parker Invitational. Stevens finished third out of 17 teams at that invitational.
The team is working toward a top 10 national finish for the season, and to get battle tested, it has taken on some of the toughest Division I programs in the country, including Penn State and Cornell. In Division III, Stevens had a nice upset win over sixth-ranked The College of New Jersey.
Zach said the jump to the higher level in terms of competition was a big one.
“There are none of those easy matches you could occasionally expect in high school,” he said. “You can’t take anyone lightly because everyone is there for a reason and wants to be there.”
He has plenty of advice for those looking to make the jump.
“Get stronger and be adaptive,” he said. “Be ready to change your style, learn new ways of doing things you thought you had down, and let go of favorite moves that don’t survive the transition as well as others.”
Zach said he’s happy he chose Stevens, even as Division I schools were on the table his senior year of high school. “Balancing academics and athletics is difficult, but I’m glad I chose to go Division III because academics generally comes before athletics,” he said.
Zach is majoring in mechanical engineering and is striving to earn his master’s degree by the time he finishes his fourth year.
Conner Bass is wrestling at 165 pounds this season, his third year on the team. He is now 11-6 overall, 10-4 against Division III opponents, and was fifth at the Doug Parker Invitational.
One of the biggest differences he’s noticed between the high school and collegiate levels is the workload in terms of training and practice.
“I’d say the biggest difference is how much training is up to the athlete,” he said. “Of course there’s team practices, but all of the extra workouts, lifts and video sessions needed to excel in the sport are scheduled on the individual athlete’s time. There’s a lot more free time than high school and it’s the athlete’s job to utilize all of the extra resources during this extra time.”
Conner said that high school athletes looking to wrestle in college should focus just as much on schoolwork as their sport.
“Grades and academics are just as important as wins and losses when it comes to opening up opportunities for college,” he said.
Like his brother, Conner is also majoring in mechanical engineering.
A 2012 graduate of Westhampton Beach, Polan is currently in her sophomore year at the State University of New York at Oneonta. She just finished up her volleyball season in which the Lady Red Dragons went 2-7 in the SUNY Athletic Conference and 18-18 overall. Polan was sixth in offense, posting 112.5 points with 89 kills.
Polan said it was an inconsistent season for her team, and somewhat for her as well. Normally she plays middle hitter, but played right side hitter for much of this season. “We had a lot of younger kids on the team this year, so my junior and senior years should be good,” she said.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Polan tried playing two sports at Oneonta. After finishing her freshman season on the volleyball team last year, Polan joined the women’s basketball team midway through its season. She wound up finishing out the season but decided she would stick to just volleyball going forward so she could focus on her major, which is fashion merchandising with a minor in business.
“I’m looking to study abroad in London for the fashion program, and that would fall in the middle of the basketball season of my junior year, so I figured I would just plan ahead,” Polan said.
“I love my classes. It’s more of what I’m interested in,” she added. “I always wanted to go to a big school, but the class sizes here are perfect. The weather here is tough but, sports-wise, I can’t imagine not playing a sport.”
Vickers graduated from Westhampton Beach in June and just completed her freshman season on the cross country team at Fairfield University in Connecticut.
As a freshman, Vickers was in Fairfield’s top seven all season long and helped the women’s team to three meet titles during the year. In her first collegiate meet, the O’Neil Invitational, Vickers was the runner-up. At the Leeber Invitational, she posted her 5K personal best of 19:39.90. At the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships, she placed 44th overall and was the second Fairfield finisher of the day. She also ran at the NCAA Regionals where she ran a 6K personal best of 24:13.5.
“It’s been really nice,” Vickers said of her time at Fairfield. “I’ve definitely gotten used to everything there—made a lot of new friends. It’s been a good experience so far.”
Stef’s sister, Sammi, also just started at Fairfield and will be playing on the women’s lacrosse team. Stef said it’s been nice having her sister around on campus.
“We live in different buildings, but it’s nice to have someone we know,” she said. “We see each other a lot for meals. We have different groups of friends, and we have different schedules, but it’s nice.”