Pilots set to compete at next level

WARREN, Mich. - Though the event was held to celebrate the athletic achievements of four young, accomplished seniors Wednesday afternoon at De La Salle Collegiate, it quickly became apparent that academics were at the forefront of their minds.

And isn't that what it's all about?

Justin Burke, Ryan Drake, Anthony LaRocca, and Brendan Pochmara all celebrated taking their talents to the next level during Signing Day ceremonies. Drake, LaRocca, and Pochmara are all members of the varsity baseball team. Burke is a diver on the varsity swimming and diving squad.

"My parents have always - from Day 1 - stressed academics. That's the most important thing, academics before hockey, before baseball," said Pochmara, who will attend and play baseball at Hillsdale College next year. "Ultimately it came down to the academics. Hillsdale has a very rigorous academic program. It was a good fit for me."

Pochmara is a pitcher who may also see time in the outfield this upcoming spring for head coach Steve Schypinski's team. He plans on studying finance in college. Hillsdale is an NCAA Division II school that competes in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

"Playing college baseball at the Division II level, it's honestly something I never thought I could accomplish," he said. "So it's really special for my family and me that I was able to accomplish."

LaRocca, another pitcher for the Pilots, will be attending Indiana Tech. He chose the Warriors over other finalists, including Lawrence Tech, Wayne State, Oakland University, and Hope College. 

"It's a really big engineering school and I want to go into engineering because my grandpa was an engineer, my uncle - who was here - is an engineer and I kind of want to follow in their footsteps," LaRocca said. 

Indiana Tech is located in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Warriors were a top-25 ranked NAIA team last year. They won the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference title in 2019.

"They have a really amazing baseball team," LaRocca said. "I love the coach, I love the campus, I loved really everything about it. It was one of the best tours I took."

Drake, who plays catcher for the Pilots, will play at Adrian College next year. Like his teammates, the academic fit was perfect for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound catcher.

"It fit my major pretty well," said Drake, who plans on studying pre-med. "It's going to give me a great opportunity to learn, to broaden my knowledge in the pre-med field. It's also giving me an opportunity to compete in collegiate sports, which has always been a goal of mine. Both of those together really made it a good fit for me."

The Bulldogs are an NCAA Division III school that competes in the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They are coached by Craig Rainey.

"I really loved it there during my visit," Drake said. "It felt like a big university, but at a small school. I really liked that."

Burke, a member of De La Salle's very talented diving squad, will compete at Northern Michigan University in 2020. 

"When I went up to Northern I fell in love with the campus because it was right off of Lake Superior," he said. "The team was very welcoming and I felt like at home there."

Burke is looking forward to his final season at De La Salle. He finished fifth at the Macomb County Swim Championships last season. He was 15th at the Division 2 state finals at Eastern Michigan University.

"It's been a lot of fun here at De La Salle," he said. "I've made a lot of close friends. Two of my best friends swim with me. Going to dive at the next level will really push me to be a better person and a better diver."

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