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235 Hope Road, Tinton Falls, NJ 07724  /  732.542.4777

Q&A with Dakota Vastola '24

Dakota Vastola '24 answers questions about playing on the St. John Vianney/Ranney School co-op ice hockey team. Dakota has played on the team since his freshmen year and was named captain for the 2023-24 school year. After the 2022-23 season, Dakota was named Defensemen of the Year. The team had a great season, finishing with a 15-6-1 record, capturing the Shore Conference Tournament Championship and advancing to the NJSIAA Non-Public Quarterfinals. 

When did you start playing ice hockey?
I started playing hockey later than most. We've all heard stories of players finding themselves on the ice shortly after learning to walk; however, I can't say I had the same experience. Having two older brothers that played, I was constantly being dragged from rink to rink alongside my parents. As such an obligation became more of an annoyance than sheer fun, I think it almost served as a barrier to getting on the ice. With that said, once I found myself on the ice around 7 or 8 years old, my perception of the ice and the game itself quickly changed.

What have been the highlights of your playing career so far?
I think it’s hard to define what moments of my hockey career I deem highlights. Hockey is truly something special to me -- a genuine part of my life. Growing up playing hockey has been filled with so many moments, small and big ones, that I'll remember and cherish for the rest of my life. I can certainly put my finger on some distinguishable highlights. Playing in the Pee Wee Quebec tournament as a 13-year-old was definitely an experience I consider one of my larger and early highlights -- a world renowned tournament, playing alongside many of my friends and rivals, all coming together to play in front of thousands of locals. Jumping from the Generals AA team to AAA at Devils youth was a notable highlight -- a transition where I feel I was truly able to take my game to the next level. I would then go on to make Varsity as a freshman -- an awesome feeling -- especially given the fact it was Ranney's first year of having a co-op with SJV. I then found myself playing for George Haviland's Premier team at the Titans as a first year U18, which has been incredible and very challenging, with the game being so fast paced there is literally no room for error; yet another transition and incredible experience that has opened my eyes to a whole new level of hockey. Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been chosen as the Captain for the SJV/Ranney hockey team, a surprise of which I expect to capture many new highlights.

Can you talk about the transition to playing in a co-op with another school? 
I am so grateful for all who were involved in making this co-op come to fruition. I never thought I would be playing ice hockey while attending Ranney, a school I have called my second home since I was three years old. I did know some of the kids on the SJV team, I played travel with one or two of them in the past. Starting out freshman year being the only Ranney student being on the SJV team seemed like a lot of pressure, but the coaches, kids, and families at SJV made the transition painless. The SJV community was very welcoming, not only to me but to my family. I couldn’t think of a better school to co-op with. They have truly been the best to play with and play for!

How do you manage your academics and extracurricular activities?
The one thing hockey and sports have taught me is time management! It is quite difficult managing my school work, playing hockey, all while being president of my class. Ranney has given me the support I have needed to be successful. The teachers and the administration at Ranney have created a solid foundation throughout the years. If it weren’t for them, none of this would be achievable!

What are the benefits to having a co-op program?
There are so many great things about having a co-op program with another school. It gives students the opportunity to play a sport, where the opportunity would not have been possible, if not for the co-op program. For me it meant playing the sport I love while attending Ranney – a place where I have made so many friends and love the faculty and administration. Our co-op has allowed me to combine the family I have at Ranney with the family I have made at SJV. Wherever I am – I feel at home.

How would you describe the SJV coaching staff? 
The coaches at SJV are great. They represent leadership and show all of us what it means to be goal oriented. What I love most about them is each one of them gives us the confidence in our game to be the best we can be on the ice. They have taught us what it means to be a team and more importantly, how to play as a team. I can’t say enough good things about them!

How did it feel to be named Captain for the 2023-24 season?
Being named captain for the SJV/Ranney ice hockey team for the 2023-2024 season really came as a big surprise. Being that I attend Ranney I always assumed the captain would be an SJV kid. Once again, it shows the character of the community at SJV. They truly consider me one of them! As both a Senior and Captain I aspire to create a superior camaraderie on and off the ice, one of which allows us to reach new heights as a program, and hopefully dictates what the SJV/Ranney team will be for years to come. 

What are your goals for the team next season?
I think I am speaking for the entire team when I say we want to have yet another successful year. In my final year with the team, I want to build off the years prior – win more, go further, but more importantly make countless new memories with a group I truly feel blessed to be a part of. As this co-op has welcomed me with open arms and given me so much, I feel like it’s only right I return the favor before I move onto whatever the next chapter of my life holds.

What are your future plans for playing ice hockey?
I’m not sure where hockey will lead me. I think many kids aspire to play college hockey; few achieve that goal. That is the reality. What I can tell you is what hockey has given me -- it has taught me to be part of a team, how to recover from a loss, it has made me great friends, and has certainly given me memories that will last me a lifetime. If that is all that comes out of playing hockey, I would consider that a win!

Ranney School

235 Hope Road
Tinton Falls, NJ 07724
Tel. 732.542.4777

Our mission is to know and value every child, nurturing intellectual curiosity and confidence, and inspiring students to lead honorably, think creatively, and contribute meaningfully to society.