Athletics after high school

Former Woodland goalie Jenna Pannone is one of many local athletes who will continue their athletic careers in college. Pannone will play soccer for the University of New England, a Division III school in Biddeford, Maine. –FILE PHOTO

Over the past four years, a group of athletes from Naugatuck and Woodland thrilled fans by competing on the fields, courts and in the pool.

In June, they marked the end of high school by walking across a stage and receiving their high school diplomas. For many, it meant the conclusion to athletic careers that brought many proud moments and lifelong memories. For others, graduation marked the beginning of a new athletic journey as collegiate athletes.

Maintaining an acceptable GPA in the classroom while taking on the additional load of an athletic schedule filled with practices, workouts and games is nothing new to these student-athletes. However, doing it at the collegiate level will present a much different challenge.

Finding a college that is the right fit is crucial to meeting that challenge.

Morina Bojka left her mark on the Woodland girls basketball program, eclipsing 1,000 points for her career, which included two years at Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury.

In the fall, Bojka will settle into her new surroundings in Newburgh, N.Y. as a member of the Mount St. Mary Knights, a Division III team that plays in the Skyline Conference.

“It’s a good fit for me,” said Bojka, who finished her high school career with 1,203 points and All-NVL honors. “I wanted to go to a school where I could continue to play and that was close enough for my family to come to the games. But I chose a Division III school because I wanted to focus on my education.”

“The coach is really good setting up schedules for you to succeed academically,” added Bojka, who will pursue a degree in nursing and plans to become an anesthesiologist nurse.

Jenna Pannone, the stalwart goalie from Woodland who had 31 career shutouts in high school, said she visited between 10 and 20 colleges before deciding to play soccer for the University of New England, a Division III school close to the beach in Biddeford, Maine.

“In the end it came down to wanting a balance of the college life,” said Pannone, who will study political science and pre-law. “Choosing a Division III school allows me to do other things. We are right on the beach. I like to hike and do outdoor things, and I would like to travel abroad. Being at a smaller school will allow me to do that.”

Being close to home can be alluring, so family, friends and former teammates can come watch them play.

“To be able to play home games at Municipal Stadium was certainly a big plus for me,” said Steve Marinaro, the former Naugatuck pitcher who signed to play for Post University in Waterbury.

“I like the fact that my family can come to the games,” said Alexandra Langhans, the former Greyhounds’ slugger on the softball field who will play for Dean College in Franklin, Mass.

“Playing travel ball showed me I could play at the next level,” Langhans added. “If you put your mind to something and work hard at it you can achieve anything you want.”

For others, a post grad year is the perfect fit, one that offers them an opportunity to improve their skills before moving on to bigger and better things.

Corey Plasky, the former second baseman for the Naugatuck baseball team, enjoyed a successful career on the diamond. He went on a tear at the end of his senior season that saw him come through with 14 hits in 21 bat bats over a five-game stretch, helping to carry Naugatuck to a state tournament appearance.

Plasky wants to improve on his game and will spend next season at Inspiration Academy, a post graduate baseball academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“The goal is to get stronger physically and then go on to play at a Division I or II school,” Plasky said. “Academically I have always done well and will also be taking courses at a community college down there. But the baseball part of it is top notch and we play all of our games at the spring training sites in Florida.”

There are accomplished athletes who still enjoy the competition, but opted to focus on the rigors of the academic challenge of college for the time being.

“I still plan on playing tennis,” said Allison Mayne, the 2017 NVL single tennis champion from Woodland. “In my freshman year at UConn I won’t be going out for the Division I tennis team, but I will play club tennis.”

This summer will go by quickly for these and many more athletes who will be off to college in the fall. The next challenge awaits them.