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Ready for Their Close-Up

Ready for Their Close-Up ...From the pages of South Jersey Magazine...

Johnny Shamir, Eastern volleyball
A senior middle hitter, Shamir recorded a team-high 255 kills and 94 blocks in 2015 to lead the Vikings to their second straight Olympic Conference American Division title. He was an all-South Jersey and all-conference selection.

South Jersey Magazine: How did you first get involved in volleyball?
Johnny Shamir: At the end of seventh grade I hurt my knee during basketball. I had played basketball my entire life. So I was looking for a non-contact sport and I was always pretty good when we played volleyball in gym, so I figured I’d try it out.

SJM: Who has had the biggest influence on you in the game?
JS: I would say [Eastern coach Tom] Armour, because he was my first and only coach pretty much. I play for his club team too, the South Jersey Volleyball Club. He’s a little scary, but he’s nicer than he looks. He knows his stuff.

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SJM: What’s your favorite part about the sport?
JS: Winning. Other than that I like that each person on the team has their own part to do and each person has to be trusted to do that part. You can’t play by yourself—it’s a team sport.

SJM: Would you like to play in college?
JS: I could probably play Division II or Division III, but I’d rather go to a good school for academics than just go for volleyball. I know where I want to go—I want to go to Michigan. I got in, but it’s a little expensive. They have a great football team and that brings about a lot of school spirit. When you go there, everyone is wearing their Michigan stuff. I really liked it when I visited and it’s a good school for academics.

SJM: What other schools are you considering?
JS: Rutgers, Maryland and Penn State. I want to study either business or economics.

SJM: Have you always lived in the Voorhees area?
JS: I was born in Israel and we moved to Voorhees when I was 8. I’ve been there ever since.

SJM: Do you ever get back to Israel?
JS: Yeah, we go back every summer. My entire family lives there. My two brothers and my sister went back to serve in the army; I’m probably not going to do that. So everybody is there except me and my parents.

SJM: What was it like coming to the United States at a young age?
JS: I was excited to come but I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know any words at all, so that was a big adjustment. I was around new people who I couldn’t talk to, so that was tough. I had ESL—English as a second language—for an hour every day at school. But I think I did most of my learning during the summer, watching sports [on TV].

SJM: What’s it like when you go back to visit Israel?
JS: I like seeing all my family and friends, my grandparents. It’s always a good time, because everybody is waiting for us to come back. We go for three weeks, maybe a month, every summer and sometimes on winter or spring break.

SJM: What do your friends here think about that?
JS: People think Israel is a lot different than America, but it’s really not. It’s actually similar. They live in regular houses just like here. People hear about the terrorism and they fear it, but on a day-to-day basis you don’t really see that where I go, in Tel Aviv.

SJM: What do you like about living in South Jersey?
JS: I like a lot about it. I like Eastern, I like the people, I like the weather—a lot of people don’t, but I love the cold. The colder the better for me.

SJM: Getting back to volleyball, are you guys capable of winning the division for the third year in a row?
JS: I definitely think we’re capable. We have the players, we just have to put it together.

SJM: Are you taking on more of a leadership role as a senior?
JS: I think I took on a leadership role last year too, but definitely this year. Me and our libero—Rob [Cinalli], who might move to the outside—we’re the only starters returning, so we definitely feel more pressure to lead.

SJM: Do you have any personal goals for your final season?
JS: I really want to get to 500 [career] kills, and I think I need about 195 more, so it’s definitely doable. For the team, I hope we can finally beat Southern because we lose to them every year.

Joe Loperfido, Haddonfield baseball
Loperfido earned a starting job at third base as a sophomore and hit .430 to help the Bulldawgs reach the sectional final. Now the Duke University recruit is moving back to shortstop and is primed for a big junior season.

South Jersey Magazine: How are you feeling heading into the season now that you’re an upperclassman?
Joe Loperfido: I feel great. I’ve never been more excited for a baseball season and I’ve never felt more prepared for a baseball season.

SJM: Your coach said last year that you were the best eight-hole hitter in South Jersey, but obviously you won’t be hitting eighth this year. Are you ready to take on a bigger role and perhaps hit in the middle of the lineup?
JL: Yeah, I would definitely be happy with a job in the middle of the lineup. But if what’s best for the team is me at the one or two spot—getting on base and scoring some runs—I’d be more than happy to do that.

SJM: As a sophomore starter last year you came up with a lot of clutch hits. What was the adjustment like to the varsity level?
JL: I came into my sophomore year really excited. The third baseman, Jake Thorndike, had suffered a hamstring injury, so he moved to first base. During the preseason, Coach Bickel said, ‘Hey Joe, why don’t you take a couple of grounders at third base?’ So I did that and worked my way into the lineup. I had no pressure or anything; I was just there to have good at-bats and do my job.

SJM: I know you had a big bases-loaded triple in the South Jersey semifinals against Glassboro. Did you get more and more confident as the season wore on?
JL: Yeah. I was just seeing the ball real well, especially toward the end of the season. In that situation I was just trying to hit the ball hard and in play, and it ended up being the perfect ball to hit.

SJM: So you’re moving back to your natural position this year, shortstop. Are you happy about that?
JL: Yeah, I love shortstop. That’s where all the action is.

SJM: Is baseball your only sport?
JL: Growing up I played baseball, a little bit of lacrosse and soccer. In middle school and high school it was just baseball and soccer, and I stopped soccer after my sophomore year. I also play [baseball] for the Tri-State Arsenal; I’ve been playing there since I was 8 or 9. A lot of the big tournaments are down in Georgia in the summer, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to play in the Area Code Games in California this year.

SJM: You made your college decision last year. Why did you want to do it so early?
JL: It was the perfect opportunity and something I couldn’t pass up. I had been admiring a lot of schools in the ACC similar to Duke. I really enjoyed Clemson; I got a chance to visit there when I was down in Georgia last summer. I really liked Wake Forest, Boston College, all of those schools. Duke watched me play for a couple of weeks down in Georgia. I think I was down there for all of July and a week in August, just playing every day. They watched me play and I had a real good game toward the end of the month. I got a phone call and that was that. ACC baseball is my opinion is the best in the country, and the academics at Duke are just unbelievable.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?
JL: I’m leaning toward something business-related. I’d love to do pre-med, but I don’t think I’ll have the time with traveling and playing and that kind of stuff.

SJM: Have you been rooting for Duke this year in basketball?
JL: Absolutely. [Brandon] Ingram is a real good player. I actually went down for my class visit and we went to Midnight Madness, this big Cameron Crazy pep rally for the team’s first practice. They did a dunk contest in previous years, but this year they just scrimmaged and had a bunch of events going on. That was a lot of fun.

SJM: South Jersey has had a nice connection with Duke baseball over the years. Do you know anyone there?
JL: [St. Augustine senior] Bill Chillari is a South Jersey guy who’s going to Duke. Adam Laskey, who is a year ahead of me at Haddon Heights, is also going. This past offseason I had the opportunity to work out a lot with him, put in the work in the weight room and get to know him a little bit. I look forward to playing him May 6 at our place; that will be a good matchup. The head coach from Duke is coming up for that one, so it should be fun.

SJM: I know Haddonfield graduated a lot of talent, but there is still a good core in place. What are your goals for the team?
JL: Our coach said on the first day of practice that our motto this year is to finish. That means getting a sectional title and moving on to a state title hopefully. As a team we’re looking to progress and finish what we started last year.

SJM: How does the pitching look?
JL: Pitching-wise we graduated a lot of guys, but we have a lot of good arms coming back. We have a Citadel commit, Will Gambino, who is going to have a real good season in my opinion. We also have a couple older guys who can really pitch the ball.

SJM: Were you ever a pitcher?
JL: I pitched a little bit in Little League, but my dad kind of kept me out of that to keep my arm healthy. I think it worked out.

SJM: Is your dad a big influence; is he a baseball guy?
JL: He’s not a baseball guy; he played football at Muhlenberg, he was a linebacker. But ever since I remember I was having a baseball catch with my dad in the front yard or on the beach and I just fell in love with the game.

SJM: Do you have any siblings?
JL: I have a sister and she was a dancer. She attends New York University now.

SJM: What do you like about living in Haddonfield?
JL: I think it’s just a great community. We have a great high school, a great elementary school and great middle school. As far as athletics go, we have the best support system.

SJM: What do you like to do when you’re not playing baseball?
JL: When I’m not playing baseball I’m usually thinking about baseball. I have a lot of great friends and picking up a basketball with them is always a good time. I love to golf with my buddies. I love to eat too—there are a lot of good places to eat in Haddonfield.

SJM: What’s your favorite baseball movie?
JL: I think The Sandlot. It’s a classic. I grew up watching that.

SJM: Are there any major-leaguers you look up to?
JL: Mike Trout. He played for my travel program, Tri-State Arsenal, and he’s just a phenom. I love the way he plays the game and how aggressively he runs the bases. I definitely try to model any part of my game I can after him.

Lauren Shannon, Washington Township softball
A senior pitcher, Shannon posted a 24-1 record and 1.07 ERA last year to help the Minutemaids win their second Group IV state title in three years. She is looking for a strong end to her high school career before moving on to Rowan University.

South Jersey Magazine: After what you were able to accomplish on a personal and team level last year, is your confidence really high going into your final season?
Lauren Shannon: I’m just really excited because it’s my senior year and we have a really great group of girls. It’s a rebuilding year, but we have a core group who have all played together since we were 10 years old, so it will be exciting to play one more season together.

SJM: What was the experience like of pitching in the state final last year and throwing a one-hitter?
LS: I definitely wasn’t expecting that. It was really exciting, though. I think the ‘high’ of the game just kept me going.

SJM: What’s it like to be part of a program that has had so much success and produced so many great players?
LS: It’s crazy being part of it. There are so many amazing players who have come through: Jess Hughes, Taylor Coroneos, Kristen Turner, all of them. Getting a chance to play with them has been amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

SJM: You’re going to miss Jess this year, aren’t you?
LS: A lot. [Laughs] She’s such a great player. If a ball was hit to her side of the field or she was up to bat, I was always confident she would get the job done and help the team out.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in Washington Township and going to school there?
LS: I like the town. It’s a family, a community, and I think that’s my favorite part. My favorite part of high school is the softball team. We’re really close and it’s nice to have that.

SJM: What did you like about the school and softball program to make you choose Rowan?
LS: They have a really good pitching coach there and he helped me a lot at the camps I’ve gone to there. He really knows what he’s talking about, so I know going there that I’m going to improve as a player. It’s a good program, they win a lot and I’m a competitive person, so I’m glad I’ll get to compete for championships.

SJM: Did they recruit you pretty hard?
LS: Yeah, [head coach Kim Wilson] and one of the assistants came to a bunch of my high school games last year since it’s so close.

SJM: Was it important to you to stay close to home?
LS: No. When I was younger I thought I would end up going farther away. It just turned out to be my favorite school.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?
LS: Elementary education.

SJM: So even though you said this is a rebuilding year, do you still have high hopes for what you can accomplish?
LS: Yeah, I’m really confident in the group of girls we have. I think we’ll step up and play really well together. We’ll be a young team, but we still have a lot of talent.

SJM: How many different pitches do you throw?
LS: Six: fastball, changeup, curve, screw, rise and drop-curve.

SJM: If you really need an out, which pitch are you going with?
LS: I would say either curve or rise. It switches depending on which one is stronger that day.

SJM: There have been so many terrific pitchers at Washington Township. Do you feel a responsibility to keep that going?
LS: It’s like a line [of pitchers], it’s crazy. There’s definitely pressure coming into a school with the history that we have, knowing that you have to keep it up.

SJM: What do you like to do when you’re not playing softball?
LS: Mainly just hang out with friends. I like going to the beach a lot in the summer when it’s nice. But usually I’m playing softball.

Danny Buckwalter, Cherry Hill West lacrosse
A three-sport star for the Lions in soccer, basketball and lacrosse, Buckwalter will focus on lacrosse next year at Stevenson University. Last spring the midfielder was an all-conference first-team selection and he is approaching the school scoring record.

South Jersey Magazine: Is it bittersweet that you’re entering your final season at Cherry Hill West?
Danny Buckwalter: Yeah. I’m sad that it’s over, but at the same time I’m ready to move on to college. I’m looking forward to the next step and seeing how good I can be.

SJM: A lot of people nowadays decide to specialize in one sport in high school, but you played three all the way through your senior year. What made you stick with all three?
DB: As a kid my parents always pushed me to try all the sports and I liked all the sports. I have different friends in each sport that I like to talk to and hang out with. Each sport was kind of different and I enjoyed them all. I hate going home after school and doing nothing; I just feel lazy doing that.

SJM: Were soccer, basketball and lacrosse always your main sports?
DB: My first sport was soccer, then basketball. Then I started playing baseball but it was too slow for me. So I picked up lacrosse because my mom played it and it stuck. I also played football my freshman year of high school—I played quarterback on freshman and JV. But I missed soccer so I went back to it sophomore year.

SJM: What grade was it that you started playing lacrosse?
DB: Probably second or third grade. I liked it and it’s been my favorite sport ever since pretty much. It’s fast-paced, a lot of running and it’s fun.

SJM: Is it going to be weird next year when you’re only playing lacrosse?
DB: Yeah, because year-round that’s all I’ll be focusing on in college. It’s something I’ll have to get used to, but I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot of technical stuff I’m not so good at, so I think I can work on that and improve a lot.

SJM: So Stevenson is in Maryland—lacrosse is really big down there, right?
DB: Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s a nice atmosphere. Their big game is against Salisbury and it gets pretty crazy. They won a championship in 2012 and they started this season ranked No. 6 in D-III, but they’ve had a poor start.

SJM: What else did you like about the school besides lacrosse?
DB: The facilities, like the weight room, are really nice. The Baltimore Colts actually used to train in the same facilities we use now, so there’s all of this NFL stuff. They also had my major, which is sports management and business. I like the campus too.

SJM: What’s it been like to be part of the Cherry Hill East-Cherry Hill West rivalry in so many different sports?
DB: It’s been crazy. I know I’ll never experience anything else like it, even in college, with all the trash talking and messing with our friends. It’s once-in-a-lifetime and I know not everybody has that same rivalry.

SJM: Do you think the lacrosse team can make a lot of improvement this year?
DB: Yeah, because we only had a few seniors—one of them was really good—and we have a lot of guys returning. We have another guy coming back from injury. We have a lot of experience, so I think we’ll be able to improve a lot from last season.

SJM: Do you have any personal goals for your final season?
DB: I think the school record for goals is 119 and I’m only eight or nine away from that, so that’s one of my goals. It would be nice to have. Other than that, we’ll just see what happens.

SJM: Obviously sports take up a lot of your time, but what do you like to do when you’re not playing?
DB: I go out to eat a lot with my friends whenever we’re not playing our sport. I also work with my friends on the weekends at a place called Bounce U. It’s pretty funny; you see some interesting kids and some funny stuff. You just watch the kids bounce and make sure they’re not doing anything too bad. There are obstacle courses and sometimes the parents will race each other and get all competitive with each other. Sometimes they have more fun than the kids.

Quinn Nicolai, Moorestown lacrosse
Nicolai, a junior midfielder, established herself as the latest in a long line of terrific Moorestown players when she had 51 goals and 26 assists as a sophomore to earn all-state and all-American honors. She has already committed to Penn State.

South Jersey Magazine: I know you played varsity as a freshman, but last year you really had a breakout season. Did you expect that out of yourself?
Quinn Nicolai: I definitely expected to come out bigger than I did freshman year. Being on varsity as a freshman, all of those seniors taught me how it goes at MGLAX [Moorestown girls lacrosse]. I had to come out and show my stuff and get us back to where we were the year before.

SJM: What did you learn being around Marie McCool [now a sophomore at the University of North Carolina]?
QN: I grew up with Marie. I’ve known her since I was 2; she lives around the corner from me and she’s the one who got me into lacrosse. I hated lacrosse, actually. I wanted to play softball but she forced me to play lacrosse. [Laughs] So I always played with her in the backyard, and she took me under her wing and taught me the ropes. She gave me confidence to go out on the field as a freshman and just play like we were in the backyard.

SJM: Do you consider it an honor to be part of a program with that tradition?
QN: It’s a huge honor, especially because it’s so known around town. We have a small town and MGLAX is such a big part of it. Just sitting on the sidelines in middle school and watching these huge girls, they looked perfect and you strived to be them. So when you get to high school there’s so much excitement that you get to be part of the same thing.

SJM: The Moorestown winning streak was up to 88 games last year before finally coming to an end. Was it a burden?
QN: Of course it put a little bit of pressure on our backs, because we didn’t want to be the team to let up the streak. However, Miss [Deanna] Knoblauch always told us that the streak isn’t the biggest deal of the season. Of course it was awesome to have, but when we lost the first thing she said was, ‘Do not keep your head down, it’s a high school lacrosse game. It’s not the end of the world, everyone in high school loses, so keep playing.’ She was definitely right.

SJM: What are your expectations for this year?
QN: We lost a lot of girls from the starting lineup. Everyone is doubting us, but I think they’re wrong. I’m at practice every day and I see how hard we’re working. The seniors are stepping up and the juniors are stepping up and there’s underclassmen coming up. I think people are underestimating us and we’re going to surprise some people.

SJM: When did you find out you were getting the No. 51 jersey [traditionally passed down to the top player in the Moorestown program]?
QN: I got it at the end-of-year banquet last year from Melanie Becker. She got it from Marie McCool and she is passed it to me. It’s such an honor, because I grew up watching girls with this jersey. Steph Toy had it, and I looked at her like she was famous. I had the honor of playing under her during [South Jersey Select] season too, she was my coach. She passed it down to Marie, who is practically my sister, and Marie passed it to Mel. And when I was a freshman I became really close with Mel too, and we talk on a daily basis. So getting it from her and getting to play for those girls who wore this number, I can’t even describe it. It’s amazing.

SJM: And now you’ll have the responsibility of passing it on. Have you started thinking about that?
QN: I’m keeping my eyes open all the time.

SJM: How did you choose Penn State?
QN: I was actually looking at smaller schools. I was very interested in Loyola ever since eighth grade, which is such a small school. I never thought in a million years I would ever go to Penn State. … But I stepped on the campus and completely fell in love. Of course it’s early, but you just know. I met the coaches and I thought it was an amazing place, so I just knew it was the place for me.

SJM: Do you think you’ll get a chance to play right away?
QN: I hope so. Right now there is a freshman playing so I hope to be like her. I think it’s all about hard work and determination and having confidence going in there as a freshman. Don’t hold back, just play my game.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in college?
QN: No idea, no clue. [Laughs]. I have plenty of time.

SJM: Do you have any siblings?
QN: I have two brothers, a 12-year-old and a 22-year-old. I’m the middle child. My [older] brother plays hockey, he just finished his senior season at Rowan. My little brother plays everything.

SJM: Did you grow up playing sports with your brothers?
QN: Oh yeah. Soccer was a huge sport in my family and I still play soccer. My dad is a big soccer guy. I played in Philly along with my brother because it was better competition over there. I practiced with his team and we got really close doing that.

SJM: What do you like about living in Moorestown?
QN: I love it there. It’s a small town and you always have that core of friends you’ve had since elementary school. All the families are close and it’s a real community and it’s fun to be a part of.

SJM: How do you stay busy when you’re not playing lacrosse or soccer?
QN: Homework, hanging out with friends, TV. I love movies—I’m a big movie person. I like going to movies with friends or watching at home. My dad is a big movie person too so we watch them together.

SJM: What are some of your favorites?
QN: Toy Story is a big one—that’s a movie my family loves. My brother got me into The Mighty Ducks and The Sandlot, all those old sports movies. I also love Grease, that’s my favorite.

SJM: Do you have any personal goals this year?
QN: I definitely want to step up for the seniors last year who don’t have another chance to get the TOC [Tournament of Champions] back. I want to win that for my coaches and my team. That’s my biggest goal. Oak Knoll won it last year and they’re a very good team. They didn’t graduate a lot of girls so we have a lot of work to do, but I think we can beat them.

SJM: Are they your biggest rival now? Or would you still say Shawnee?
QN: Shawnee has always been a rival just because the towns are so close. Even if the games aren’t close, it’s always a rivalry because of the intensity and the past that it’s had. You always want to beat Shawnee. But of course there are new rivals, like Ridgewood. All of the teams we lost to last year are rivals. We want to get all of them back.

Erica Han, Lenape golf
Han has established herself as one of the premier golfers in South Jersey over the last several years. She should be a contender at all of the major tournaments as a senior this spring before continuing her career at Towson University.

South Jersey Magazine: How do you like playing at Lenape’s home course, Ramblewood?
Erica Han: It’s a good course. I’m a member at Laurel Creek Country Club, so it’s a big difference. That’s a great course, I love it there. I like the driving range. I’m a very technical person and I stick to my mechanics. Their driving range is very good, so it allows me to practice a lot and it lets me focus on ball striking and stuff like that, which I really enjoy. Ramblewood doesn’t have a driving range, so they’re lacking a few aspects that Laurel Creek has. But all in all, it’s a good course.

SJM: How old were you when you first got into golf? Was there a family influence that led you to the sport?
EH: It’s actually weird. Nobody in my family plays golf; I was the first one to start and I started when I was 10 years old. Since I was 6, I would always go back to China to visit my mom’s side of the family. When I was 10 I went for summer break, for three months. For some reason my aunt brought me to a driving range and I just started hitting balls. The next day, my mom got a phone call saying, ‘Your daughter just got into golf. We bought her clubs and we got her a coach, so the bill is going to get to you in a few days.’ [Laughs] Ever since then I was just hooked. I live near Ramblewood, so we would pass by it frequently. My mom told me when I was younger I would always ask about it. I guess it was fate. I was curious about it when I was really young and then got into it randomly when I was 10.

SJM: Were you a natural in golf or did it take a long time to become a good player?
EH: It definitely took a lot of practice and hard work, like any sport. I would say I started off a little better than most players. That might be because my grandpa plays tennis and ping pong really well, so it’s similar movements. My dad plays soccer and he played really well in China, so I guess we had an athletic part of our family. But I definitely put in a lot of effort to get where I am now.

SJM: So you were born and raised here, but you often travel to China to visit relatives?
EH: Yeah, unfortunately not as frequently now though. After I started golfing at the age of 10, I stopped going because I had to play tournaments here to get recognized by colleges. So instead of going back, I traveled around the country going to tournaments. Once in a while, during winter break I do try to go back. Usually every other year.

SJM: What parts of China do you visit and what is it like there?
EH: My family lives in Tianjin right now; it’s an hour away from Beijing, the capital. It’s a city, so there’s a lot of people, for sure. I just love it there. I like the food and I like traveling. I go to Shanghai and travel to historic areas. Traveling is a huge passion of mine, so going to China and experiencing other places there is really fun and unique. Of course, experimenting with food is also cool, because it’s a lot different from here. The American Chinese food is not Chinese food. They have chicken’s feet and pig’s ears and stuff like that. It’s definitely an acquired taste.

SJM: Since you play in a lot of tournaments around the country, have you gotten to play on many famous courses?
EH: I wouldn’t say extremely famous. I did play Trump National one year. It was a few years ago for a championship in the Philly Junior [Tour]. That course is pretty good, but it definitely got the best of me. Back then I was still a little young, so my mental game was a little weak at the time. That’s a very difficult course and it was a challenge. I could’ve done a lot better than I did, but I still love that course. The national tournaments I play are all held on great courses, but I wouldn’t say they’re well-known on the LPGA Tour.

SJM: If you could play any course in the world, which would you pick?
EH: I really want to play Pine Valley. It’s known as the No. 1 golf course right now. There are only certain days when women can play, but I do plan on playing that some day. It’s fairly close and reasonable and realistic for me to play.

SJM: Do you think golf is becoming more popular for girls at the high school level?
EH: Yeah, for sure. I know when I first started, golf wasn’t as popular for women and girls as it is now. It definitely boomed. I’ve met a few girls who are freshmen now who are trying out for golf. I encourage it, even if you don’t have a girls team and you have to play on the guys team. With my team in particular, we have four girls, including me. This year we gained another freshman, which is really cool. It’s awesome seeing other girls coming out, because it does get a little lonely being the only girl playing. I think it’s becoming more popular and a lot of girls are playing.

SJM: You’ve played well at the Carl Arena Tournament the last two years. When you go to that, is your mentality not to just win the girls title, but the overall title as well?
EH: I’ve learned that there’s always going to be better players out there. So even if you do play well, there is potentially someone who will play better. So what I like to do is go to a tournament like the Carl Arena and shoot a lower score than I did previously on that course. Last year I shot a 77, so I’m hoping to shoot lower than that this year. With that said, shooting lower than 77 could possibly win both the guys and girls divisions. So I focus mainly on my game more than everyone else’s, and hopefully that will help me play better than last year and win both titles.

SJM: The mental focus is so important in golf. Have you ever lost your temper on the course and thrown a club or anything like that?
EH: I wouldn’t go as far as throwing a club, but I’ve definitely gotten mad at myself plenty of times. Golf is really hard because mentally you have to be very prepared and very strong. That’s where I kind of lack a little bit. Even though my mental game has become stronger, I still have times when I don’t believe in myself. Sometimes I’ll be standing over a putt and I’ll doubt whether I can make it. So if you’re not mentally prepared, it can get the best of you. I have lost my temper a few times and I’ve lost my focus because of that. Playing badly and getting a bad score on a hole can definitely affect the next few holes. That’s still something I’m trying to get better at.

SJM: Do you have a favorite golfer?
EH: I like Lydia Ko. She’s not up there as much as she was in previous seasons, but she was pretty young when she started winning a lot of tournaments. She’s kind of like a role model to me, because she’s similar to my age—only a few years older—and she’s accomplished so many things, and it gives me hope that I can do the same. For the PGA, I like Adam Scott. I think his swing is beautiful.

SJM: What did you like about Towson as far as the school and the golf team?
EH: I was mainly focused on two schools: Towson and Lehigh University. The reason why I picked Towson is because I went on my official visit and spent two days there. I really liked the golf facilities and I got to tour the campus. I just feel like it’s somewhere I can improve my game. I met the coaches and the players and they’re really encouraging and nice. They seem like they help each other out in bettering each other’s games. Also, I want to become a physician’s assistant, and academically my goal is to get into a physician’s assistant graduate school. They have one there, so I feel like Towson will help me academically and athletically. I think I can grow as a person and player there.

SJM: Do you have brothers or sisters?
EH: Nope, I’m an only child.

SJM: How do you like that?
EH: It gets lonely at times, especially when I was younger. But now that I keep myself occupied with golf and school, it doesn’t really matter. I can always go out with friends, so it’s not too bad being an only child.

SJM: What do you do for fun when you’re not golfing?
EH: I like to just de-stress. I like to go out with friends and watch movies or stay home and watch Netflix. Nothing really big, just relax. If I have spare time, I really like to travel and do exciting things.

SJM: What’s your favorite golf movie?
EH: There’s not too many out there. I would say Caddyshack because it’s an original, but Happy Gilmore is also up there.

Kaela Schrier, Cherokee track and field
Although she’s only been throwing the javelin for a few years, this senior won the sectional championship as a junior and advanced to the Meet of Champions for the second straight season. She will compete in soccer and track and field next year at Wagner College.

South Jersey Magazine: It sounds like you kind of got into throwing by accident.
Kaela Schrier: My travel coach [for soccer], Coach (Ritch) King, told me in middle school that I should throw the javelin. I had no idea what it was. I used to play softball and that’s what I did freshman year, but I didn’t really like it anymore. So I decided to try this and it worked out for me.

SJM: Did you have success right away?
KS: It was a little awkward at first, but my coach at the time, [John] McMichael, helped me a lot.

SJM: What do you like throwing the best: the javelin, discus or shot put?
KS: The javelin. I feel like it came more naturally to me. Coming from softball, it’s similar to the outfield throw. And I just feel like I compete better and help my team out more with the javelin.

SJM: Is soccer still your favorite sport?
KS: It’s up there, but javelin is creeping up on it. I’m happy my coach introduced me to it and that I can do both in college.

SJM: How did you choose Wagner?
KS: It started off with soccer, and then the coach at Wagner said he was talking to the track coach, who also wanted me. So he asked, ‘How would you feel about doing both?’ It ended up that I wanted to do both because javelin was becoming equal with soccer.

SJM: Are your worried about balancing your time?
KS: A little bit, because it’s college. But I’m used to it now, because I still do soccer and track and schoolwork, so I think it will be fine.

SJM: So you have travel soccer three or four times a week in addition to your track schedule?
KS: Yes. It gets pretty tiring.

SJM: When you have big track meets on the weekends, do you still make it to your soccer games?
KS: I go to the meets first, because it’s in-season. But if I have time and they let me leave early, I’ll run over to soccer and play.

SJM: You were the sectional champion last year in the javelin. Is it safe to say that’s a top priority again this year?
KS: Yes. I’m trying to win that and Rowan and anything I can to help my team.

SJM: What’s the furthest you’ve ever thrown the javelin?
KS: Well marked, it was 127 or 128, but I’ve fouled a 140 before. I’m trying to get back there to beat the school record. The record is 141-2 by Melissa Lake.

SJM: Does the site of the meet or the weather affect your throwing?
KS: A nice sunny day is the best, but I like a little bit of wind. That means I have to make sure my technique is more on point, and I feel like the wind helps the javelin go. So I like a little breeze.

SJM: Who are some of the top competitors you expect to see at the big meets? Is Julianne Foering from Rancocas Valley one of them?
KS: Yeah, she’s been a really good competitor. A few girls from Vineland are up there, and I think some from Hammonton too.

SJM: How do you feel about high school coming to an end?
KS: It’s crazy. Everything is coming up: Senior Trip, prom, all of that stuff. It hasn’t hit me yet. I know it’s coming but I don’t know how I feel about it yet. I have different emotions.

SJM: Do you hang out mostly with the other athletes?
KS: Some of my best friends are on the soccer team and I’ve been playing with them since the age of 5. Track was a little weird, because I didn’t really know a lot of them. But I became close with a lot of throwers, so now I have best friends on both teams.

SJM: What do you like about the Marlton area?
KS: I just feel like it’s cozy. There are different things to do, you can go to different towns. It’s just a nice place to be with nice people.

SJM: It doesn’t sound like you have a lot of free time, but what do you like to do when you’re not playing sports?
KS: I like to hang out with my friends as much as I can because I don’t get to do it that much. So I like to do fun things with them.

SJM: Do you have any siblings?
KS: I have an older brother and a little sister. It’s pretty rough being in the middle. [Laughs] My brother is the favorite and my sister gets everything she wants. Then there’s me in the middle.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in college?
KS: I’m going to do special education. They have a good program up there and they have a daycare on campus. I can go right into the city for an internship, so that was one of my reasons for going there. I’m going to start off with the little kids, but I’ve heard that the middle school and high school kids are fun to work with too. I guess I’ll have to do as much as I can and figure out which one I’m more comfortable with.

SJM: What inspired you to pursue special education?
KS: My aunt worked [in special education] and I always used to go with her on bring your child to work day. My grandmother used to do it too. I’ve always felt comfortable working with kids and I’ve always had a desire to do that.

SJM: Do you want to stay involved in sports after college?
KS: Yeah, I think I’m gonna want to do coaching on the side if I can. It would be weird to be away from sports. I’ve grown up with it my whole life.

Eric Tecce, Shawnee tennis
A varsity singles player since his freshman year, Tecce posted a 28-7 record in the No. 1 spot as a junior and sparked the Renegades to a school-record 23 wins. He is looking to lead Shawnee to its fifth straight sectional championship before heading to St. Lawrence University in New York.

South Jersey Magazine: After playing varsity tennis since your freshman year, what’s it like to be a senior now?
Eric Tecce: It’s neat, but it’s different though. It’s a whole different dynamic from being a freshman and sophomore and looking up to the seniors on the team. Now being a senior and being a captain, it’s a different role with different responsibilities. Everyone is watching you and trying to see what you do and looking to you to set an example. I’ve enjoyed it so far.

SJM: There are high standards in this program and everyone expects Shawnee to compete for a sectional championship every year. Do you like that?
ET: At first, not so much. I didn’t really like having that target on my back. Every team you’re playing has extra motivation to beat you. It gives teams a little extra drive to beat us. But in the last two years, being an upperclassman, I’ve tried to turn that energy into something positive, something to get the guys motivated for matches. It’s tough, but we’ve done well under that pressure and we don’t let it get into our heads too much. We just go out there and do our thing every match and the results have been coming.

SJM: What’s it like having your brother Cole on the team with you? Do you have to play challenge matches against each other?
ET: Yeah, we do. My sophomore year we played for second singles and last year we played for first singles. It’s interesting, because coming into high school me and my brother always fought. We have four boys in our family and we’re the two middle sons, so we would butt heads a lot. We would get super competitive with everything, whether it was a game of Xbox or a tennis match or playing basketball outside. But when we joined forces in high school, the whole dynamic changed drastically. It was difficult the first trial match we played because there was a lot of tension between us. But after that we got so much closer playing side by side with each other and pumping each other up each match. He’s watching me and I’m watching him and we push each other to get better. Our relationship has gotten a lot closer, especially during the season.

SJM: Do you train together throughout the year?
ET: We train together all the time. Normally every practice we’ll do something together and incorporate our third singles into it. We push ourselves a lot in practice. Even if a match or a practice doesn’t go well, we have a court right across the street from our house where we play a couple times a week.

SJM: How did you get into tennis?
ET: When I was about 4 or 5, my mom was coaching on the side, giving lessons to young children. Me and my brother would always go and bring rackets. From there we started taking lessons around 7 or 8, and it just caught fire and we’ve been playing ever since. The love for the game has never stopped and that’s what keeps us going.

SJM: Is tennis the only sport you play?
ET: I played soccer up until my freshman year, and that’s when I decided I wanted to focus on tennis, be the best I could in high school and move on to college.

SJM: Are you excited for the challenge of playing in college [at St. Lawrence University]?
ET: I’m very excited. I can’t wait. The guys on the team are great, the campus is beautiful. It will be a good way to make friends right away and have a social group to hang out with, and at the same time compete for a conference championship in the Liberty League.

SJM: Are you going to recruit your brother?
ET: The coach is already on that. He calls him all the time.

SJM: Your other younger brother, A.J., was the voice of Pigpen in The Peanuts Movie last year. What was that experience like for the family?
ET: It was unbelievable. I remember hearing he was going to audition for the Charlie Brown movie and I thought it was great. Next thing you know, he gets a callback a month later and he went up and did the callback. That went on for five or six months and he was still in it. Eventually, about two and a half years ago they told us he got the role of Pigpen and we were all freaking out. He’s always done small commercials and stuff like that, but he’s never done anything of this magnitude, a movie that’s going to be airing all over the world. We had to keep it on the down low for a while; we started telling people a few months before the movie came out. We got to go to L.A. for a week and go to the L.A. premiere and go celebrity hunting. It was such a unique experience and I’m very proud of him.

SJM: Which celebrities did you end up seeing?
ET: I saw Meghan Trainor, she did the soundtrack for the movie, so I got to meet her. The cast of Frozen—I don’t know exactly who they were, but they sat right in front of us for the premiere. I saw a bunch of Nickelodeon kid stars. One of the girls in the movie is Francesca [Capaldi], she’s the star of Dog With a Blog. It was a really neat experience.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in college?
ET: I’ve always been fascinated by science—biology, chemistry—so I’m going to go on the pre-med track and hopefully go to medical school. If things go well, I’d love to become a surgeon. It’s a tough path and I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m excited for the challenge.

SJM: Who are the tennis players you look up to?
ET: I’ve always been a Roger Federer fan from the start. Not just the way he plays, but the way he acts on and off the court, the way he loses, all the charity work he does. He’s just such a great champion and I aspire to be like him.

SJM: If you could have two free tickets to either Wimbledon or the French Open, where are you going?
ET: I’m going to Wimbledon, I don’t even have to think about that. Just the history of Wimbledon and the grass courts, that would be so much fun. That’s definitely on my bucket list.

SJM: Have you been to the U.S. Open?
ET: Yeah, I go every year or every other year. I really want to go to a night match there.

SJM: Do you have any particular goals for your final season?
ET: I have a ton of goals. I want to go out with a bang my final season. We’ve won five sectional championships in school history, four of them in the last four years. So I want to add on to that history and win our fifth in a row. That’s the main goal. The main goals have to do with the team, so I want us to win the Burlington County Open and the Moorestown Classic, which we haven’t been able to win yet. Individually, I’d love to be able to win the conference championship, the Burlington County Open and if I’m playing well, try to make a run in the state tournament. I’ve been playing a lot and training hard and I’m very confident in my game and my teammates’ game, so I’m excited to see what we can do this year.

Tyler Mondile, Gloucester Catholic baseball
A key hitter in the middle of the lineup for the Rams, Mondile’s greatest contributions come on the mound, where he went 5-2 with a 1.28 ERA and 56 strikeouts last year. The senior has committed to Florida State but is expected to be selected early in June’s Major League Baseball Draft.

South Jersey Magazine: You focused on baseball this winter instead of playing your senior season of basketball. How much did you miss it?
Tyler Mondile: It really hit me once we played Gloucester at home. That was tough, just sitting in the stands and not playing. But it’s something I had to do. Basketball is right up there with baseball for me, but in the long run it will be the right choice for me.

SJM: You’ve already accomplished a lot in your baseball career. What’s on your list of goals for your final season at Gloucester Catholic?
TM: I want to lead my team to a state championship and have a dogpile in June, and have fun while I’m doing it. I want to lead the guys in the right direction and bring back some Gloucester Catholic traditions that we’ve gotten away from the past couple of years. We’re hardnosed, we go out there and grind every day at practice, we don’t take practices off and we don’t take reps off. We really try to get after it every day.

SJM: Are you becoming more of a leader since the team graduated so many important seniors last year?
TM: I am. I didn’t have to open my mouth at all last year with all the guys we had leading us, but this year it’s just me and maybe one other senior who are being vocal and trying to lead these guys in the right direction. I’m doing my best to open my mouth as much as I can.

SJM: How is new head coach Adam Tussey fitting in with the team?
TM: He’s awesome. I think he had a plan from the get-go and he knows what he’s doing. He’s trying to bring back some of the things we’ve gotten away from the last couple of years. He coaches the younger teams in Brooklawn [Legion], so some of our guys have played for him before and that’s a good advantage.

SJM: What did you do in the offseason to prepare for this spring?
TM: I worked out at Maplezone Sports Institute in Chester. I was there four days a week for an hour and a half. It was awesome. I think it was my best offseason.

SJM: Have you been a pitcher since you were a kid?
TM: I have, [I got that] from my dad. I started throwing a changeup at 7. I wasn’t allowed to throw a curveball until I was 14. My dad had a plan.

SJM: Did you always have success?
TM: I threw hard from a young age, but not being able to throw a curveball and facing good teams who knew a fastball was coming, I got hit around a little bit.

SJM: Your dad played on the undefeated 1980 Gloucester Catholic team. Does he talk about that a lot?
TM: Not really, not that much at all. But he told me stories when I was growing up of how it was back then. I think they knew as soon as I was born that I’d be going to Gloucester Catholic.

SJM: How did you settle on Florida State?
TM: We didn’t take that many visits. My dad talked to a lot of people, but we’re not big with money so we couldn’t go anywhere and everywhere. But after visiting Florida State and seeing that campus and seeing how welcoming the coaching staff was, there was nothing I didn’t like about it. It was an easy decision once I got home.

SJM: Of course you hear talk about your chances of getting picked pretty high in the MLB Draft. How is that affecting you?
TM: I don’t even talk about it at all around the guys. I try to talk about what we’re doing as a team and trying to win a state championship. That’s in the back of my mind, but I really don’t talk about it at all, to be honest.

SJM: Do you notice the scouts when you’re pitching?
TM: I do. They’re back there with a radar gun, so it’s kind of hard not to notice them. Before the games and after the games they’ll come up and talk to me, and I’ve met almost all of them in the area. Since I was a freshman there’s been guys out there with radar guns and it’s never affected me. It doesn’t change anything I do.

SJM: You were pretty close with former Gloucester Catholic pitcher John Murphy the last few years. What was that relationship like?
TM: It was awesome. He was the No. 1 and I was the No. 2, but I think he knew that I was right behind him. He pushed me harder than I’ve ever had someone push me, so I give him a lot of credit. He taught me a lot about the game and showed me how to lead. One of the things I have trouble with is composure, and that guy was unbelievable with composure. It didn’t matter if it was 10-0 us or 10-0 them, you wouldn’t be able to tell by his emotions on the mound.

SJM: So you lose it sometimes out there?
TM: Yeah, I do. It’s something I’m working on. I’m a competitive guy, I’ve always been a competitive guy. If I give up a two-run home run, I’m not gonna be happy about it.

SJM: What do you like about Gloucester Catholic aside from baseball?
TM: When I was in eighth grade and I took my visit to Gloucester Catholic, I heard all this stuff about, ‘We are one, we are family and you know everybody.’ It’s really true. I don’t go through the hallways without knowing someone, and if I don’t know them I’m asking and starting to talk to them. Everyone is really close with each other and the teachers are all amazing. There’s nothing not to like about it.

SJM: So you’ve won two World Series titles at Brooklawn and one state title at Gloucester Catholic. How do they compare?
TM: The state championship was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had in my whole life. I remember like it was yesterday, jumping over the railing and running out there and getting a cleat to my forehead and everyone screaming and yelling. It was thrilling. I get chills just sitting here thinking about it. The first World Series was better than the second one because the competition was better that year and our team was filthy that year. We were really good the second year too, but the competition wasn’t there in the World Series.

SJM: If you could pitch in any major league park, which one would you pick?
TM: I think I’d pick Citizens Bank Park, under the lights.

SJM: Are you a Phillies fan?
TM: I am, unfortunately.

SJM: Do you have a favorite baseball movie?
TM: Mr. 3000—no, Rookie of the Year. That’s my favorite. I watched it so many times growing up and I could still watch it today.

 

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 1 (April, 2016).
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Author: Matt Cosentino; Photography by Tim Hawk

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