Career Advancement

Before Alaina Bergsma and Nana Meriwether took the Miss USA stage, there was Susie Castillo, an outside hitter from Endicott College.

Miss USA Pageant
Susie Castillo in her Miss USA crown.

Volleyball players have made quite a name for themselves on the pageant tour. Last year, Alaina Bergsma, the VBM NCAA Player of the Year took the title of Miss Oregon USA and Nana Meriwether was our Miss USA. But before either of these beautiful young ladies took the stage, Susie Castillo won the 2003 Miss USA competition after playing four years of Division III volleyball at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass.

These days, Castillo is still acting and modeling. Check out her website to keep track of her many projects: susiecastillo.net

Here's our original article on Castillo's victory from the July 2003 issue:

Look out Gabrielle Reece, it might be time to pass along the title of “World’s Best-Looking Volleyball Player.”

Susie Castillo, a former outside hitter at Division III Endicott College in Beverly, Mass., has the looks and the game to contend for the crown and the focus and resolve to take it.

As the winner of the 2003 Miss USA competition, Castillo has proven her talent for turning heads. And if putting away a four-ball were one of the categories that contestants at the Miss USA pageant had to compete in, she would have walked away with an even stronger victory.

Approximately 200 million viewers watched Castillo’s performance on the runway at the 52nd annual staging of the event in San Antonio, Texas, earlier this year.

Far fewer have ever seen her perform on the volleyball court, but those who have concur – Castillo is a competitor.

Miss USA began both her volleyball and modeling careers at the age of 14 while she was a freshman at Methuen High School in Massachusetts. At Methuen she trained amongst the hurdlers and long jumpers during the track season and increased her vertical jump.

When it came time to play volleyball, even though she wasn’t the tallest player, she had a leap that enabled her to compete for a spot on the outside. Her coach primed her as the team’s second setter as well.

So by the time colleges began to recruit her, Castillo’s nectar hands and experience as a hitter positioned her to be a very promising opposite.

She decided on Endicott where she started at right side her first two years before she transitioned back to the outside for her junior and senior years.

“Susie bombs the ball,” said Endicott assistant coach Samantha Lampert. “She’s got a huge vertical and hits hard.”

The statistics affirm Lampert’s claim. During her senior year Castillo finished the season with more than a quarter of the team’s total kills and ended up ranked third in the Commonwealth Coast Conference for most kills.

“My hitting was my biggest asset,” said Castillo. “Everyone always told me I got a lot of air. I worked my butt off improving my vertical and perfecting my swing.”

All of that hard work and athletic training paid off early for Castillo’s career as a model as well.

At the age of 18 and just after her first season at Endicott, Dynasty Modeling Agency in Boston convinced Castillo to enter the Miss Teen Massachusetts competition.

Though it was the first pageant that she had ever competed in, she took the Miss Teen Massachusetts title.

Part of that success she attributes to playing volleyball. “I was ripped from going to the gym and working out,” said Castillo. “The pageant was just two weeks after the end of the season and I looked good for the swimsuit portion.”

By the time she makes her next pageant appearance at the Miss Universe competition in June, it will have been more than two years since the end of her last volleyball season.

And Castillo is still ripped.

She stays in top form these days by sticking to a regimented workout routine, starting out with a half hour of cardiovascular exercise, followed by stretching and an intense weight training session, before finishing off with another half hour of cardio.

Despite all that time in the gym, Castillo has still been devoted to fulfilling the responsibilities outlined for her by the Miss USA organization.

Until a new delegate is crowned next year, her calendar is booked traveling all over the country to various charitable events for organizations such as the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund, Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, Gilda’s Club, and the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.

Thus far, Castillo has been to Boston, Miami, Kentucky, and Los Angeles to generate funds for breast and ovarian cancer education, research, and lobbying efforts. Though she has her work cut out for her—last year’s Miss USA delegate raised $34 million dollars—Castillo is up for the challenge.

Accepting challenge is nothing new for Castillo. Her determination has led her to success in many facets of her life and has been evidenced in her role as an athlete, as a model and, perhaps most exceptionally, in her academics when she was a student.

At Endicott, Castillo received the notable Capstone Award, an honor given annually to one graduating student in recognition of their senior thesis. As an interior architecture and design major, Castillo spent innumerable hours designing the blueprints and crafting a model for a property that was to be built on a beach in the Caribbean.

She chose the site of her design, maybe because it would be the perfect spot to set up a beach volleyball court, but mostly because she is proud of her Caribbean roots – her family hails from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Castillo is the third Latin contestant to win the Miss USA competition and although no records have been kept regarding how many volleyball outside hitters have won, she appears to be the first.

As the winner, she was awarded a considerable prize package that consisted of a $20,000 wardrobe (not including any new volleyball gear), a soap opera appearance on NBC’s Passions, a $45,000 scholarship to the School of Film and Television (they don’t have a volleyball team), and a luxury apartment in Manhattan.

Also, in achieving Miss USA status, Castillo became the automatic delegate to represent America in the Miss Universe pageant in Panama City in June. Eighty-seven countries will send delegates to Panama to compete in the event.

Though she is accustomed to competition from her years on the court, competing in a pageant is very different, most obviously because the activities are so qualitatively dissimilar.

But they are also different in a more fundamental way. Whereas competing on the court is team-oriented, competing in a pageant is a completely solo act.

As a co-captain at Endicott, Castillo remembers motivating her team with the cheer, “Together fight! Together win!”

Alone on stage, Castillo doesn’t have the comfort of others to back her up, but she’s still got it together. Instead, her motivation and support come from a strong sense of self that she credits her mom for instilling in her.

Castillo’s appreciation for her mom was evident throughout her volleyball career as she wore number 53—her mom’s birth year—on her jersey. When she got to college, she switched to No. 3 because 53 was not available. (As of now there are no official plans at Endicott to retire Miss USA’s number, although she admits it would be nice.)

As for the future, Castillo plans on making the most of her scholarship to the School of Film and Television and transitioning into the entertainment industry.

“I’m looking forward to learning more about acting and the craft so when I’m done with my reign I can hopefully jump right into an acting career,” she said.

Considering Castillo’s history at succeeding at what she puts her mind to, chances are we’ll see her on the big screen in the near future.

And one thing’s for sure. If the producers of Side Out are casting for the sequel, Castillo is a shoe in.

Originally published in July 2003

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