The Next Level: East Hampton, Pierson And Southampton Grads Are Making Their Mark In College

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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 East Hampton graduates Raya O’Neal, Katie Brierley, Lydia Budd, and Erik Engstrom, Pierson graduate Kasey Gilbride, and Southampton graduates Jesse Scanlon and Gianluca Santacruz. They spoke about the transition from the high school to college level, their individual goals, and their plans for the future.

Katie Brierley

Marist College, volleyball: Katie Brierley, a 2014 graduate of East Hampton High School, was a standout multi-sport athlete and competitive lifeguard for years in her hometown, but is focused on volleyball as she makes her way through college at Marist in Poughkeepsie, New York. The sophomore is a defensive specialist for the Lady Red Foxes, who finished the regular season with a 13-16 overall record, 12-6 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Marist clinched the number two seed in the MAAC Championships to earn a first round bye, and will play the winner of the match between no. 3 Quinnipiac and no. 6 Niagara in their first postseason contest, set for November 19.

Brierley has seen more time on the court in her second season with the team, and says she’s seen her game and confidence improve as a result.

“Our team has so much depth that pretty much anyone could be on the court,” she said. “As a sophomore I feel like I’m more comfortable on the court. As a freshman it’s kind of by nature to come in feeling like you’re the low man on the totem pole and like you should just sit back and listen. But this year I have really realized that it’s important to say something when you have something to say because we all want to win.”

The vast increase in the level of competition was one of the biggest challenges in transitioning from the high school to the Division I collegiate level, Brierley said.

“In high school I never saw this many good players,” she said. “Even at practice I had to up my level of play to compete with everyone else on my team. Everyone’s good and you have to be on your game at every moment.”

Brierley said that managing responsibilities both on and off the court has also been an adjustment.

“I knew coming in that this was going to be a huge commitment, but I definitely was not prepared for how much of a commitment it really is,” she said. “We are in the gym practicing for three to four hours a day, then watching film and having meetings, as well as games every weekend. It almost seemed impossible for me to find time for my schoolwork. I may not have it completely figured out, but I definitely have become more disciplined and it has become easier.”

Brierley’s advice for high school students who want to play a sport in college is simple—do the work.

“It’s not easy to play a sport in school, and to be fully prepared for it you have to be putting in the time and effort now instead of waiting until you get there,” she said. “Playing a sport in college is one thing I know I will be thankful for, for the rest of my life, and I advise all who have the ability and work ethic to play in college to do so.”

Lydia Budd

Franklin and Marshall College, volleyball: Budd recently ended her sophomore season as the second-string setter for the Diplomats, and is hoping to slide into a bigger role next season after the graduation of eight seniors. Franklin and Marshall went 19-9 overall, 7-3 in conference play before a loss to Muhlenberg College in the first round of the Centennial Conference playoffs.

The highlight of the season for Budd was a weekend in which she was on the court for the entire time in two consecutive games—a five-set win over Washington and a 3-0 loss to Salisbury. Budd had a career high of 53 assists in the win.

Budd says the “consistently high level of play” and the time commitment are the biggest differences between high school and collegiate athletics.

“But its so worth it,” she said. “My goal for spring season is to get stronger overall and take charge of running our offense.”

Budd’s advice for high school athletes who don’t feel ready to give up their playing careers? You don’t have to.

“If you have the slightest thought of playing in college, definitely look into it,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t Division I material but Division III is also super competitive and pushed me way outside my comfort zone. And if you aren’t planning on playing in college, savor your high school team. I played lacrosse as well in high school and I wish I was still doing that, even though I’m playing volleyball. Being on a sports team is so rewarding and the camaraderie and team spirit is unmatched in any other activity you will partake in.”

Erik Engstrom

UMass, cross country: Engstrom graduated from East Hampton High School in 2015 as the best cross country runner in program history. He finished in the top 40 in the New York State Federation Championships in his senior cross country season, made it to states twice—leading his entire team there in his senior season—and earned All-County honors three times. He also became the first county champion in school history, a feat he achieved his senior year.

The success translated into a spot on the University of Massachusetts cross country team. Engstrom and his teammates recently competed in the Atlantic 10 conference championships at the end of October, finishing ninth overall. Engstrom was 68th overall in the 8K race with a time of 26:18. As a freshman, he’s worked his way into the team’s top 10 runners, but said he’d like to improve even more next season.

Making the jump from the high school to collegiate level has had challenge, Engstrom said.

“The races are more competitive, go out faster, and the distance is almost two miles longer than the 5K that we race in high school,” he said.

He had simple advice for current high school athletes who want to continue their careers in college.

“Work hard and be consistent in your training,” he said. “Compete well and do your research on the school or team that you would want to compete on and contact coach and let them know who you are.”

Kasey Gilbride

Richmond, field hockey: Kasey Gilbride is the best field hockey player to come out of Pierson High School, high praise considering the program has produced several Division I college players. As a senior, Gilbride led the Lady Whalers to their first ever state championship with a thrilling double overtime goal. She’s become an integral player on her Richmond team, being named a captain in her junior season, which just ended with a loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament. Richmond (8-11 overall, 6-2 in conference) played some of the best teams in the country this season, including top-ranked Duke.

Gilbride played as an offensive-minded defender this past season, starting in every game, and she was also featured on all defensive and offensive corner plays.

Gilbride does not sugarcoat what it takes to be a Division I athlete.

“A typical day is, of course, tons of school work, which is normal for college students, but the student-athlete adds in a 6 a.m. lift, mandatory study halls, coaches’ meetings, film review, hours of practice, and team activities,” she said. “Road trips can take you away for about three days, and school doesn’t stop because you’re out of class on a bus. As for socially, there is no social life during the season.”

Gilbride says she’d like to lead her team to an Atlantic 10 championship next year in her final season and just enjoy her final year with Richmond. She has very specific and practical advice for those who want to play a sport in college.

“First and foremost, find a travel team,” she said “When attending tournaments with that team, alert college coaches through email that you will be playing. Attach your player profile. A YouTube link with samples of you playing your sport is great to include. Decide what colleges you’re interested in and attend their camps. And be a well-rounded athlete. I never specialized, and during recruitment coaches told me that they look for all-around athletes. And find a personal trainer. I had [Molly McDonald and Andrew Reilly of Integrated Exercise Therapy] in my last couple of years in high school and wish I knew them even sooner.

“My biggest advice to college-minded athletes is be willing to sacrifice,” Gilbride continued. “Really consider not only the commitment it takes to get to the college level but the amount of work it takes once you’ve become a college level student-athlete. And most importantly, get an education. Except for a limited few, you won’t be playing professional sports after college. Or you may very well become injured. Get an education.”

Raya O’Neal

St. John’s University, volleyball: Raya O’Neal graduated from East Hampton as one of the best all-around talents in program history, a versatile player who primarily was a setter but showed the ability to play almost anywhere on the floor. O’Neal transferred to St. John’s after her freshman year and redshirted last season, so while she is a junior academically, she still has two years of eligibility left, although she says she does not plan on staying at college an extra year.

St. John’s moved to 16-14 overall after two Big East wins over the weekend, but will not qualify for the Big East tournament after a sub-.500 record in conference play. O’Neal’s role on the team this year was as a defensive specialist, and she came into games mostly at crucial moments to serve a hard ball or generate digs in the back row.

While she is not always on the court, O’Neal says she tries to have a good influence on her team.

“I also am a positive leader for my team off the court, always making sure everyone is always laughing and not too stressed during season because it is hard to balance school, volleyball, and a social life,” she said.

O’Neal admits that having to adjust to a new position and limited playing time hasn’t been easy, but that she’s tried her best to stay positive.

“My main goal for the rest of the season and next season are to remain in good shape and continue to take care of my body,” she said. “I look forward to offseason training to work on my setting and for the team to work on our chemistry, and our goals for the next season and my goal is to keep doing well in school because academics come first.”

Her advice to prospective college athletes?

“Stay focused and don’t let anyone get in the way of pursuing your goals,” she said. “You don’t want to look back and know you could have done better.”

Gianluca Santacruz

LIU-Post, soccer: After helping lead the Southampton boys soccer team to its first ever Suffolk County and Long Island Class B championships last year, Gianluca Santacruz is continuing to find success at the next level. Santacruz, an All-County player, led Long Island in scoring last season, with 21 goals and 28 assists. The freshman has come off the bench and played a total of 500 minutes as a center forward for the Pioneers, who earned the top seed in the Division II tournament, a first-round bye, and are now in the round of 16 after a 1-0 win over Merrimack on Saturday that moved them to 18-0-1 on the season. Santacruz has logged four goals and two assists on the year and has played in 17 of 19 games.

While Santacruz has found success in his first year, he said the adjustment has been anything but easy.

“The hardest thing was adapting to a new team,” he said. “Playing college soccer is totally different; the pace of play is much faster and a lot more aggressive.”

Santacruz and his teammates—as well as head coach Andreas Lindberg, an East Quogue resident—will be satisfied with nothing less than a national title.

“If we keep everything up, I feel like this is a goal that can be achieved,” Santacruz said. He added that he’d also love to check another box in his list of goals.

“Another goal I had for myself is to score five goals by the end of this season and make a difference for our team,” he said. “My goal for next season is to get a starting role on the team and win a national championship.”

He shared advice for current high school athletes with an eye toward college.

“I would tell these kids to keep working hard and once you get to the team, work harder than everyone else and make a difference on your team in any way, shape or form.”

Jesse Scanlon

Dartmouth, soccer: Scanlon was the other component of a formidable one-two punch that led the Mariners to the county and Long Island championships with an undefeated record last season, and like Santacruz, Scanlon parlayed that success to the next level, securing a spot on the Division I Dartmouth University men’s soccer team. Scanlon was an All-State, Newsday First Team All-Long Island and All-County player as a senior, leading Long Island in goal scoring and breaking Southampton’s single season goal scoring record (34), while finishing second on Southampton’s all-time scoring list with 61 career goals. Dartmouth qualified for the NCAA Division I tournament with an 8-4-5 overall record, 5-1-1 in the Ivy League. Dartmouth shared the Ivy League title with Columbia, but earned the automatic bid to the tournament because it beat Columbia during the regular season.

Scanlon and his Big Green teammates will host St. Francis (Brooklyn) at home on Thursday, November 17, in the first round of the tournament.

Scanlon played nearly every position during his tenure at Southampton, but was primarily a scoring threat during his senior season. At Dartmouth, he’s moved back to a defensive role, being trained to play right midfield and right back.

“One of the toughest parts of transitioning from high school to collegiate level was the standard the coaches and everyone else on the teams holds you and everyone else on the team to,” Scanlon said. “Every pass, every shot, every movement on the field should be your best. The speed of the ball and the speed of the team decision making was even a level above what I could have imagined.”

Scanlon went from being the star of his high school team to fighting for time off the bench as a freshman on a talented Division I team, and his advice to those looking to make the leap to the college level is to never be complacent.

“Never think that you’re good enough,” he said. “Don’t have those days at practice when you think you can just slack off and not really try. Use every practice and every moment you can to keep getting better because you will be surprised how much better you can make yourself.”

Check out The Press sports section next week for Part II of “The Next Level” series.

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