Friday December 20, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
NYE TO MERCYHURST — Frontier senior Heather Nye celebrates the signing of her letter of intent to play softball at Mercyhurst, alongside her coach, Debby Schruefer, and sister, Melissa Nye, and from left, standing: Rich Gray Frontier athletics director, and mother and father, Sue and Kevin Nye. Photo by Michael Petro.
ROJEK TO MARIST — Frontier senior Sydney Rojek celebrates the signing of her letter of intent to play volleyball at Marist, alongside her coach, Debby Schruefer, and from left, standing: Rich Gray Frontier athletics director, and father, Bart, and mother, Lynn. Photo by Michael Petro.
RUSSO TO UB — Frontier senior Rocco Russo celebrates the signing of her letter of intent to wrestle at the University at Buffalo alongside parents, Neal and Jodi, and from left, standing: Frontier coaches’ Dan DiStefano and Joe Russo and Rich Gray, Frontier athletics director. Photo by Michael Petro.
She was only a high school freshman, but Heather Nye had already pegged Mercyhurst as the school where she would ultimately like to attend and play softball.
Now a senior at Frontier, she did more than just hope to get to her dream school. Since first eying her potential college several years ago, Nye committed herself to working year-round at her game, so Mercyhurst would share the same interest in her that she had in the school.
It worked. All of that playing travel and pitching in the offseason – working to perfect her rise ball and gaining experience and leadership, whether it be playing inside or outside – got her to where she hoped to land.
Nye made her commitment to Division II Mercyhurst official at a ceremony held Dec. 12 and hosted by Frontier. Also signing their letters of intent to Division I programs that day were Sydney Rojek, who will play volleyball at Marist, and Rocco Russo, who will wrestle at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
“Ever since freshman year, Mercyhurst has been my No. 1,” said Nye, who has been pitching at the varsity level since her sophomore year. “I love it there. They just wound up watching me play and the coach got in touch.”
Debby Schruefer, Nye’s high school coach, pointed out that, beside showing self-motivation by working so hard on her game, Nye has always looked to help better everyone around her, with a positive attitude and team-first mentality.
“When you’re a pitcher, sometimes with that offseason stuff, it’s just you and your coach, you and your catcher or you and your mom or dad, so she’s always been the type of kid that’s asked to do the extra workout,” Schruefer said. “She’s never had the attitude that I don’t need to get better; she’s always working on ‘How can I get better?’”
Nye, who said she is hoping to make a playoff run in the spring, has learned that it is most important to always be there for the team. “You never know who’s watching you,” she said. “I just try to be a good teammate.”
Rojek won sectional titles as part of the varsity team in 2010 and 2013. She may get the same opportunity with Marist, a college she said was an easy choice, since she was made to feel so at home by coaches and players there.
“I just want to improve and go to Marist ready to step on the court and help improve the team,” said Rojek, who will do so by playing in the offseason with Niagara Frontier Volleyball Club’s 18 – 1 team. “They’re losing a senior setter, so hopefully I can get in there right away and help that team out.”
The Falcons were the beneficiary of having Rojek as a starting setter for four seasons. She said this latest team was an enjoyable group to be around and past squads helped build her into a leader.
“They made it easy for me to be a captain. There was no drama; no problems,” Rojek noted. “Obviously, our coach [Schruefer] was there to help support us and got us to where we made it to. My freshman year, I was in the exact same position, so for me to be able to fill the shoes of the seniors who got me there as a freshman was really cool.”
Schruefer, also the varsity head volleyball coach, credited Rojek’s belief in the tradition’s being built and instilled in Frontier volleyball. Rojek learned from her older teammates and became the teacher herself.
Schruefer credited Rojek’s having an older sister and role model in Lauren Rojek, who played at Frontier and then Slippery Rock. Sydney Rojek, who credited her sister with inspiring her to take up playing volleyball, also had an older bother, Andrew Rojek, who played baseball at Gannon University.
“She was that spark plug. She brought enthusiasm, dedication, commitment, leadership,” Schruefer said, about Sydney Rojek. “She has had the will to get better and lead. It helped that her sister had played here, as well. If you ask anyone, when they hear Sydney’s name, they’ll say she’s a great all-around person. It’s not about her, it’s what’s best for a team or program.”
Russo is a three-time sectional champion and state qualifier; he is also the school’s all-time wins leader. He’s on the verge of racking up 200 career wins, as he tries to accomplish his ultimate goal of winning a state title.