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Hard Choice Conflicted Westport Star Soccer Goalie

WESTPORT, Conn. – Westport’s James Hickok wrestled with the decision for nearly a year.

The Staples senior goalkeeper had the choice of playing with his high school team or with his club team, South Central Academy.

This is the first year players have had to choose, and it led to tough choices for Hickok and dozens of other boys. Finally, midway through the summer, the Dartmouth-bound Hickok chose to stay with his high school teammates.

“I had to weigh the pros and cons of each one,’’ said Hickok, who opens the season Thursday against Ridgefield. “It was almost a no-brainer the whole time. The coaches here, especially goalkeeper coach Tom Henske, have supported me the whole way. There is a higher level of play at the academy, that’s true, but the benefits don’t outweigh what I have here at Staples.”

The Wreckers are the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s most decorated soccer program, with 12 state and 27 league championships. Hickok is one of the rare three-year starters at Staples and earned all-conference honors last year. He helped the team win the 2010 league title and reach the Class LL finals. Staples is 33-7-5 the past two years with Hickok as the backbone of the defense. He had 12 shutouts last year.

"James already stands shoulder to shoulder with the best keepers in Staples history – and that’s quite a group,'' Staples' coach Dan Woog said. "He has worked incredibly hard on every aspect of his game – technique, tactics, physical strength and speed, even his communication skills. He is not the only athlete around with the potential to be a great keeper. But very few others have shown the commitment, the intensity, the drive and the will to be the best that he has."

Hickok is even under more pressure this year with the stars from the past two years having graduated. He’s ready for the challenge and even embraces it.

“I’m pretty comfortable with everything,’’ Hickok said. “I've played in big games before. I’m ready to enjoy it now.”

Part of Hickok’s decision to return to Staples centered around his college choice. He committed to Dartmouth in the spring, which took away the pressure of having to impress college recruiters.

“One of the reasons kids go to the academy their senior year is to expedite the recruiting process,’’ Hickok said. “They need to be seen in the fall. For me, that wasn't a factor. That was kind of relieving.”

Dartmouth is one of the nation’s top college programs, with five consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Hickok is ready to show his skills at the college level – but only after one more strong season for the Wreckers.

“We have four or five sophomores that are very talented,’’ Hickok said. “We've played better this preseason than some other years. Everyone takes it seriously. Maybe it’s because they’re younger. But we’re ready to make another run at it.”

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