Seizing the Moment

by Matt Cosentino | Apr 19, 2021
Seizing the Moment

Jailya Ash, Eastern track and field
One of the most dynamic track stars in the state, this senior was a sectional champion in the 100 meters during the most recent outdoor season in 2019 and took third in the event at that year’s Meet of Champions (MOC). She is also a two-time MOC champion in indoor track, winning the 55 meters as a sophomore and 55-meter hurdles as a junior. Ash will look to add to her collection this spring before moving on to the University of Connecticut.

SJM: You must be so excited to get outside for spring track season. Can you put into words what it was like to have last season taken away because of the pandemic?

JA: It affected me a lot, honestly. I was looking forward to outdoor and I felt like I trained so much for outdoor before it got canceled. But it also did benefit me because I feel like I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been throughout high school.

SJM: What are you looking to accomplish in your final season at Eastern?

JA: I want to win Meet of Champs in the [200] and either the 100 hurdles or the 100 dash. I want to be the first person to win Meet of Champs four times, or even three, in different events.

SJM: Of course you have Meet of Champions titles in the 55 meters and 55-meter hurdles from indoor track. What stands out when you look back on those accomplishments?

JA: When I won the dash my sophomore year, at first they didn’t know who won because it was such a close race with Dennisha Page [from Woodrow Wilson]. When I found out that I won, I didn’t know how to handle it but I was very excited. It was my first Meet of Champs win and I didn’t understand how big it was until after the fact. In my junior year when I won again, I was very excited. I was going to run the dash after that but I decided not to. I also came close in the 100 during my sophomore year in outdoor. It was me, Lauren Princz [from Egg Harbor Township] and Dennisha Page but Dennisha Page took the title.

SJM: Do you think this year’s Meet of Champions is going to be a fun event regardless of how you finish?

JA: I’ve been training a lot to do great at Meet of Champs and I’m going to take it a lot more seriously just because I did lose my outdoor season last year. I think I’m going to focus even more.

SJM: What was your offseason training regimen like?

JA: Me and my coach have been focusing on my starts and my ab muscles and building strength for the 2, and even my starts for the 100 hurdles and the dash. I was working with [Anthony Gardner, the father of former Eastern star and Olympian English Gardner] for three months.

SJM: Have you ever met English?

JA: Yeah. I trained with her and a few other people that she trains with during the summer. It was a nice experience and she helped me a lot, actually. She’s a very outgoing person, very friendly. She’s very open to giving you advice and even open to receiving advice, even if it’s not about track. She’s a normal person who I could talk to every day.

SJM: Is it a goal of yours to be an Olympian one day?

JA: I’ve always talked about going to the Olympics or going pro. I would like to, but we’ll see where the future takes me. If it does take me to the Olympics, I’ll be happy to run.

SJM: Was your older sister Jewel a big influence on you?

JA: She was my first sibling to run and I went to her track meets when I was little. I saw her on a big screen in Oregon and I told my mom that I wanted to run just to be on a big screen. It ended up becoming my everyday life.

SJM: Were you two competitive with each other growing up?

JA: When we were little we were more competitive because we ran the same events, but as we got older she started loving the 400 hurdles and the 400 and I was the opposite. I really loved the 100 and 100 hurdles.

SJM: What did you like about the school and track program that made you commit to UConn?

JA: Originally, I didn’t know a lot about UConn. My friend actually got me to look into it because she always talked about going there. I started looking at their track team and their coaches and it really opened my eyes to something new. When I started doing Zoom calls with them I really liked how they ran their team. Then my family went to visit the school and we really liked it. The track is beautiful and so is the school. After that visit I just knew I wanted to go there.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?

JA: I want to go to school for nursing but I’m going to go in undecided. [The pandemic] influenced me a lot and actually my uncle and aunt are both nurses. Even before the pandemic, just seeing what they do made me love it a lot. I thought I could be great at doing it.

SJM: Are you going to school in person or remotely right now?

JA: I was going to school when they first opened it but then track started and if you get COVID it’s going to be a long time before you get on the track, so me and my mom thought it was best if I did all remote. At first it was really hard; it’s still really hard because I’ve always gone to school and I’m not used to it. It was a big change for me and I’m getting used to it now, but I really want it to be over, to be honest.

SJM: What is something you haven’t been able to do during the pandemic that you’re looking forward to when it’s all over?

JA: I really miss concerts, and even before track I did cheer for our school and some of our games got canceled because of COVID. My senior year was limited because of COVID and it’s been hard because I didn’t get the full experience.

SJM: What are your hobbies when you’re not training?

JA: I mostly hang out with my friends. We like to go bowling a lot; we also went to Sky Zone yesterday. We went to the movies once but that was a very weird experience because you’re not used to sitting in a movie theater with a mask on the whole time. Other than that, we usually hang out at somebody’s house and try to stay away from everybody and not spread this virus.

SJM: Do you think you’re going to miss South Jersey when you go to college?

JA: I don’t think I’m going to miss it at all. I like New Jersey and South Jersey a lot, I really do, but at the same time I feel like I don’t want to be here my whole life.

Max Martin, Moorestown baseball

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It did not take long for Martin to establish himself at Moorestown, as he earned the starting shortstop job two years ago as a freshman and turned heads with his glove and his bat, earning a spot in the prestigious Carpenter Cup all-star tournament. The junior, who has already committed to Rutgers, is excited for the return of high school baseball this spring.

SJM: Obviously, last spring was a disappointment for everybody. How excited are you to have a high school baseball season?

MM: I kind of got a taste of it my freshman year and it was no fun having last year get canceled. There’s some extra excitement going into this season. I was looking back at videos of games from my freshman year to see how much I’ve improved, and hopefully my stats can show that. I’m hoping to have a good year.

SJM You started as a freshman and were selected for the Carpenter Cup. What was that experience like?

MM: The Carpenter Cup was really nice. I met a lot of cool guys there.

SJM: What did you do last year to stay busy?

MM: I was playing a lot in the summer. I took a break at first; I know some teams were still practicing in the spring but I was really safe in the beginning. I didn’t want to risk it because I knew if I got it I’d be out for some time. I ended up going down to Florida with [Tri-State] Arsenal and I played in the WWBA [World Championships], so that was nice. There were a lot of really good players. … I met [New York Mets shortstop] Francisco Lindor’s younger brother down there and I met some coaches. It was a good experience.

SJM: Do you have certain goals in mind for this season?

MM: I think pitching wise we’re set—we have some really good pitchers—and as long as we hit and do what we have do defensively, I think we can possibly go undefeated. We have to do the right things, not mess around at practice, take things seriously and everybody has to do their job. I’m confident we’re going to do good this year. A lot of guys are hungry and this is the seniors’ last chance to play so they’re definitely going to go hard.

SJM: Has baseball always been your favorite sport?

MM: Baseball is definitely my favorite sport. I played basketball and soccer but probably around eighth grade I knew I could do something with it. I knew I wanted to play baseball in college and maybe I can play professionally. I stopped playing soccer around sixth grade and I didn’t play basketball this year because I wanted to focus on baseball. I want to get drafted—that’s the goal—and I want to make sure I’m ready if I do go to college. I felt I could use the time during basketball season to stay on top of my grades and be able to lift. I put on some more weight and some more muscle and I’m definitely going to look different now if nobody has seen me. Hopefully, physicality can help me out and I can start slugging better.

SJM: Who are the shortstops you admire?

MM: Ozzie Smith. My dad put me on to Ozzie Smith and told me to watch some of his highlights. I saw him doing the backflips and everything. Ozzie Smith is a different kind of shortstop. He was really good. I think defensive wise, maybe not hitting, Andrelton Simmons is a really good shortstop [in today’s game]. I think he’s an underrated shortstop in MLB. He’s got really fast hands and he can chuck the ball across the field. I also like … [Fernando] Tatis.

SJM: What’s your favorite part of the game?

MM: Defense has always been my thing. Hitting is really fun but I definitely have a good glove and making sick plays that nobody else can make shows that you’re different at shortstop. Everybody can field a ball that comes right at you but you have to be good to make those other plays and I think I can do that.

SJM: What led you to commit to Rutgers?

MM: After talking to my family and a couple of other schools, coach [Steve] Owens and [hitting coach] Kyle Pettoruto kind of laid out their plan. … They want to completely change Rutgers baseball and I was really [down] with that. They were really nice guys too; I felt they were genuine. They gave me some love and it’s close to home. I wanted to be close so my family could come see me because family is one of the most important parts of playing sports. I didn’t need to go to a Southern school or go far from home; I wanted to be right here in my backyard and put on for New Jersey.

SJM: Do you have a big family?

MM: I have two brothers. My younger brother is at my high school this year, he’s a freshman, and my older brother lives up in New York. And then my mom and dad. My younger brother pitches and plays third base and first base. He’s going to be good so you have to watch out for him. He’s a big freshman.

SJM: Do you have a favorite MLB park or one that you would love to play in?

MM: I’ve been to Citizens Bank Park for the Carpenter Cup so I kind of got a taste for what it’s like to be on an MLB field and that was really nice. I took a trip up to Minnesota and saw the Minnesota Twins’ stadium and that was a huge stadium and pretty amazing. I’d say Citizens Bank Park is one of the most iconic to me because it’s right in my backyard in Philly.

SJM: What’s your favorite baseball movie?

MM: I know the generic answer would be The Sandlot; a lot of people like that movie. But I really like A League of Their Own. That’s one of my favorite movies of all time. My mom put me on to that movie and I watch every year around baseball time.

SJM: What are your hobbies aside from baseball?

MM: I really started to get into lifting and physical fitness. I like photography too; I take pictures. I also like editing. I make videos and edit them. Hopefully I can make that a brand when I go off to college. I can get some new equipment and maybe baseball and photography can be a thing.

SJM: Are you going to school in person right now or are you remote?

MM: I’m fully remote. I didn’t want to take the risk of going back in because if somebody in my class tested positive for COVID then I would have to quarantine for two weeks and two weeks is a lot of baseball. I didn’t want to risk missing practices or games so I’ve been home. In October they had a hybrid schedule so I was in for about two weeks, but I had maybe three kids in my classes so there really wasn’t a point. It wasn’t that hard of an adjustment to be home. I’m still doing school and it’s better on my time schedule. In between classes I can go to the gym or do whatever I need to.

SJM: What is something you’re looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over?

MM: Definitely going to a ballpark. Hopefully, by the time COVID sizzles down I’ll be able to travel and go to some MLB games. I definitely want to head up to Rutgers to watch some games on campus.

Jess Bianco, Cherry Hill West softball
Bianco made an immediate impact for the Lions as a freshman, emerging as their No. 1 pitcher and recording 30 hits, 34 runs and 26 steals out of the leadoff hole to help them reach the sectional semifinals. For her junior season she will most likely be moving to her natural position of shortstop while remaining the sparkplug of the offense.

SJM: After the disappointment of last year, are you extra excited to have a high school season this spring?

JB: Yeah, definitely. I think every moment is going to matter this year. Everyone is just so excited for it to start.

SJM: The team had a lot of success your freshman year. What are you looking to accomplish this season?

JB: We have the same goals but we lost a lot of seniors from that year and hopefully we can find people to fill their spot.

SJM: Were you surprised at the impact you had as a freshman?

JB: Yes. That was my first year hitting from the left side and I don’t [normally] pitch, I just pitch for school. So I wasn’t expecting that.

SJM: Are you going to pitch again this year?

JB: I don’t think so. I think we have at least two freshmen who can pitch and a junior who pitched on JV who’s going to move up. I think that’s better for the team. I like playing shortstop. I like that it’s fast and you’re really involved in the game. I feel like everyone needs a good shortstop to have a good team.

SJM: What is your role offensively?

JB: I think my goal is to get on base and have my teammates hit me around. Once I get on I usually steal second base and whoever is in the two or three hole will usually hit me in. I take advantage of [my speed]. I like to drop a bunt down and hopefully they’ll throw the ball away and I can advance to the next base.

SJM: How did you first get into softball?

JB: My dad played college baseball at Temple so he threw me into it when I was young.

SJM: What have you been doing to prepare for the season?

JB: [The gym] is kind of an everyday thing. I’ve been working on getting stronger since it’s my junior year. I also do a lot of hitting because I’m trying to get my swing from the left side to be more consistent.

SJM: Why did you decide to become a lefthanded hitter after growing up hitting from the right side?

JB: My travel coach thought that since I was so fast it would be so much more of an advantage for me to be slapping.

SJM: I know your travel coach, John Biasi, recently passed away. What kind of influence did he have on you?

JB: I came to him as a freshman and he told me he could get me recruited as a slapper, so he flipped me to the left side. He taught me everything I know. He was really tough, I can tell you that. But he completely restored my confidence as a player. When I started with him I was not doing well and it was frustrating. He told me, “You’re going to be one of the great ones, you just have to have confidence and keep working, and it will come.” I think that really stuck with me.

SJM: How is the college search going? Is that a big goal of yours?

JB: Yes, 100%. It’s kind of hard right now because during the [NCAA recruiting] dead period we can’t go to colleges, we can’t have visits and they can’t come to see us play. They can only see us online so it has been a struggle. But my coach had a bunch of connections that he set me up with and I’m looking forward to this summer to get more of the experience.

SJM: What qualities are you looking for in a school and softball program?

JB: I definitely want to go to a big school but the most important thing for me is academics. If they’re going to help me reach my goals academically and for my career, that’s the most important thing. I want to go into orthopedic surgery. I think it’s insanely interesting and my dad is a [physical therapist] so he’s introduced me to that side of medicine. I want to help athletes when they’re injured get back to playing.

SJM: How has your adjustment gone to virtual learning?

JB: I kind of like it. You’re more self-involved and you need to take responsibility.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing again once the pandemic is over?

JB: For softball, I just can’t wait to start traveling again and going down South again. I like meeting new people and playing different teams.

SJM: What do you like to do when you’re not playing softball?

JB: I like hanging out with my friends and I like surfing a lot too. My friend’s dad actually taught me one time when we were on vacation.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in Cherry Hill?

JB: I’ve always played softball here and I’ve made a lot of friends here. I don’t know what it would be like not living here.

McKenzie Blake, Haddonfield girls lacrosse
After bursting onto the scene as a freshman in 2018 with 85 goals and 131 draw controls, Blake was off to another outstanding start in her sophomore season with 44 goals in 10 games before suffering a torn ACL. The injury and the cancellation of her junior season has robbed her of a large chunk of her career, but she is healthy again and ready to go out on a high note before moving on to Princeton.

SJM: I know everyone is anxiously awaiting the spring season, but you have even more reason to be happy about returning to the field.

MB: Yeah, I’ve been super excited for the past two weeks and I’m really looking forward to it.

SJM: How did you keep your spirits up the last two years, first after dealing with such a devastating injury and then having last season canceled because of the pandemic?

MB: In the beginning when I first tore [my ACL] it was hard to realize that my season was over, but one of my teammates also had the same injury so we kind of went through it together. We were able to keep our spirits up together. I got cleared two or three days before the first practice last year and I got four or five practices in before the season was canceled. That first week or two was pretty rough on my mental state. But as my mom said, it was a blessing in disguise because it gave me more time to get my knee ready. In hindsight that was probably true. It was a rough couple of weeks when the season first got canceled but then I was looking forward to getting out there for the summer lacrosse tournaments and getting ready for this season.

SJM: You played for Team New Jersey last year, right?

MB: Yes. My club team had two or three tournaments and then I played with New Jersey in the All-American Games. That was super exciting. It was broken down into two weekends, one in July and one in October. We made it to the semifinals, which was pretty good. It was disappointing that we lost but it was still exciting since I wasn’t able to do it the year before because of my injury.

SJM: Did the game come back to you and were you able to pick right up where you were before the injury?

MB: It took me about a game or two to get me to feeling normal again, but after that it was like I forgot I had the injury.

SJM: What was the rehab process like?

MB: I think the hardest part was the mental side and keeping positive throughout the whole thing. The physical part every athlete can handle, but you have to stay positive and set small goals for yourself. I got through it. I developed a little bit of hip problems throughout it, which kind of distracted me from my knee, I guess you could say. When I played my first game my mom asked me, “How is your knee?” I said, “It’s fine but my hips kind of hurt.” I had totally forgotten about my knee so that was good in a way.

SJM: I know you made it back for basketball season this past winter and helped your team to an awesome year. Was that a fun way to close out your hoops career?

MB: It was super exciting. I hadn’t played on a team [at Haddonfield] since my sophomore spring season so I was really looking forward to just being with my team every day at practice. Having such a good season and winning the conference was just the cherry on top. It almost went as perfectly as it could have for this year. I’ve played basketball since I was in fourth grade and we’ve had pretty much the same core group of five or six of us who have played just about every year since then. Getting to finish out the year and play with all of my friends one last time was a fun experience.

SJM: Both of your parents were good athletes and your older Aiden also had a standout career at Haddonfield. Is there anyone else after you?

MB: I also have two younger sisters. There’s a freshman who plays soccer, basketball and lacrosse and a sophomore who plays field hockey and lacrosse. We’ll all be in the lacrosse program this year, all three of us plus my mom [head coach Jessica Blake]. I think it’s a super interesting experience. My mom has probably been coaching me since fifth grade and we have figured out how to get along by separating coaching and parenting. I’ve never played with either of my sisters so I’m excited about that. We probably won’t all be on varsity but to be able to have us all in the program and watch each other’s games is super exciting.

SJM: Your freshman season was one to remember. Looking back, did you surprise yourself with how well you played?

MB: Yeah, I would say so. I don’t really know what I expected. I hoped and planned to be on varsity but I had no idea if I was going to start or what position I was going to play or anything like that. I meshed well with the team and we had a great season. It definitely exceeded my expectations.

SJM: Were you always a goal scorer growing up?

MB: Yeah, I developed my shot when I was younger. I’ve just been getting better with that.

SJM: What are your goals for this season? Are there any school records within reach?

MB: I think the goal-scoring record is within reach but it would have to be a really good season. Draw controls is the only other one that I know of. I’m not really sure, I don’t really look at the records much. I’m just hoping our team gets to states again and wins that. We won freshman and sophomore year and that would be exciting to do it again. I think we are 100% contenders for the state championship. There will be tough game along the way but I think we can do it.

SJM: And then it’s on to Princeton. Is it hard to believe college is right around the corner for you?

MB: It’s crazy. I was just thinking and I talked to my family about it, that I’ve only played one full year of lacrosse and that was my freshman year of high school. Going from a sophomore to a senior without having a junior season, it feels like I’m a sophomore going to college next year. But I’m super excited.

SJM: Obviously, the academic side of Princeton speaks for itself. Was that the driving factor for you to commit there?

MB: Both the academics and athletics speak for themselves and they’re both a great positive factor in going there. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like it but then I visited there and I fell in love with it—the whole campus, the people and everybody being so welcoming. It felt like a family and everybody seemed to care for each other, on the lacrosse team and the campus. When I met everyone and got to see everyone in school, that’s what really made my decision for me.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?

MB: No, not yet. We don’t decide our majors until the end of sophomore year so I’m hoping next year I figure out what I enjoy and then go from there. I’m ready [for the academic challenge] and I’m excited for it.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing after the pandemic is over?

MB: My sister got tickets to Harry Styles and it was supposed to be last summer, and she was going to take me. That got rescheduled for September so we still don’t know if it’s going to happen. I’m looking forward to concerts and going to the beach. Outdoor activities are one of my favorite things to do so I’m excited for that to happen again, whenever that is.

SJM: What are your other hobbies aside from sports?

MB: I don’t really have much time during the school year but in the summer I like to go to the beach, I like to surf and I like to do all things outdoors, whether it’s hiking or going in the water.

Jack Ross, Shawnee golf
Ross burst onto the scene as a freshman two years ago, capturing the highly sought-after title at the Carl Arena Tournament, taking second at the Olympic Conference Tournament and placing eighth at sectionals. He has set the bar high for his junior season and should be in contention at all of the premier events.

SJM: How are you feeling with the first spring season in two years quickly approaching?

JR: I’m feeling pretty good. With the harsh weather we’ve had, we definitely haven’t been playing as much as we would have liked but we’re happy that the season is coming around again.

SJM: How disappointing was it to miss last season, especially after how well you did as a freshman?

JR: It was pretty tough. For the kids who take golf seriously, high school is what we look forward to. We waited all fall and winter for high school golf to happen and we had good chemistry with our teammates. We were like a family.

SJM: Fortunately, golf was one of the things you could still do last summer during the pandemic. Did you play a lot of rounds?

JR: When the golf courses opened back up in May, a lot of the kids on the golf team, including myself, were playing a lot of golf and getting back to full force of playing every day.

SJM: Going back to your freshman year, you had such a great season. What were your expectations coming into high school?

JR: I would say I lived up to the hype my school was giving me. I came in with no expectations and was just trying to play the best golf I can play. The bar was pretty high and I think I hit it pretty good. Winning Carl Arena was obviously a huge milestone. I would have liked to do that junior year or senior year. I knew I was good enough to win it but I kind of surprised myself.

SJM: When you won Carl Arena, could you tell early on it was going to be a good day?

JR: Honestly, that week going into it I wasn’t playing my best golf. I was coming off a rough tournament at the BC Open shooting an 83 and then I shot a 44 in a match against Washington Township. [Shawnee coach Joe] Kessler was like, “You have to get your game together or else you might not be playing.” So I practiced really hard those last couple of days and then I started 2-over through the first four holes. Then I made birdie on 8, 9 and 10 and that’s when I realized winning was very, very doable. I ended up playing 1-under through the rest of the eight holes and was playing really solid golf.

SJM: What are your goals for this year?

JR: As a team it’s winning states, for sure, and having the best high school record Kessler has ever had. We want to win every tournament we play in as a team. The bar is very high; we have a very solid team and a lot of players who are capable of shooting 38 or 37 on nine holes. It’s a matter of those guys putting in the work and wanting it. Everybody is on the same page of what we want, what our goals are and how far we want to go.

SJM: Are you determined to play in the Tournament of Champions for the first time?

JR: Getting there individually and as a team is important. High school golf is a team sport so while I’m there, I look at it as the team. People ask me what I shot and I tell them what our team shot. I’m playing for Shawnee High School, not my individual self.

SJM: How did you get into golf in the first place?

JR: I got into golf when I was in sixth grade; I did these clinics through my school. I was playing baseball at the time and I wasn’t really enjoying it that much. That was the year where you had kids who were great at baseball and kids who were still good but didn’t have the same hunger. So I picked up golf just for fun and my grandfather was a really good golfer and I had a natural swing. I kept getting better and better and these guys at the country club in Medford Lakes said I had potential. So I pursued it and I’ve basically been playing golf every day since that age.

SJM: Is Medford Lakes still your home course?

JR: Yes it is. I’m a member at Medford Villages as well and I play a lot of courses in the tri-state area. I’m in North Jersey and Pennsylvania a lot for my competitive tournaments outside of Shawnee High School. I basically travel all the way up to Massachusetts and all the way down to Virginia and I go to Florida twice a year to play. I go to Orlando and play Bay Hill and a lot of the Disney courses.

SJM: Which course is on your bucket list?

JR: Pine Valley, which I think that’s on everyone’s. I got a caddying job ay Galloway and that is another course on my bucket list. I’ll be playing there a lot this summer, which I’m really looking forward to.

SJM: Do you have any connections at Pine Valley?

JR: Not that I know of but I’m going to have to talk to my pop-pop [Bob Prickett] about that because he was a superintendent for 40 years and he has a lot of connections. Hopefully, he has a way in.

SJM: Do you watch a lot of professional golf?

JR: All the time. Rickie Fowler is my guy. He’s got that swagger on and off the golf course. He knows he’s a really good player and he’s got that confidence. He’s a very good putter and I try to imitate his putting stroke because I really like the way the ball comes off the club head. I have a decently flat swing and he has a very flat swing so when I hit some shots I almost swing like him so I can hit certain shots like him.

SJM: What else do you like to do away from the golf course?

JR: I like basketball a lot and I still like baseball; I like watching that from time to time. I’m a big football guy and a huge Cowboys fan. When I was in preschool my best friend growing up was from Dallas and he was a big Cowboys fan. I didn’t even know what football was at the time so I went under his wing and liked whatever he liked. It just stuck with me.

SJM: What do you like about going to school at Shawnee?

JR: Everyone is friendly. I have a big group of friends and everyone gets long for the most part. Everybody knows each other from Medford Lakes and Medford so when you’re walking in the hallways everybody is saying hi to each other. The teachers are really great there as well and we have great student-teacher relationships.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing after the pandemic?

JR: Traveling without the restrictions and going back to school and socializing with my friends. That’s something I really miss. Freshman year, me and all my friends looked forward to going to school and seeing everyone. Nowadays you maybe see your friends on the weekends, because a lot of parents are strict and some families have people who are more high-risk or vulnerable to COVID. It’s a lot different now and you’re not seeing the same people you were seeing a year ago or two years ago.

SJM: What are your long-term goals in golf?

JR: My long-term goals are going as far as possible. It’s my passion so I plan to pursue it as long as I can and as long as the sport allows me to. I’m looking at some schools and I want to go down South.

Luke Cole, Lenape boys lacrosse
A starter since his freshman season for one of the premier programs in the state, this senior midfielder had 31 goals and 21 assists in 2019 as the Indians went 16-4 and made the sectional final for the sixth straight year. Cole is poised for a huge final season before continuing his career at Monmouth.

SJM: How did the first day of practice feel this year after a year away from the team?

LC: It felt a little normal. … It’s good to be out there. We haven’t been together for a year so it was different but a lot of fun.

SJM: Do you think everyone is extra excited after missing a whole season?

LC: Yeah, 100%. A lot of the guys have been itching to get after it.

SJM: Were you able to stay busy last year after the season got canceled?

LC: After that happened I kind of just focused on myself and lacrosse. I would go up to the turf by myself or with a small group of friends. At that time [the pandemic] was brand-new so we didn’t know what was going on. Then it transitioned into football season so I was doing a lot of cardio and I would go from the turf to getting ready for football season.

SJM: Lenape has been on such a roll lately, even before you joined the program. Do you expect to play at the same level that you have been for the last several years?

LC: The guys before us have definitely set a standard to make it to the state championship or at least the sectionals. I think we have the tools to get it done this year and we have a lot of senior leadership. The whole team is shooting for a state championship this year.

SJM: What are your individual goals?

LC: It’s actually funny because we write these down on our Google meets and send them into our coach. Mine this year are to average four to five points per game and also develop the young guys, because we have a lot of sophomores who are up and coming and are going to be really good. I want to get them ready for when I leave and they take over the program.

SJM: Was your older brother Zach a big influence on you getting interested in the sport?

LC: Yeah, he’s always been above me in sports so he has been a big influence on what I do and where I come from and stuff like that, and also just getting involved in sports. He’s at St. Joe’s and they’re doing really good this season, and so is he.

SJM: What made you commit to Monmouth?

LC: I went to the campus and the coaches were really inviting into the culture. They were able to give me the experience and the visit I liked and talking to a few players on the team, it just seemed like the right fit and the right place to be.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?

LC: Real estate and finance. I don’t know if I want to do commercial real estate or [residential] real estate. I feel like every lacrosse player goes for business but I wanted to narrow it down. I feel like housing and price points really intrigue me.

SJM: You were also a key player on the Lenape football team and that sport obviously meant a lot to you. Do you think you’re going to miss it next year?

LC: Yeah, I’m already missing it. It’s going to be weird because it will be the first time since I was 6 that I’m not playing. But that just means I get extra time to dial in for lacrosse.

SJM: Were you happy with your final football season?

LC: Yeah, I was happy with it. Our coaches and athletic director showed so much fight just to get us games as well as the players. We kind of created our own little bubble and we were all very cautious as far as where we were going and what was happening. I was satisfied with our season.

SJM: Who is the funniest guy on the lacrosse team who can make everyone laugh during a tough practice?

LC: I have to think about that. Probably Sean Shelko. He’s always lurking around making funny comments to the guys. I feel like he’s one of the guys who wouldn’t be afraid to say something. He always speaks his mind.

SJM: What are your interests aside from lacrosse and football?

LC: I’m a big golfer and I also enjoy just being with my family. Me and my family are really close and we all live really close to each other, which is another thing I’m grateful to have.

SJM: Have you binged any shows or watched any movies that stand out during the pandemic?

LC: I used to like movies a lot more but I think getting into shows is a lot better, especially during the coronavirus. I don’t know if I can pick one but I’ve definitely been dialing into Netflix when I’ve had some time off. In the beginning, there wasn’t much else to do.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing once the pandemic is over?

LC: Probably just traveling. We usually don’t get to travel a lot in my family with all the sports going on but there is usually two times in the year when everyone in my immediate family is free and we can all go on a little trip. That’s kind of been taken away but we’re planning a trip later this year to the Outer Banks so hopefully things are better by then.

SJM: Has remote learning been a tough adjustment?

LC: I think it was tough for some people but I’m pretty used to it now. I have my same routine every day. It’s nice to wake up 15 or 20 minutes before class and just get ready. It’s not that bad.

Alex Kulinski, Cherokee girls lacrosse
After a solid freshman campaign, Kulinski emerged as a star during her sophomore season as she finished with 52 goals, 12 assists and 103 draw controls for a team that reached the sectional semifinals. She is committed to Jacksonville University, currently one of the top teams in the country, but has unfinished business at Cherokee first.

SJM: Can you put into words what it was like to have last season canceled?

AK: It was kind of awful because we were all so excited going into last year. We were running every day; we were doing wall ball every day and preparing ourselves for all the tests we had to do to start the season. Then we had our first practice and the next day we got shut down, so we were all really disappointed.

SJM: What was it like to get back on the field for the first practice this year?

AK: It was actually awesome. In the beginning it was all hard work in the drills, but when we had free time we were all laughing and joking and enjoying each other’s company.

SJM: Was it the first time you were all together again?

AK: We had winter leagues but it wasn’t like everyone was at every game. This was the first time we were fully back together.

SJM: What are your goals this season for yourself and the team?

AK: As a team we really want to go far this year. After having no season last year we want a redemption year because we thought we were going to be really good. For myself, I want to get close to some school records although it will be hard since I missed a whole year. I just want to have fun and be the best player I can be.

SJM: You will enter the season with 66 career goals so the 100 milestone is certainly within reach. What would that mean to you?

AK: That’s something I’ve been looking forward to since I started playing lacrosse, being able to hit 100 goals in high school. I was worried that it would be taken away from me if we didn’t have this year so I’m glad I have a chance.

SJM: How did you first start playing lacrosse?

AK: I started playing in first or second grade and then I stopped for a while and picked it back up in fourth grade. Growing up I liked field hockey more so I focused more on that and played lacrosse for fun. Once I hit high school and started playing club, that’s when everything changed for me. I started getting better and working harder.

SJM: Are you excited to get to Jacksonville?

AK: Oh my gosh, I am so excited. I love the school. When I went for a visit, the campus was absolutely beautiful—the trees, the scenery, everything. When I met the team it was like a family. Everybody was so welcoming and they were excited to have me there. The coaches are husband and wife and the team is like their family. I just loved the atmosphere and how all the girls made me feel. When I went on other visits, I just didn’t have the same feeling as I did there.

SJM: They’re having a big season right now, aren’t they?

AK: Yeah, they’re ranked No. 10. I can’t even imagine being part of that but knowing that I’m going there next year is awesome. I know the girls are all pumped up.

SJM: Isn’t there another South Jersey player committed to Jacksonville?

AK: Yes, she plays for Cherry Hill West and we play club together. Her name is Maddy Orefice. When we were getting recruited we both kind of knew we were going to go there so we decided we will be roommates.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?

AK: I’m going in as an accounting major but I’m not really sure what I want to do with that. Definitely something in business though.

SJM: What are some of your other interests when you’re not playing sports?

AK: I love going to the beach so that was kind of a big factor with where I’m going to school. I also like hanging out with my friends. My friend lives on a golf course so we’ll hit golf balls and I also work at a driving range.

SJM: What’s your favorite Jersey Shore town?

AK: Either Ocean City or Sea Isle. I love both of those.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing after the pandemic is over?

AK: Going out without a mask on; that’s getting so old. And being able to travel without having to quarantine and getting tested.

SJM: What do you like about going to school at Cherokee?

AK: I like how it’s a big school and there are so many people I meet every day who I haven’t ever seen the whole four years I’ve been going there. We have a prom dress account that people will post on and there will be girls I’ve never seen before, which is kind of cool. I also love the location. Our field is beautiful and we call it “The Bowl.” We have hills and you can watch from up top. I love the teachers and the community and my mom went there, so it’s a legacy type of thing.

Tyler Jones, Washington Township boys volleyball
As a first-year starter at setter during his sophomore year in 2019, Jones meshed well with a veteran team and totaled 667 assists and 101 service points to help the Minutemen go 24-4 with their first Gloucester County title. Now he is an experienced leader for a young squad expecting to remain competitive in the Olympic Conference.

SJM: How does it feel to be back on the volleyball court?

TJ: It feels great to be back. It made me really upset last year [when the season got canceled] because we had a really good team and we had a good shot of making it far. A lot of the good kids graduated so I felt bad that we couldn’t have a season with them.

SJM: Washington Township’s season two years ago was a special one. What stands out when you look back on it?

TJ: Just the chemistry we had as a team. We were all best friends on and off the court. All the seniors and juniors on that team had developed a good friendship over the years and I was kind of new to them, but I fit right in. That was a good year.

SJM: What are your goals for yourself and the team this year?

TJ: As a team I feel like we can win the conference again and possibly win Gloucester County. I’m close to 1,000 [career] assists, which I would have gotten if we had a season last year. So I’m hoping to get that. Our team has a lot of underclassmen, so building the program for next year and the year after is also a goal.

SJM: You were the young guy the last time there was a season and now you’re the experienced veteran. Are you becoming more of a leader?

TJ: I feel like I am. A lot of the players look up to me now. A lot of our starters are sophomores and I played club with a lot of them, and they’re actually pretty good.

SJM: Setting is such an important role in volleyball. What do you like about the position?

TJ: It feels like you’re the quarterback and you get to lead and set the plays. Basically, everything revolves around what you do as the setter. You can influence the entire team with what you do. If the setter is not having a good day then the whole team is probably not having a good day.

SJM: How do you build the chemistry on the team?

TJ: One way is with pasta parties. We had a lot of those [in 2019]. We also just hang out a lot as a team and do stuff like TopGolf or just chill in people’s hot tubs and talk. Becoming friends off the court is important.

SJM: How did you first get into volleyball?

TJ: I started playing volleyball when I was 11. I played with my club coach now, his name is Quan [Nguyen] and he runs Quandomania. I played beach with him since I was 11 and I played club my freshman year and that was the first time I started setting.

SJM: Do you still play beach volleyball too?

TJ: Yeah, I play beach every summer. For beach volleyball you have to be a really good all-around player, whereas in indoor, say you’re a middle, you don’t really have to focus on passing and you can just focus on hitting. For beach volleyball you have to be good at everything in order to succeed. Me and my friend from Rancocas Valley, Josh Milke, we actually competed in Atlantic City which is the AVP Junior Nationals and we took fourth in U-18 last summer. Josh is the setter for Rancocas Valley and I met him through club at Quandomania. That’s where I met a lot of my friends in volleyball. I introduced a lot of the people from Township to play there too and it made them all a lot better.

SJM: What are your plans for next year?

TJ: I’m going to Rowan and studying mechanical engineering and hopefully playing on their club team, which is really good. My mom actually teaches computer science there. It was between Rowan and Drexel, where my brother goes and also studies mechanical engineering. My brother introduced me to it and I took all the classes in high school and fell in love with it. You can basically be as creative as you want in making things.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in Washington Township?

TJ: I like the access we have to parks and how suburban it is. You can go out to a park with your friends and just hang out or play volleyball, which we did a lot over the summer.

SJM: What do you like to do when you’re not playing sports?

TJ: I skateboard a lot. That’s what I do with almost all of my free time when I’m not playing volleyball.

SJM: What are you looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over?

TJ: I’m looking forward to being with my friends in a big group because I haven’t done that since this started. I kind of miss that.

Anthony Solometo, Bishop Eustace baseball
After starring at Gloucester Catholic for two seasons and helping the Rams win a state championship as a freshman, this standout lefthanded pitcher transferred to Bishop Eustace last year and is eager to make his debut for a team with high expectations. A North Carolina commit, Solometo is one of the top prospects in the country and could hear his name called in the first several round of the Major League Baseball Draft.

SJM: You must be excited to get a high school season in, especially since you’ve been waiting such a long time to make your Bishop Eustace debut.

AS: I’m so excited. I feel like all my energy has been balled up. I’m really excited to have my first official outing in [Bishop Eustace] colors.

SJM: You went from one great program at Gloucester Catholic to another at Bishop Eustace. What has the transition been like?

AS: They’re all great guys here and they have amazing personalities and they truly care for one another. When I first got to high school the transition was a little difficult at first and transferring to Eustace I thought it was going to be the same thing, but they made it so easy for me. Nothing skipped a beat and I feel very fortunate.

SJM: There is a lot of talent on this roster. What do you think you can accomplish as a team?

AS: The goal is to win a state championship. We don’t think anything is going to be handed to us and we don’t feel entitled at all. We just know that with each and every practice we have to get after it every day because you never know when it’s going to be your last with COVID or if it’s going to be your last during a playoff run. We want teams to automatically feel deflated when they see us because they know Eustace is going to roll on them.

SJM: With so many good arms on the staff, do you expect you all to push each other in a good way?

AS: Friendly competition is one of the best things there are. … It can just breed positivity, because if one guy goes out there and is dealing, it’s going to make the other guys work harder and it’s going to lead to success for the team as a whole.

SJM: You pitched in the state final for Gloucester Catholic as a freshman. Did experiences like that shape the pitcher you are today?

AS: That was something I had to do. Being the guy who got handed the ball in the state championship and winning as a freshman, I’ve been there now and I know what it’s like. I’m in a totally different division but I know what it takes for a team to make it that far and the other guys are on board with everything we’re doing to be the best we can be. We all have the same goal in mind.

SJM: You have been asked many times about your delivery, which may be a little unorthodox but certainly works for you. Did that develop over time and is it something where you just feel comfortable with how you’re throwing?

AS: For me, the arm slot itself was never something added or created, that’s just the way I was made as a pitcher. But the other things like my high leg kick … those are things that just came along. I’m looking at a picture of it right now actually that’s hanging up. Things have evolved from a generic windup into this big, beautiful thing and I think it’s an honor in a sense that I feel like a ballerina up there because all of these moving parts are happening. Then again, in my mind it feels simple and it’s pure muscle memory. To the naked eye I guess it looks funny but to me it’s just what I’ve done my whole life.

SJM: What’s in your arsenal, pitch wise?

AS: I have a four-seam [fastball], a two-seam [fastball], a slider and a changeup. There’s no such thing as perfect but I’m just working on being as perfect as possible with each pitch.

SJM: Are there pitchers in the majors who you like to emulate?

AS: I like watching Max Fried [of the Atlanta Braves]. I think he has a really good arm. I used to like Madison Bumgarner [of the Arizona Diamondbacks] but he’s on the down side now.

SJM: What led you to commit to North Carolina?

AS: I fell in love with it when I was real young when I met Zac Gallen’s dad, who also played for Mike Zolk like I did. I knew right away that’s where I wanted to go and when I went and visited, it took my breath away. It made me even more sure of my decision.

SJM: Zac Gallen is a Bishop Eustace graduate currently pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Obviously, you’re hoping to get the same chance. Have you thought a lot about the draft or are you trying to keep it out of your mind?

AS: It’s just something that’s out there. There’s all of these mock drafts and my dad is always looking but I’m just focusing on my season and hopefully hoisting up a trophy at the end of the year.

SJM: Is forgoing college to start your pro career out of high school something you’re leaning toward?

AS: Everything comes down to what happens on that day in July. I really have no answer right now. I’m just focusing on being the best Anthony I can be and going from there. But I’ve dreamed about it ever since I was a young kid.

SJM: What MLB park would be really fun to pitch in?

AS: I was lucky enough to pitch at Fenway this past fall [in the Future Star Series] and that was my dream stadium because I’m a diehard Red Sox fan. … That was a surreal moment for me and a dream come true. But I think the right answer to that question is that hopefully I can pitch in all of them. That’s the goal.

SJM: What are your interests away from the baseball field?

AS: I love playing video games, all different types, whether it’s Fortnite, Call of Duty, MLB The Show or [NBA] 2K. Playing video games is a good break from everything. I also love to watch baseball … and I also like my fantasy sports teams. Just recently I was a little upset with my [NCAA] bracket. Nobody had a good bracket this year but mine was really awful.

SJM: What did you think about Roy Williams retiring at UNC?

AS: That was a shock. He’s a legend, not just at UNC but throughout basketball. That was crazy.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in South Jersey?

AS: I’m from Sicklerville and I like growing up in South Jersey. I think New Jersey as a whole should get respect nationally for being a great baseball state. People usually talk about the Southern states but I think New Jersey baseball really gets after it. There’s a lot of talent and this year there’s a lot of New Jersey names in the draft. … It’s been a great experience growing up here. I’m surrounded by Phillies fans, my dad is a diehard Phillies fan, and the Phillies are my second team.

SJM: Speaking of the draft, there’s another South Jersey pitcher, Mainland’s Chase Petty, who is also a top prospect. Do you know him at all?

AS: Yeah, me and Chase have played in a couple of events together. … He’s a real nice guy and he’s making a name for himself too. Hopefully we both get chosen in the first round.


BASEBALL

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Chorzelewski, Cherry Hill West: The last time there was a high school baseball season, the Lions claimed a sectional title for the first time since 1993. Chorzelewski, a senior pitcher, is hoping to keep them on top before moving on to Seton Hall University.

 

 

Brody Colbert, Williamstown: A senior shortstop who is a difference-maker at the plate and in the field, Colbert will play both football and baseball at Sacred Heart University.

 

 

Blake Morgan, Cherokee: Morgan, a senior lefthanded pitcher, is looking to bounce back from a torn ACL and shine in his final season with the Chiefs before moving on to Old Dominion University.

Ian Petrutz, Bishop Eustace: A senior outfielder who spent the first two seasons of his career at Clearview, this University of Maryland commit will provide a big bat in the middle of the order for the Crusaders.

Chase Petty, Mainland: A senior pitcher who regularly touches 100 miles per hour on the radar gun with his fastball, Petty is committed to the University of Florida but is likely to be a first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft.

Ryan Rumsey, Paul VI: Gary Sarno, a highly successful coach in his first season at Paul VI, will lean heavily on this senior pitcher, who will continue his career at Xavier University.

Justin Szestowicki, Kingsway: This senior shortstop has a power bat and is primed for a productive senior season before taking his talents to the University of North Carolina.

SOFTBALL

Bryele Anthony, Shawnee: Anthony, a senior outfielder/catcher, made the all-conference first team as a sophomore and is committed to Immaculata University.

Samantha Bagosy, Washington Township: One of the Minutemaids’ leaders in batting average as a sophomore, this senior infielder will play college softball at Penn State-Brandywine.

Sarah Cancila, Kingsway: A senior shortstop, Cancila had 43 hits and made the all-South Jersey team as a sophomore after helping the Dragons claim a sectional title. She will continue her career at St. Joseph’s University.

Emily Spencer, Seneca: An outstanding pitcher since her freshman year, Spencer is looking for another memorable season before she heads to Monmouth University.

Lilly St. Jean, Paul VI: A junior third baseman, St. Jean batted .357 and made the all-conference second team as a freshman and is part of a talented core for the Eagles.

Isabella Sylvester, Cherry Hill West: Along with fellow senior Meredith Brickner, this catcher is the emotional leader for the Lions and is looking forward to a successful season before moving on to McDaniel College.

BOYS LACROSSE

Nick Cataline, Moorestown: Cataline, a senior attackman who scored 28 goals in 2019, will be an offensive spark for a team seeking its fifth straight sectional title.

Kellen Hurst, Gloucester Catholic: A senior attackman, Hurst led the Rams with 48 goals as a sophomore and added 40 assists on his way to all-conference first-team honors.

Brady Long, Lenape: A starter on defense since his freshman year, this senior is committed to Bellarmine University.

Finn Morgan, Haddonfield: Morgan, a junior midfielder, made quite the first impression with 36 goals and 10 assists as a freshman and will be counted on as a leader this spring.

Luke Riley, Eastern: Riley’s impressive freshman campaign in 2019 included a team-high 30 goals and it will be exciting to see how far he has progressed since then.

GIRLS LACROSSE

Jenna Casole, Cherry Hill West: Part of a stellar senior class, Casole had 45 goals and 53 assists two years ago while playing for Eastern and is committed to Hofstra University.

Julie Cassidy, Shawnee: Cassidy, a senior attacker, is coming off a sophomore campaign in which she scored 66 goals. She will continue her career at Dusquesne University.

Margaret Lawler, Moorestown: The anchor of the Quakers’ defense, Lawler hopes to lead Moorestown to its 25th state championship before moving on to Ohio State University.

Hailey Russo, Clearview: Russo enters her senior season with 149 career goals and the University of Maryland commit is one of the premier playmakers in the state.

Devin Rybacki, Camden Catholic: A senior midfielder and Coastal Carolina University recruit, Rybacki totaled 69 goals, 17 assists and a team-high 93 draw controls as a sophomore.

BOYS GOLF

Brendan Biddle, Cherokee: Biddle, a senior, was an all-conference first-team selection as a sophomore and also carded an 82 at the Carl Arena Tournament.

Sean Walker, Haddonfield: Walker consistently shot in the 40s during his freshman season two years ago and could be ready to compete in the big tournaments now that he is an upperclassman.

Ty Williams, Clearview: Williams’ passion for golf has helped him improve every year of his high school career, and this season he has emerged as a leader for a young team.

GIRLS GOLF

Rileigh Leighton, Williamstown: This junior was the Gloucester County Tournament champion as a freshman and also was named Player of the Year on the Jaws Junior Tour two summers ago.

Rebecca Sirko, Kingsway: The Dragons have a talented crop of juniors hoping to elevate the program and Sirko looks like the best of the bunch.

BOYS TENNIS

Martin Lacsamana, Clearview: A dominant player at first singles for the Pioneers since his freshman year, Lacsamana will look to become the fourth person to win three singles titles at the Gloucester County Tournament this spring.

Arjun Mannan, Cherokee: Mannan, a senior, is coming off an unforgettable sophomore season in which he posted a 32-2 record and became the first player in school history to win the singles title at the South Jersey Interscholastic Championships.

BOYS TRACK

Aidan Groff, Cherry Hill East: A senior and part of a strong crop of distance runners for the Cougars, Groff is committed to St. Joseph’s University.

Justin Moore, Eastern: Moore, who will play football at Wilkes University, is also a star sprinter looking to end his track career on a high note.

GIRLS TRACK

Maura Keane, Washington Township: A two-time state qualifier, Keane stars in the 800 and mile for the Minutemaids.

Sarah Naticchia, Haddonfield: Naticchia was the sectional champion in the 1600 and 3200 as a sophomore and placed in the top three in both events at states. The Harvard University commit is part of a phenomenal group of senior runners at Haddonfield who are headed to Division I colleges, along with Payton Weiner (Dartmout), Allison Colflesh (Maryland) and Lindsay Colflesh (Richmond).

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

Dalton Britner, Kingsway: After gaining experience as a sophomore, this senior setter is ready to move into the starting role and orchestrate the offense for one of the most consistent programs in South Jersey.

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Published and copyrighted in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 18, Issue 1 (April 2021).
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Author: Matt Cosentino

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