The Tournament of Champions basketball game Wednesday night between Haddonfield and Moorestown was more than a clash between two of South Jersey’s top teams.
It also was validation of the value of the multi-sport athlete.
The starting lineups for both state championship teams were peppered with players who regard basketball as something other than their No. 1 sport.
And that wasn’t a detriment to either team’s sustained success. Instead, it was a major contributing factor.
“It’s huge,” Moorestown coach Shawn Anstey said. “I always push for three-sport [athletes]. I think it makes a huge difference.”
Take a long look at Moorestown, which won the program’s first state title in 60 years. The Quakers made short work of Central Jersey Group 3 champion Wall Township and North Jersey Group 3 champion Ramapo, winning the state semifinal and state final by a combined 34 points. Then they took down once-beaten Haddonfield in the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals at Toms River North.
The Quakers’ slick senior point guard, Jagger Zrada, is the lone basketball-only athlete among the regular rotation. His skill set and court sense reflect long years of focus on the sport.
But the rest of the Quakers are multi-sport guys. Senior forward Nick Cartwright-Atkins is a football star who has signed to attend Wagner University on scholarship. Senior forward Brian McMonagle is a three-sport athlete who was the quarterback for the football team and has signed with Boston College as a pitcher.
Senior guard Vinnie Caprarola plays soccer and lacrosse. Senior guard Akhil Giri will golf at Colgate. Junior forward Kevin Muhic is a soccer goalie. Junior guard Evan Francisco is a baseball player.
“None of these guys are going to play basketball in college – go figure,” Anstey said of the Quakers. “But they all excel in every sport they play.”
Haddonfield’s starting lineup featured basketball-only guys such as splendid lead guard Mike DePersia – a IUPUI recruit – as well as senior swingman Dan Fleming and junior swingman Ben Cerrato.
But check out the rest of the Bulldawgs’ regular rotation. Senior swingman Aidan Blake is a lacrosse star who will play that sport at Cornell. Senior forward Dylan Heine is an ace pitcher who will attend Rider on a baseball scholarship.
And the team’s top two reserves, Drew Gavranich and Lewis Evans, were football standouts who helped the Haddonfield gridiron squad to back-to-back South Jersey titles before serving as top bench players for basketball teams that won consecutive titles as well.
“It’s kind of easy to say, ‘Thrust them into this situation, they’ve been through these battles on the gridiron,’ ” Haddonfield coach Paul Wiedeman said of Gavranich and Evans.
For years, there has been a trend toward specialization in youth sports, with burgeoning growth of out-of-season competition, high-powered travel teams, and a cottage industry of individual workout trainers.
There’s nothing wrong with being a one-sport athlete. Everybody is different. It certainly worked out for DePersia and for countless others who chose to specialize in a single sport.
But the notion that the multi-sport athlete, even the old-school, three-sport player, is a dying breed, a remnant of another time, has been overstated.
There still are lots of multi-sport athlete who resists the pressure to focus on one game, usually to play something other than a starring role in his second or even third sport.
Such diversity of activity probably is healthier from a physical standpoint, since repetition from making the same motions over and over are believed to increase the frequency of youth sports injuries.
It’s probably healthier from social and psychological standpoints as well, allowing athletes to interact with different teammates and different coaches and to play different roles in different team dynamics.