By ALISON PARK (sophomore) and RISHABH KAPOOR (senior)
This year, we asked the class of 2016’s most decorated athletes to share the stories behind their overwhelming success. As these prolific graduates begin their college careers, the awards that they leave behind will inspire future JP athletes to perform with the same level of commitment and optimism.
Hustling hard on the court and the field, Molly Yelencsics is a successful basketball and lacrosse player who finds an indescribable satisfaction in playing her best and knowing that her “hard work will pay off in the future.” Inspired by the death of her AAU basketball coach, she learned to never take the game for granted and always strives to put out her best effort, shocking many in becoming the basketball captain as a sophomore. This strong passion and mindset have awarded her Most Valuable Player during her freshman, sophomore, and senior years, Third Team All-Area by the Home News Tribune, and All White Division.Her determination travels with her to the lacrosse field where she continues to break down barriers; she was named Second Team All-Conference in 2015. Though she is the current school record holder for 144 career goals, Molly comments that “You don’t have to be the best player [to be successful].” People recognize the player with the positive attitude. The player that has her teammates’ back and hustles until the end.” Molly plans to continue playing lacrosse in Marywood University and bring her contagious determination with her.
Unlike other athletes, Claire never set out with the intentions to play tennis, but rather accidently fell into the sport by offering to practice with her brother in the fifth grade. Ever since, tennis has developed into a major part of her life evident through the countless hours she spends on the court. Her passion and dedication all led her to become a four-year varsity player and two-year captain, during which she was selected to the All Conference and All-Red Division Teams. Under her leadership, the girls tennis team finished second at the 2015 GMC Tournament and became the Red Division Co-Champions. Her determination to bring the team to the top motivated the other girls to try even harder and beat cross-town rivals. Recalling her fond memories, Claire has learned through tennis to “always fully commit. [You should never] swing halfway.” THE lessons she learned on the court and in the locker room with her team will be carried with her throughout her life. Although she does not plan to play tennis on the collegiate level, she plans to play recreationally to avoid the “Freshman 15” when she attends Cornell University this fall.
At a young age, Rebecca has been deeply involved in sports. This dedication to athletics continued throughout high school, where she became a three season athlete, joining the girls volleyball, basketball, and softball varsity teams while juggling the demands of high school academics. Her self-motivation and positive attitude have earned her the 2015 Coach’s Award in volleyball and 2016 Most Improved Player in basketball. In basketball, her determined mindset also helped break the four year losing streak against archrival Bishop Ahr. Despite her commitment to both volleyball and basketball, Rebecca’s true dedication lies in softball, a sport she has played since she was six and plans to continue playing this fall at Ithaca College. Named to the All-Red Division Team, she enjoys the “adrenaline rush from close games and being able to make plays at the plate.” This year, she represented JP Stevens at the National Girls and Women in Sports Day at Seton Hall University, where she, along with two hundred other girls, were honored for their myriad accomplishments in sports.
Aaron John first started running in fifth grade in an effort to, ironically, train for soccer. Had he known he would later become the track and cross country superstar he is today, he would not have believed it. Aaron originally began his high school running career because of his parents, who pushed him towards running. However, he eventually became inspired by what he knew he was capable of doing–winning races, making a name for himself, and making history for our school–and he did just that. A time of 1:54 in his best event, the 800m, makes Aaron fourth in the state and the record holder for our school, in addition to being North Two Group Four Champion in the event. And as part of the Fourth Team All State Winter Track,three-time All Conference, and nine-time All Red/White Division Honors recipient for track and cross Country, Aaron has certainly surpassed all expectations. For the next chapter in his life, he says, “What I will carry most with me is just the confidence I learned through running and the idea that anything is possible as long as you set your mind to it.”Aaron plans to take this fantastic mindset with him to the Stevens Institute for Technology, where he plans to continue running.
Vishal Walia started playing tennis with a close friend, Gouttham Chandrasekar, in a way that many begin a sports journey. The real inspiration for Vishal, however, came when he watched alumnus Sarthak Mohanty compete against a Westfield rival in first singles, eventually leading the JP team to victory. From that day forward, his goal was to not only lead the team in first singles one day, but to also emerge victorious in such tight matches. This year, Vishal is co-captain of the tennis team, leads the team in first singles, and led the team to their fourth GMC Championship in a row. He has a few other titles too, including three- time County Champion, Round of 16 in the Individual State Tournament (school record for Boys Tennis), second in the state for first singles (reaching the finals this year), and three All-Conference and All-State plaques. It’s safe to say that Vishal truly realized his dream, though according to him, “it wasn’t some redundant theme we see in fairy tales. I started on the bottom of varsity, but by giving hours of my time, I became one of the best players on my team and top in the state. That confidence, the belief that I can do anything if I put my heart and soul into it, will always push me forward.” Vishal will surely take this confidence with him to New York University in the fall, where he plans to continue playing tennis.
Kyle Mackiewicz began his lengthy volleyball journey in fourth grade, introduced to the sport by his mother. Interestingly, she took him to adult league open gyms, where he was thoroughly introduced to it in the flesh. As he started to get used to the sport, his integral inspiration was his admiration for his mother and elder sister, who also played volleyball. With his mom having played volleyball in Brazil and his sister having played in JP Stevens as well, Kyle followed their example and used that family motivation to push him to play his best. After having 38 kills in a game last year and an outrageous total of 338 in the season, it is no wonder he was selected into First Team All-State. Kyle has played exceptionally well in his high school career, and it is evident that he has come out with his best game in the toughest of situations, stating that “From high school volleyball, I got to experience being the go-to player in tight situations.” Kyle has certainly delivered well for his team and for our school in those tight situations, including the time he led the team to make school history by beating St. Joseph’s High School for the first time ever. He will also hopefully continue to do so at Penn State University, where he will be competing in Division 1 Volleyball.
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