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 graduates Christian and Nick Berglin and Layla Deluca, and Westhampton Beach graduates Sarah Culver, Annica Penn and Alexa Smith. They spoke about the transition from the high school to college level, their individual goals, and their plans for the future.
SUNY-Maritime, cross country: Christian, alongside his twin brother Nick, were the leaders of the cross country and track programs at Hampton Bays until they graduated in 2015. Christian entered his sophomore season at Maritime this fall and is once again leading a successful program; the Privateers won the Skyline Conference Championship last season and finished third this season.
Berglin said there’s a huge difference between running in high school and college. “It’s a huge step up, competitive wise,” he explained. “As far as talent goes on the East End for cross country, it was [East Hampton’s] Erik Engstrom and Jack Ryan [of Westhampton Beach], and that was maybe it. The depth is nowhere near what you see in college. It’s a lot tougher, a lot more serious. I definitely enjoy the challenge though.
“It’s a more serious team atmosphere too,” he continued. “At Hampton Bays, it was me and my brother and anyone else we could find. Here at Maritime, we have 10 guys dedicated to the team, who really want to be here, and I love it. It’s probably the best thing I could have done was run in college. As much as I enjoyed my time in Hampton Bays, this is a whole new level.”
While Maritime is not a military academy, it is certainly run like one. Students have to wear uniforms just about everywhere on campus and they have to salute officers. Berglin says it’s more to prepare students for life on a ship, which is very strict.
“You come here if you want to get into the shipping industry,” he said. “Cargo ships are run in a very strict manner, there’s no nonsense, no messing around, because on a ship, things can go wrong, so you have to be alert at all times.”
Berglin said he would love to be a captain for the Port Jefferson Ferry, or he’d like to work on tug boats. With two years left in his college career, though, Berglin is focusing on cross country.
“Cross country in college is really a year-round sport,” he said. “We all stay fit throughout the winter. Hopefully in the spring we’ll run the half-marathon in New York City. But in the offseason, you’re really on your own. We do have a dedicated off-season program, so it’s all about staying ready for the fall, so we can win another conference championship.”
SUNY Oneonta, cross country, indoor/outdoor track: While his brother Christian went to the smaller school in Maritime, Nick decided to go to the more traditionally athletic-minded and much bigger Oneonta; Christian has about 350 students in his class compared to the 5,000 or so classmates that Nick has. It’s made the jump from high school to college somewhat tough, but one Nick is starting to get the hang of; he made the dean’s list last semester.
Oneonta, unlike Maritime, also offers both indoor and outdoor track, so Nick is technically on three different teams. He runs both the 5K and 10K in indoor/outdoor track, which doesn’t give him a lot of free time throughout the school year. Berglin said he gets to school in mid-August, a few weeks before classes start, and will only get a one or two-week grace period before the next season begins.
“College is not as structured as high school, where you’re in school for seven hours, you practice for two hours and then you go home,” Berglin said. “You really need to learn how to balance everything.”
Berglin likes the athletic atmosphere that Oneonta provides and the growing and improving state of its athletics; the men’s soccer team has reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament and the women’s cross country team is headed to the tournament. Berglin’s men’s cross country team recently placed fifth at the NCAA Atlantic Region Championships.
“It’s definitely sports-oriented. Many of the players and coaches, they take it very serious,” he said. “You can feel the athletic vibe here.”
Christopher Newport University, lacrosse: A 2015 graduate of Westhampton Beach, Culver continued her success on the lacrosse field, finishing her freshman season in Newport News, Virginia, second on the team in offense with 36 goals and eight assists. To no one’s surprise, she enjoyed her first year in college.
“College has been an awesome experience,” she said. “Although I love my hometown, I have loved being able to go to school in a new place. I’ve had the opportunity to make lots of new friends and to travel to different places in Virginia. I’ve grown a lot more self-sufficient and independent. Going to school nine hours from home was a good decision for me. For sure it kicked me out of the nest.”
Culver added that Christopher Newport was the perfect college selection for her. She loves the size of the school and has opportunities to succeed both inside and outside the classroom. Culver is a member of the Honors Program, which has opened up internships and opportunities to study abroad.
Being a college athlete isn’t easy though, she explained. “[It’s] taken a lot more commitment than I originally thought it would, but I’m so happy to be a part of a program that is taken so seriously. I have so much pride to be a member of CNU women’s lacrosse.
“Competing at the college level is much different than competing at the high school level,” Culver added. “In the offseason, you have to take training upon yourself—conditioning, practicing, lifting. Even in the offseason, lacrosse takes up a good majority of my time. Being a college athlete is like having a full-time job. To compete at the college level, you need to love the sport you play, and you have to get really good at time management.”
SUNY Fredonia, cheerleading: Deluca is in the middle of her senior year at Fredonia where she’s been a part of the cheerleading team since her freshman year. She explained that, just like in any other sport, the difficulty of cheerleading gets tougher in college.
“We stack three people on top of one another, in comparison to high school, which is only two,” she said. “The basket tosses can be more challenging, including back-tuck tosses and a variety of flips. And twists can only be caught by the three people supporting you on the bottom.”
Deluca said that Fredonia cheerleaders compete at Universal Cheerleaders Association Nationals in Florida against a number of different schools from across the country. It’s like the Super Bowl of cheerleading, she said, where each team only gets two minutes and thirty seconds to show what it has been working on all year.
“This can be very stressful, but it is all worth it,” she said.
Deluca will be graduating from Fredonia with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and will continue her education at the graduate level so she can come back home and be a teacher on Long Island. With her college career coming to an end, so does her cheerleading career, unless she becomes a coach at some point, which she said she would love to do.
“I can proudly say that the four years I have spent at Fredonia have been the best years of my life,” she said. “Jumping right into the athletic program freshman year was the best decision I made. I was able to create incredible bonds with other cheerleaders from the start of my college career that will definitely last forever. Not only was I able to expand my knowledge of the sport, but I was also able learn a lot about myself as an individual.”
Siena College, cross country, indoor/outdoor track: Penn graduated from Westhampton Beach in 2013 as a highly decorated track star, continuing the strong tradition of racewalkers from the high school. She competed at Outdoor Nationals three times during her high school career, winning the national title in both 2012 and 2013. Penn also competed in Indoor Nationals twice.
But after her freshman year at Siena, Penn decided to stop competing in the racewalk and focus solely on her running, and she’s never regretted that decision.
“I really have enjoyed my times here at Siena, including running on the track and cross country teams,” she said. “The classes I have gotten to take along with the professors I have gotten to meet, and meeting a lot of amazing people who have become my friends. I, myself, am a person who believes in doing small, good things for others on a daily basis, and here at Siena I find others who believe the same thing. Naturally, there have been some rough patches over the past four years, but I always have been able to come out on the other side a better person.”
Penn said that competing at the college level was, at first, a shock. Practice was six days a week, and depending on the type of practice, it could run from three to four hours. Finding time to hang out with friends and just do things outside of running was tough to do but was vital in keeping her going.
“I have had to take a step back and make sure I am spending enough time on my school work and socializing with my friends,” she said. “A good balance of all three is what keeps me sane.
“A tip that I would give to prospective college athletes would be just to stick with it,” Penn added. “If you manage your time well, you will be able to do well in athletics and in academics. There will be hard times, like when you aren’t running or playing well, and you have to take a step back and remember why you decided to do it in college in the first place—because you love the sport.”
Penn said she isn’t sure if she’s ready to leave the team aspect, but she’s ready for the next step in her life; she’s taken a job with Teach For America and will be teaching in New York City next year.
“Hopefully I’ll be making a difference in children’s lives and giving them a chance to succeed in education,” she said.
Monmouth University, lacrosse: Alexa Smith graduated from Westhampton Beach in 2014 as arguably its best girls lacrosse player ever. She amassed 232 goals and 52 assists throughout her high school career, including an 80-goal season her senior year. After appearing in 12 games as a freshman at Monmouth, in which she had six goals and one assist, Smith was put into the starting lineup as a sophomore this past spring and once again shined, scoring 42 goals in 20 games.
In addition to being one of the top scorers for the Hawks, Smith is a standout in the classroom as well, as a pre-med major. She has to manage what time she has outside of lacrosse to handle tough classes such as bio-chemistry, microbiology and physics.
“I picked Monmouth because of the smaller environment here,” Smith said. “I definitely love my group of friends and we have a close team.”
The women’s lacrosse season begins in February and will run into late fall with a fall season. Being a three-sport athlete in high school prepared Smith for college athletics, which never truly has an offseason.
“It was a smoother transition than I thought it was going to be,” she said. “I love being close to home. Everyone was very welcoming, which made it an easy transition.
“Lacrosse in college is a completely different and higher level than high school,” Smith said. “There’s more pressure, the kids are bigger, and you have to realize that you’re not always going to be best player on the field.”
Smith said she would like to continue to be the team’s top scorer and become a leader, on and off the field. “I’d like to become a leader on the field, someone the other girls can look up to, and I’m hoping to achieve that this year.”
Check out The Press sports section next week for Part II of “The Next Level” series.