Stephen graduated from Rye Country Day in 2008 and continued his academic and tennis career at Indiana University.
Tennis has always been my passion—and it's the only sport I played in my RCDS career. I played on the varsity team all four years of Upper School under the legend himself, Coach Gil Castagna. Fortunately, I received an athletic scholarship to continue my career at Indiana University and compete in the Big Ten. Professionally, I have been able to stay close to the sports world by working at Gatorade. Two years ago, I was proud to receive my MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.
What was one of your favorite memories or moments when you were a student-athlete at RCDS?
Coach Castagna—I hope you’re reading this! Sophomore year, the annual list of best tennis players in Westchester County was released. Coach C. showed the article that listed me as #2, one spot behind a senior at Byram Hills. Not only did he show me the article, he made sure to place copies around the School so that I could see them in advance of our match against Byram Hills. C. knows just how competitive I am, and this fueled quite the fire inside of me. I won that match in less than an hour and don’t think I gave up more than two games. While there were many team memories that I hold dear to my heart, this is my favorite because it was the first time a coach pushed me to be better in a unique way—thank you, C.!
What is a highlight of your career as a student-athlete, in college or beyond?
There is nothing like playing your college sport at its highest level, the NCAA Tournament. In four years competing, our senior class at Indiana University had never beaten our biggest rival, Louisville. In 2012, we had one more chance to beat them, this time in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. After an intense back and forth match, our team prevailed in what felt like a massive weight off our shoulders. Image 1 provides a visual of just how ecstatic we were.
Did an RCDS coach inspire you? How so?
Coach C. taught me valuable lessons that not only made me a better athlete but also a better person in all areas of my life. I will be the first to admit I was quite cocky on the tennis court. C. helped show me that there is a big difference between confidence and cockiness, and he held me accountable every day. Through accountability, he encouraged me to be a better leader, listener, and communicator.
What advice would you give to current students at RCDS looking to continue their career as a student-athlete?
Throughout my career, I have been extremely fortunate to be surrounded by amazing coaches and mentors. At the end of the day, while you may be a great athlete in high school, everyone is good in college. There is one saying that has guided me throughout my athletic and professional career: “Champions hate to lose more than they love to win.” I’ve yet to meet someone who doesn’t love to get an A on a test, get promoted, or beat their opponent. But what happens when you fail or lose? Are you willing to look inwards, or do you focus on external things beyond your control? Do you accept not succeeding, or do you find another gear? The key takeaway is that failure is an option, and when you do fail, do everything you can to prevent it from happening again. As a freshman at Indiana University, I learned this firsthand when I was required to run a five-minute mile to make the team. It took me 14 attempts before I accomplished the challenge, including multiple times of 5:01. What started as running extra practice sprints turned into an obsession with how to succeed. Before my 14th attempt, I decided to find a song that was exactly 5 minutes long. I practiced on my own and knew exactly where I needed to be on the track with each beat.
Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat!