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As a high school athlete, Steve McCusker spent 3 months of the year on the diving board. He dedicated himself to the sport and worked hard, practicing at least ten hours each week. But like many of his fellow high school athletes, McCusker experienced a completely different world when he took on the challenge of becoming a college athlete.
Steve McCusker, a member of the class of 2013, was the first male diver in Woodland history to earn All State honors. He is now a sophomore at Southern Connecticut State University where he placed in the top three in his conference during his freshman year. Most recently he has been named the Northeast-10 Conference Male Diver of the Week. But the success has not come easily.
“Diving has basically become my life,” said McCusker. “You spend seven months out of the year diving, practicing nearly twenty hours a week.”
McCusker said that the team dynamic is completely different on the college level as well.
“I knew from the second I walked into the pool that the team was going to be my family for the next four years, said McCusker.
According to McCusker you have to be extremely dedicated to your sport if you want to be successful at the college level.
“You’ve got to be committed and you need to find a balance between academics, sports and your social life,” said McCusker. “There’s room for fun, but your performing well in your sport comes first.”
Jake Pinho, member of the Woodland class of 2011, experienced the same type of change when transitioning from highs school to college football. As a freshman at Central Connecticut State University, Pinho wasn’t involved in football. Now a senior, Pinho has worked his way up to earning a starting spot on almost all phases of the Special Teams.
“I never planned on playing coming out of high school,” said Pinho. “But I felt lost without football during my freshman year of college. I really had nothing to lose, so I decided to try out as a walk-on.”
Pinho did not have it easy. As a walk-on for Division 1 football team he truly had to earn his spot. He spend most of his first season just trying to get to practice.
“I knew after that first season that I was going to have to put in a lot of work in the off season if I ever wanted to see time on that field,” said Pinho.
During that offseason Pinho faced another challenge, the unexpected death of his father.
“I was able to channel the pain into drive and motivation,” said Pinho. “I knew it would have been a dream come true for my father to see my playing college football.”
That dream came true during his second season on the team when Pinho earned a spot on the kickoff team. Now, he has earned a spot on three different phases of special teams, including kickoff, kick return and punt. He compares playing in college as a job, not simply just a hobby. But at the end of the day, it’s still the sport he has always known and loved.
“If you want to play, you just can’t ever let anyone tell you no,” said Pinho. “And you’ll get out of your sport what you put into it.”
Katie Hinckley, a member of the Woodland Class of 2012, is now swimming for the University of Maine. During her time at Woodland, she broke several of the school records, and recived all-NVL as well as all-State honors. As a college swimming, Hinckley said she has seen her skills improve more than she could have ever imagined. During her freshman year she was named Most Improved Swimmer for her team. Over the course of her college career she has also placed in the top 8 at the America East Conference in the 1650 yard freestyle and in the top 16 for the 500 yard freestyle. Her accomplishments have not come without hard work though.
“I can sum up my experience in one word- busy.” said Hinckely. “I’m constantly working and I’m around my team far more than I could ever have imagined.”
Compared to high school, Hinckley has found that swimming at the college level requires a different attitude and a different level of dedication. The season lasts a lot longer and there is a much greater time commitment.
“Plain and simple, you have to love what you do,” according to Hinckley.
Keri DeBiase, member of the WRHS Class of 2013, has faced the same challenges in time playing soccer for Southern Connecticut State University. An all-state player during her time at Woodland, DeBiase said the change from high school to college soccer was something that took some adjusting.
“It was very weird going from practicing after school to having to get up at 6am to play, then go to my classes,” said DeBiase.
But the change has paid off for Debiase, who started her freshman year. During her second season however, DeBiase really got into her element.
“Some of my biggest accomplishments have be this season,” said Debiase. Not only did she score the game winning goal on several different occasions this season, she has also been named Southern’s Athlete of the Week twice and made the NE-10 Weekly Honor Roll twice.
“You can’t be afraid,” said Debiase. “Yes, college teams require a lot but if you have to chance to play you have to take it. Just don’t give up.”