In the first part of our five-part Friday series on what affects high school athletes, two former athletes, Kari Lefebvre and Nico Steriti, explain why they participated.

Playing high school sports and with a group of classmates is something unique only to that level of education.

Why that's so has no true answer, it's just something in the air that those who've played or coached it can give the most accurate answer.

Maybe it's the cool weather on a Friday night in the fall where your crosstown rival comes in for a football game, a swimming meet where your aching and in pain but you fight beyond your strengths to the finish, a basketball game where everything rides on the shot at the buzzer, a track meet where your among the elite or something else.

To some it's playing with your friends or against the kids you grew up with but maybe it's something a little more.

Kari Lefebvre and Nico Steriti have two different stories but both experienced great success and honor at the high school level while playing at Toms River High School East from the fall of 2006 through graduation day 2010.

Lefebvre was a swimmer at East who was the team captain during the 2009-2010 season but even before that she collected some other honors and hardware including the Most Improved Swimmer Award in 2007-2008.

Steriti was a star as well and a team captain on the football team where he played Running-Back and Defensive-Back (Corner-back and Safety), where in his senior season he rushed for over 1,000-yards and scored an incredible 28-touchdowns including an interception from 102-yards out.

He was also part of a team in the 2009 season that went 10-1, with the loss coming in an NJSIAA State Sectional Semi-Final against Egg Harbor Township.

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(2009 interview by the Shore Sports Network following East game vs TR South)

Kari says one of the things she misses most about participating in high school sports is being in the pool with her teammates.

"I was pretty quiet in high school and it really brought me out of my shell," Lefebvre said. "Just the team aspect of it...the comradery and everything."

Steriti, says for him part of the reason he wanted to play was to continue the family tradition.

"Having two older brothers who were exceptional in the sport and as athletes, it created competitive walls in the home, but at the end of the day, we were always taught to just play as hard as we could and leave it all out there," Steriti said. "After the game, I'd give my mom a hug and a kiss and my father...and that was really the most special part of all of it."

Nico also had the opportunity to play with his younger brother Mario, another star running back and defensive back.

"It was amazing to be able to play with my younger brother first and foremost," Steriti said. "Then to excel on the field with him and for him to put his body on the line and block for his older's a cool thing."

No matter what sport it is, playing in front of the fans can play apart in the outcome of a game as well.

For Steriti, he says it's a great feeling for a player to hear the roaring support of the student section.

"You have the students in the stands rooting for the player but the common goal is the same, they're all just trying to have a good time," Steriti said. "They're all just trying to win and be happy and experience the moment."

Lefebvre, says she heard the fans...but once she was in the water was just her.

"I would hear people yelling, 'go-go-go', but once I'm in the water on a straight-away before a turn, it's kind of just me in my own head," Lefebvre said.

Fans are great and can inject some fuel into an athletes adrenaline rush but so does a good rivalry match, meet or game.

Lefebvre describes that rush of adrenaline she felt on the day of a rivalry meet in the pool.

"It's just the energy in that pool, especially if you felt it was going to be a close meet," Lefebvre said. "The energy was just there. You could feel it in the air. Those are the meets I think were the most fun."

Kari says she'd also be decked out in school gear throughout the day ahead of those meets.

There's no atmosphere quite as electric as Friday night under the lights watching a couple of high school football rivals battle between the hash-marks.

Steriti, says rivalry games are the ones you remember the most.

"You have ex-players and coaches who were in games and situations in other times that there's still an emotional connection from it," Steriti said.

Nico says in some cases you're playing against kids you grew up with who now attend other schools.

*** In Part-Two of our series next Friday, we find out what's legal and not legal about athletes who transfer.

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