Fredonia alum credits former coaches with success at Naval Academy
From Orange to Navy
As Kirsta Wheelock enters her first year at the U.S. Naval Academy, she does so with an impressive amount of accolades behind her, between winning Blue Jacket of the year for shore work, and getting the nomination for the Naval Academy from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Wheelock demonstrates several highly desirable naval qualities, including discipline, conditioning, and the right leadership skills that commanding officers desire.
While these skills have been honed for the last four years participating in Naval training, Wheelock knows that her time playing under her high school coaches, Carol Zirkle, Ross and Alex Conti, and Cathy Cruver, is what helped foster these skills for her to be successful in both athletics and beyond.
Wheelock can recall different lessons she learned from all three of her sports, and is thankful for each and every thing she was able to learn.
Wheelock’s marquee sport was playing basketball under Carol Zirkle at Fredonia, where she was the starting point guard and the ultimate role player. While she didn’t rack up points, her career high being 17 points in a game at Dunkirk High School, she would stuff the stat sheet with assists, rebounds, and pretty much anything else the team needed.
“Zirkle taught me how to be a leader, and a follower at the same time. She taught me how to compartmentalize and handle stress, and her rigorous practices helped too,” Wheelock said.
Wheelock and Zirkle still carry a great relationship, which is a testament to the quality of people both of them are. Wheelock tries to see Zirkle on the rare time she has to return to her home, and Zirkle returns the favor whenever she has time.
Wheelock continued her basketball career beyond playing at Fredonia, as she played for the Naval Academy Prep School, NAPS, in Rhode Island, where she was able to play against some top tier talent.
“I got to play against a McDonald’s All-American. She was over six feet tall. A couple of my teammates were injured and another one fouled out, so I got to guard her for a while, and I actually held her to six points,” Wheelock said.
It was one of those games, the last one in fact, that Zirkle and her sister drove down to see Wheelock play in.
“Just the fact she drove eight hours to see my basketball game, I was just so appreciative of that. The way she treats me and all of her former players is amazing,” Wheelock said.
Playing in a college league, especially for NAPS, the intensity of everything is ramped up for most people. That was yet another thing Zirkle prepared Wheelock for.
“Everyone else on the team was saying how intense and crazy our practices work, but they just felt normal to me. That helped a lot too,” Wheelock said.
In addition to the leadership skills learned from Zirkle, Wheelock took other skills from her other high school coaches. From her golf coaches, Alex and Ross Conti, form and discipline were the traits Wheelock took away.
“Form is everything in golf. You have to put everything you have into every single rep. If you don’t, it’s you that pays for it,” Wheelock said.
While golf is an individualistic sport, there is also the team element of everyone’s collective score equalling a team win or loss. This is another thing Wheelock is thankful to have learned from golf.
“In the Navy, team work is so important. You have to be able to do your own job, and be accountable for others too. Those things from sports are just so huge,” Wheelock said.
The big thing Wheelock took away from soccer was conditioning. With it being the biggest surface area to cover of any of the sports she played, staying in shape was key.
“(Cathy) Cruver was great because she was really into running. We have to run so much now, just in the NAVY in general, she was one of the people who pushed us to run distance,” Wheelock said behind laughter.
Between playing in a mudpit for a soccer game after a rain-out, going to States for golf, or putting up 17 points against Dunkirk, Wheelock’s favorite memories from Fredonia are any game she and her team got to give back to the community.
“Any game we had to support a cause, whether it be breast cancer night or anything else, it was always a good time, because we got to raise money and support the community,” Wheelock said.
It isn’t really surprising that Wheelock’s favorite memories are giving back to the community, given that’s what she continues to do now with her Navy service. As Wheelock leaves her basketball career behind, knowing she won’t be able to make the team at the Naval Academy, she takes her skills from her time at Fredonia and continues to hone them to the best of her ability. And as Wheelock has shown, on the court, pitch, course, or ship, her abilities shouldn’t be in question.