Rising to the Occasion

by Matt Cosentino Photography Tim Hawk | Jan 18, 2024
Rising to the Occasion
Heather O’Day, Cherokee swimming
One of the premier freestyle sprinters in South Jersey, O’Day placed ninth in the state in the 100 free last year and helped Cherokee reach the sectional semifinals. She is primed for a memorable senior season before continuing her career at Colgate University.

SJM: Your senior season is here. Is that strange to think about?
HO: It hasn’t hit me yet, but it will soon, once the season starts and especially as we get closer to states. 

SJM: What are your expectations this year for yourself and the team?
HO: I’m really excited because we’re going to have a great team this year. We did lose a lot of seniors, but we have a really good freshman coming in who’s a freestyler and will really help our relays. I’m super excited to swim those in meets and at states.

SJM: I know they changed the Meet of Champions format this year, eliminating the consolation finals. How do you feel about that?
HO: I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s right because I feel all the swimmers should get a chance to compete again. There are a lot of fast swimmers who compete in B finals too. I was in B finals last year and I got a best time from it. It’s just not fair.

SJM: Does it motivate you to reach the A final this year?
HO: It definitely does. I was in A final my sophomore year and it’s very competitive, especially in the sprints. Hundredths of a second will determine whether you make the A final or not. I definitely know that I have to go into prelims focused.

SJM: Do you have a favorite race?
HO: The 100 free. The 50 free is also a fun event.

SJM: What other strokes do you do in club swimming?
HO: I do backstroke, free and IM in club swim.

SJM: How did you get into the sport in the first place?
HO: I kind of always have swam. Both of my parents are swimmers, so that probably sprinkled into my decision to focus on swimming. I had always done other sports—I did soccer, lacrosse and cross country—but I was probably 14 when I decided that swimming would be my main sport.

SJM: Do you think it takes a special kind of person to commit to swimming, considering the hard work and long hours it entails?
HO: For sure. It can be really soul-destroying. It’s a hard sport, but I love it.

SJM: Do you practice in the morning, before school?
HO: I do once a week. I like those practices the best, though, because it’s fun getting ready with your teammates. Then you go to school and you feel so productive.

SJM: Which club do you swim for?
HO: I swim with SJAC, South Jersey [Aquatic Club]. It’s in Voorhees. I transferred over from Wahoos my freshman year. It was a change but it’s a lot of fun and I love the people there. 

SJM: What led to your decision to commit to Colgate?
HO: It was a pretty easy decision for me—I got lucky. When I visited, I loved the campus, I loved the team culture, I loved the coach and they have great academics. They had everything I wanted in a school.

SJM: Do you know what you’re going to major in?
HO: I have no idea. [Laughs] I’d say I’m more English-oriented, but I can do science and math.

SJM: Do you like going to school at Cherokee?
HO: Yes, it’s nice. I like the size of the school and I like my teachers. I think it’s more fun when there’s more people.

SJM: Do you have any siblings?
HO: I have a twin sister, Kerry. She runs for Cherokee. We’re fraternal and we’re very different. She could walk in and you would be like, “You guys are related?”

SJM: Do you get along though?
HO: Yeah, we do. We spend a lot of time together. She used to swim up until freshman year. She was a really good breaststroker and I can’t do breaststroke to save my life. She always had a faster time than me in breaststroke until last year. I was determined to beat her and I finally did.

SJM: It’s funny how you each shined in a different sport.
HO: Yeah, it is interesting.

SJM: Do you think it’s going to be weird next year when you go your separate ways for college?
HO: It is going to be weird. I’ll be at Colgate and she’s going to run at Bucknell. With us shining in different sports, we kind of separated a little bit after always playing the same sports and being on the same team. We kind of hated each other, but now that we’re separated a little bit, it’s more fun.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in South Jersey?
HO: I just love the area, how we’re close to the city and we’re close to the beach, and we’re also in the woods with the Pine Barrens. I feel like we have everything here and the culture is also good.

SJM: What do you do for fun when you’re not swimming?
HO: I like to hike. There are a lot of good areas around here to do that. I basically live in the woods, so they have a lot of trails behind my house. I also love going to the beach, especially since it’s so close.

SJM: How do you prepare for a big race?
HO: I feel like a lot goes into it. Probably about two weeks before the meet actually starts, I like to visualize my races, get focused and make sure I’m eating good, getting enough sleep and stretching. It’s definitely a process, but I feel like that’s what works best for me. Right before my race, I like to take some deep breaths, focus and get ready to swim fast.

SJM: Do you like to watch the Olympics?
HO: I do; I love watching swimming. I would probably say I like to watch Torri Huske the most—she’s a really good butterflier.

Hannah Byrd-Leitner, Moorestown track

Still just a junior, Byrd-Leitner has already established herself as one of the top pole vaulters in the state. Last year during indoor season, she placed fifth at sectionals, states and the Meet of Champions (MOC), and last spring she cleared 11 feet, 6 inches at the outdoor MOC to take ninth. She has set high goals for herself as an upperclassman.

SJM: The pole vault is certainly not an event that is easy to pick up. How did you get started?
HBL: It definitely has a lot to do with gymnastics—the body awareness and the strength. It kind of transfers over to the same muscles you use in pole vault, so it’s very common for a gymnast to also become a pole vaulter.

SJM: So you grew up doing gymnastics and still do that now?
HBL: Yes. I actually didn’t start gymnastics at a young age compared to other people. I was maybe 9 years old when I started.

SJM: And when did you decide to give the pole vault a try?
HBL: I started track and pole vaulting my freshman year of high school. My pole vaulting coach knew I did gymnastics, so he got me to try it.

SJM: Did those gymnastic skills help you master the pole vault pretty quickly?
HBL: It was definitely a lot easier to learn, but the skills were still difficult to do in the first place. It takes bravery. I was nervous at first, but it’s one of my favorite things to do now, so I’m glad I started.

SJM: How much time do you put into pole vault?
HBL: A lot. I practiced all this summer and in the fall, and now we have the winter season into the spring season. It’s really year round.

SJM: Do you have any particular goals for this year?
HBL: I’m definitely looking to get some PRs as I’m looking at colleges, because I hope to go Division 1.

SJM: What’s the tallest height you’ve ever cleared?
HBL: My PR is 11-7. I’m hoping to get 12 feet in the indoor season and maybe 12-6 in outdoor.

SJM: What are the main differences between indoor and outdoor season for a pole vaulter?
HBL: Well, we practice outside for both, so it’s very cold and windy during the winter and it’s definitely more difficult to train. So I think I like outdoor better, but both seasons are great. The indoor meets are very different because there are no wind conditions, it’s not raining and the sun’s not out, so it’s more stable.

SJM: In addition to going for PR, are you expecting to contend for a state title this year?
HBL: For sure. Last year for indoor, my school actually didn’t have a team. We got it reinstated this year after multiple years of not having it. So I had to train and compete on my own last year, and this year my whole team is doing it. So that will be a lot better and I feel more prepared.

SJM: Have you started the college search yet?
HBL: I’ve been emailing schools but nothing is signed yet. I’m trying to figure out what I’m interested in. I like the bigger schools, for sure.

SJM: Do you know what you would like to study?
HBL: Not yet, but one of the reasons I favor the larger schools is because of all the options they have for majors. It’s helpful. 

SJM: What do you like about going to school at Moorestown?
HBL: The community is great and I love all of my teammates. I used to live in Collingswood and I moved to Moorestown in fourth grade. It was a pretty easy change.

SJM: What do you do for fun outside of sports?
HBL: I like to hang out with family and friends. I have three brothers so it’s definitely different compared to other families. They’re older but I do have a twin as well.

SJM: Do you and your twin brother get along?
HBL: We’re pretty close, but when we were younger we had arguments all the time. His name is Charlie and he plays soccer and volleyball. We have a couple of classes together which is fun, because we can work on assignments together if we need to.

SJM: How much older is he?
HBL: He’s eight minutes older. I have another brother in college and another who’s a senior in high school.

SJM: How do you get ready for a big meet? Any certain rituals?
HBL: Nothing too serious. Meets are very mental, so I focus on breathing and not taking things too fast. You can’t get ahead of yourself, because then you’ll have confidence issues.

SJM: Do you become close to the other competitors?
HBL: Everyone is very friendly, especially the pole vaulters. It’s fun to make friends at every meet and I know a lot of people from practicing.

Autumn Buttocovla, Washington Township bowling

Buttocovla, a senior, is coming off a strong junior season in which she averaged a 531 series during team matches, rolling a high game of 233 and a high series of 618. She placed fifth at sectionals with a 571 series and advanced to the second round of the state individual tournament.

SJM: Are you excited for your senior season? I know you had a very good junior campaign.
AB: That was not very good. That wasn’t my best—I can do better, and I have done better.

SJM: So what are your goals for this season?
AB: To do better at states, because in the second round I started doing terrible. Otherwise, I just want to keep my scores up.

SJM: How did you get interested in bowling in the first place?
AB: My best friend went to a birthday party for it and he thought it was cool, so I got sucked into it from that. I was like 8 years old and that was it.

SJM: What do you love about it?
AB: It’s fun and I get to improve, and I like hanging out with my friends. I like being good at things and I’m good at it.

SJM: Do you play any other sports?
AB: I used to play softball but I quit that years ago. I liked softball, but I was better at bowling so I stuck with it.

SJM: Did you bowl for the high school team right away?
AB: I didn’t do it freshman year because of COVID. Then sophomore year, I had wrist issues from turning my wrist too much. It caused inflammation to where I couldn’t even hold the ball, so I was out for a while. Junior year is when I actually got to bowl finally.

SJM: What is the highest game you’ve ever had?
AB: I think it was 259. There was a period of time last year where every other week I was beating my high game.

SJM: Rolling a 300 would be nice, wouldn’t it?
AB: It would be very nice. My 259 wasn’t that far off. In the third frame I got a nine, and then I got strikes all the way through until the last frame, where I got another nine.

SJM: What is it like competing at sectionals and states? Is it nerve-wracking with all of those people there?
AB: No, because I do tournaments like that a lot and I’ve been to Junior Gold Nationals two times. That was really scary, because for everyone there, their only personality trait is just to bowl. There are a lot of people better than me there, but for sectionals everybody is pretty much on the same level. Everybody who had scores around mine, I know them from leagues and tournaments.

SJM: Where are the Junior Gold Nationals held?
AB: It moves every year and this coming year I think it’s at Detroit.

SJM: How did you do in your first two trips to nationals?
AB: I did terrible in my first year there, and then I did better my second time but I ended up getting COVID halfway through it, so I was real sick. But I improved, so that’s all that matters.

SJM: Where were nationals held when you competed?
AB: Indianapolis and then Grand Rapids. I’ve also been to Virginia for a tournament. Different alleys have different lanes and the patterns are different, so it’s fun to see other things as opposed to just doing the same three alleys near me.

SJM: Do you have a favorite bowling alley around here?
AB: It used to be Westbrook [in Brooklawn] but the pinsetters changed, so I don’t do as well there now. My favorite is probably Bowlero in Deptford.

SJM: What else do you like to do for fun?
AB: Play video games; that’s about it. I play Call of Duty, Destiny and Stardew Valley on Xbox—those are my main three.

SJM: Do you know what you’re doing next year?
AB: I want to bowl in college and my top two [choices] are Fairleigh [Dickinson] and Monmouth.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in college?
AB: Environmental bio. [I want to do] anything in that field, really, but I want to be a conservationist or a wildlife rehabilitator. I have no idea how I got into that, but I just like being outside and taking care of my animals.

SJM: How many pets do you have?
AB: I have a dog, two hamsters and a snake: a ball python.

Lily Quintero, Cherry Hill East basketball

At 5-foot-10, Quintero has the size to contribute down low but also the shooting and dribbling skills to be a point guard, and she has used that versatility to become a key player for the Cougars since her freshman year. She has averaged double digits in points each of her first two seasons and is primed for a big junior campaign.

SJM: You have had two really good seasons to start your high school career. What goals do you have entering your junior year?
LQ: We have new people on the team and it seems like we have a lot more potential to win games. Before, teams would completely beat us and we’d lose by 40 points, but now it seems like we can actually beat those teams. So it’s kind of a comeback season and revenge for East girls basketball. This is our year to come back.

SJM: Do you have any individual goals?
LQ: I would say to not get too down on myself. It’s always a goal to give a lot of effort and do everything you can on the court. Sometimes it seems like you didn’t do that and you get down on yourself; every great player has that. But I’ve gotten a lot better at it. Mental toughness is something you always have to have. I have to push for my team, and that’s my goal.

SJM: Did you start playing basketball at a young age?
LQ: Yeah, 4 years old. My whole family is a basketball family. I saw my dad coaching my older sister since I was a little baby, and he’s coached me my entire life.

SJM: Did you play any other sports?
LQ: I always wanted to try volleyball, but I’ve always been focused on basketball.

SJM: I read that even though you’ve always been tall, you liked playing point guard because you were a fan of Magic Johnson. Is that true?
LQ: Yeah—I was raised as a guard. My sister is two inches taller than me, she’s almost 6-foot, and she was always a forward, so my dad wanted to raise me as a guard. He wanted me to have a better skill set so I could be a better all-around player. I got more into forward skill work when I was a freshman in high school, because I was the biggest girl on the team.

SJM: Do you mostly play in the paint in high school?
LQ: Yeah, but when I go to college it will be completely different, because I was recruited for my outside shooting.

SJM: Do you already know where you’re going to college?
LQ: Yes, I committed to Muhlenberg. I wanted to get it out of the way because it stresses you during the high school season when you don’t know where you’re going. We’ve been to a lot of campuses, had a lot of options, and this is a really good school, it’s close and I just love everybody there: the team, the coaches. It was the best fit for me so that’s why I chose Muhlenberg, and now I can focus on high school.

SJM: Are you excited to compete at that level?
LQ: Oh yeah. Since I was younger, I’ve always played higher levels of basketball and I’ve always been one of the top girls on the team. I really take pride in that, because I put so much effort into it. But college is a whole new level, and I’m excited to see where I stand and how I can push myself.

SJM: Who do you play for outside of high school?
LQ: I play for the Central Jersey Hawks, coach [John] Mayo. I’ve been on a lot of teams: Before them it was Books and Basketball, BBA, and before them I played for the Philadelphia Belles. I would say coach Mayo was the person who fit me the best because he knows I’m a shooter and he’s all about shooting the ball if you can shoot. He would put me in situations where the defensive intensity was high, but I realized I can play under that pressure and that pushed me. I definitely think AAU helped me to become a better player. Obviously, a lot of people have bad experiences with AAU, but I was lucky enough to have a good experience.

SJM: Do you watch a lot of basketball?
LQ: Not that much, but I do watch a lot of highlights of Luka Doncic, because my dad loves him and tells me, “This is what you have to do.” He gives me a lot of pointers.

SJM: The NCAA Women’s Tournament was awesome last year, with Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese both playing so well. Did you catch any of that?
LQ: I did. My trainer, coach [Lauren] Creel at Cherry Hill Raquet Club A1, she told me all about it and said, “You have to start watching women’s basketball.” She told which games to watch and what to look for, and when we went to practice she’d say, “So, did you see that game?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m watching, I’m watching.”

SJM: What do you do for fun away from basketball?
LQ: There are a lot of things I’ve been trying. Basketball is the one thing in my life that everything revolves around, so it’s kind of hard to find other things that fit. But I like to work out by myself and I like to be really active. I find the joy in pushing myself. But you need non-physical activities too so you don’t lash out. If you’re exerting yourself too much, you need something to calm you down, so I started painting with my sister, journaling, and I’m trying to get back into my religion. I want to better myself as a person and mature into the adult I want to be. I think what I’m doing is definitely beneficial and my friends are helping me with that.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in college?
LQ: I want to major in computer science and I’m probably going to minor in either finance or biochem. My sister did it, so if she can do it, why can’t I?

SJM: How old were you when you moved to Cherry Hill?
LQ: I moved here in late sixth grade. I used to live in Sayreville and I went to a Catholic school there. … Cherry Hill is a beautiful place and everyone is so nice here. You walk on the sidewalk and everyone says hello. I love it here.

SJM: Do you like going to a big school?
LQ: I have no issues. I love the teachers, there are always extra-help hours, and it’s actually really nice. 

Ari Tyson, Cherry Hill West wrestling

Tyson’s sophomore season was one for the ages, as she became just the sixth female wrestler from South Jersey and the first from Cherry Hill West to earn a state title, taking home the crown at 165 pounds. She also won her first region championship and finished 19-1 with 15 pins. It will be exciting to see what she does for an encore as a junior.

SJM: Last year was such a memorable one for you. What are your goals heading into 2024?
AT: I just want to wrestle a little bit faster and harder than last year and become a state champion again.

SJM: Can you describe the feeling of winning states?
AT: I don’t know, to me it was just like winning any other match. It was exciting but I have two more to win, so I can’t be that excited.

SJM: Were you surprised at all or did you expect to contend last year?
AT: It was something I knew I could achieve. 

SJM: How did you first get interested in the sport?
AT: I was 4 or 5 and I saw my brother do it. I was interested, so my mom said if there was a girl on the team I could do it, and there was. So I was put into it and I’ve done it [ever since].

SJM: What’s your brother’s name?
AT: His name is Clayton. He wrestles [at Cherry Hill West] now. He’s a freshman.

SJM: Do you believe the sport is growing in popularity with girls?
AT: From what I’ve seen, yes. 

SJM: What would your advice be to a girl considering trying wrestling?
AT: If you have the mental toughness and you really want to do it, go for it. It’s a physically demanding sport, but you’ll most likely like it. It’s a good adrenaline rush for me and when I’m done, I feel good.

SJM: Do you play any other sports?
AT: I think I’m going back to lacrosse. I did track last year. I’m just trying different sports.

SJM: Do you pay attention to the other standout wrestlers in your weight class, or just focus on yourself?
AT: No, I don’t. I don’t think it matters who’s in front of me, I just think my progress is what matters. Whether they’re experienced or not, or good or not, I don’t think it matters much. At the end of the day, I have confidence in myself.

SJM: How far would you like to take wrestling? Would you like to do it in college?
AT: Yeah. I have a couple of schools I’m looking at: Felician University in New Jersey and Stevens Point in Wisconsin. 

SJM: What else do you do for fun?
AT: I like cooking. I don’t really have [a specialty], I just do it all. I cook for family and friends and I try experimenting for myself.

SJM: Have you always lived in Cherry Hill?
AT: I lived in Pennsauken first and my older brother went to that school. I moved here in sixth grade.

SJM: What do you like about growing up in South Jersey?
AT: How close everything is. I could walk most places if I really wanted to.

SJM: How do you get fired up for a big match?
AT: I like to keep my energy, so I kind of just sit there.

SJM: You have a very nice and quite demeanor. Do you flip a switch and get nasty once you take the mat?
AT: I don’t think so, but I guess my coaches see it.

Luke Sherlock, Shawnee wrestling

Just halfway through his high school wrestling career, Sherlock already has two district titles and two runner-up finishes at regions. He finished with 37 wins last year as a sophomore, including two in the 113-pound bracket at states, and helped Shawnee go 21-5 with a sectional championship. He has lofty goals for himself and his team this winter.

SJM: After two terrific seasons to start your career, are you excited to see what you can accomplish this year?
LS: Oh yeah, I’m excited. I want to place at states this year and I’m looking to win a region title. I want to do better than I did last year.

SJM: Has the experience of wrestling in two region finals been a big help for you?
LS: Yeah, it will definitely help me this year. Losing in the region final gave me insight into what I can do to get better and how I need to improve. It also fueled me to win it this year.

SJM: What weight are you going to wrestle?
LS: I’m going to go 120. I’ll bump up to 126 during the season but I’ll drop back down during the postseason.

SJM: How does the team look?
LS: The team looks good. I think we have a really good shot at winning another sectional title and maybe even sneaking into the state finals. We have a couple of new kids and I think we’ll be solid.

SJM: Who do you partner with at practice?
LS: I partner with Chris Ahrens and I’ll also wrestle with Jordan Segal. Jordan is a smaller guy and he’s a lot more technical than the other guys, so he helps me in that sense. Chris is a lot bigger than me so he helps me get stronger and see what it’s like when I’m going to wrestle at a higher weight. You never know what you’re going to get, so you have to be ready to wrestle any type of style.

SJM: Do you pay attention to other guys from your weight class from around the state?
LS: I definitely look at that stuff because it’s good to see how other people are doing and how you can keep up. It also keeps you motivated when you see someone who you think you’re neck and neck with maybe doing a little bit better than you. I like to look at the rankings, and I also like to see where my teammates are ranked.

SJM: What tournaments will your team be wrestling in this year?
LS: We’re wrestling at Beast of the East, and later in January we’re going to be wrestling at Escape the Rock. They’re two really big tournaments and I’m looking forward to them. We went to Beast of the East my freshman and sophomore year, but I haven’t been to Escape the Rock yet. I like those big tournaments because it gets you ready for later in the season. The atmosphere is similar to states, where you have to wrestle your best for two or three days and kind of grind through it. 

SJM: What’s it like wrestling at Boardwalk Hall for states?
LS: It’s awesome walking out onto those mats. You have the whole crowd around you, and warming up in the back is also really cool. It’s exciting to be there. I went my eighth grade year just to get ready for it, and it’s so much fun just watching your friends wrestle.

SJM: When did you first get into wrestling?
LS: Probably around third or fourth grade. I tried all of the other sports and wrestling was the last one I hadn’t tried. I guess I stuck with it.

SJM: What do you like about wrestling?
LS: I like how there’s nobody else out there, so you can’t blame your teammates for your mistakes. You can’t say, “It was my team’s fault that I lost.” No, it was you. You’re the only one who can make yourself win and you’re the only one who can make yourself lose when you’re out there. There’s a lot of pressure but I guess I really like that.

SJM: Do you want to wrestle in college?
LS: Yes, that’s my goal. I’ve been looking at some colleges and I hope I’m able to wrestle there.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?
LS: I’m not really sure yet. There are just so many options and I have to look into it.

SJM: What do you like about going to school at Shawnee?
LS: I like how there aren’t too many people there and everyone is close. Even during my season, I’m still watching the basketball kids and talking to the kids who play other sports. All of the sports are really tight.

SJM: Have you always lived in the Medford area?
LS: Yes I have, my whole life. It’s a chill town, not too much goes on, and I like that aspect of it.

SJM: What other hobbies do you have?
LS: I like to go down the Shore and I lifeguard in the summer in LBI, Surf City. It’s a lot of fun.

Tre Cottrell, Haddonfield swimming

Cottrell had quite a few accomplishments during a fantastic sophomore season, as he swam on both the 200 free and 400 free relays that took home state crowns at the Meet of Champions (MOC). Individually, he placed fourth in the 200 free and sixth in the 100 free at the MOC, and he also helped Haddonfield go 11-2 with a team state championship.

SJM: Before getting into this season, I know you just took the SATs for the second time. Have you started the college search yet and what are you looking for in a school and a swimming program?
TC: I’m keeping my options open at the moment. I’m not really in a rush.

SJM: What are your goals for this year after an amazing sophomore season?
TC: I’m really trying to get first in the 200 free at the Meet of Champions. Top three would be good too, but a really big goal of mine is to get first.

SJM: Is that your main event?
TC: It is. I also do the 100 free and the 100 breast, and I’m a big relay guy.

SJM: What was it like to be part of those relays last year that won state titles?
TC: It was incredible. I never thought we would win it. The year before, I was just hoping we’d get top three, but we crushed it. It was amazing winning that with the other guys.

SJM: What did you learn from being around Henry McFadden, your former teammate who is now at Stanford?
TC: I learned how to be a fast swimmer myself and how to control my emotions. He helped me develop as a swimmer and reach for something bigger. He had a ton of accomplishments and I’m never going to fill his shoes, but I’m going to really try to get there. He’s amazing.

SJM: Have you always been a swimmer?
TC: I have always been a swimmer, since I was 6. I did baseball for a while, but probably around eighth grade I switched over to swimming full time.

SJM: What clicked with you about the sport?
TC: I like having a routine, and practice is every day. I also had a ton of early success, so it kind of carried through.

SJM: It seems like a sport that creates a lot of camaraderie with your teammates and the people you’re training with every day.
TC: Yeah, I love that. Practice is going to be hard but you can make it fun as long as you have a good group of guys.

SJM: The team has won three state championships in a row. Do you think you’re going to be at that level again even with the losses to graduation?
TC: I think we can do it. We have a lot of new kids this year and I know our guys from last year are going to carry us through.

SJM: Do you anticipate becoming more of a leader as an upperclassman?
TC: Yes, I think I will have to do that. Henry was such a big leader for us and we definitely need other people to step up. 

SJM: Swimming is a demanding sport. Do you ever have days where you don’t feel like going to the pool?
TC: All the time. You kind of just have to dive in. You can’t look at the water or think about how cold it is.

SJM: Did you compete in any big meets this past summer?
TC: I went to Futures [Championships] in Richmond this summer and I thought it was pretty good. It was a nice step for me. I got a Junior Nationals cut, so that qualified me for that tournament in Ohio [this month].

SJM: What else do you do for fun?
TC: I like to cook. Fried chicken is always a favorite of mine. I’ll cook up a bunch for myself and stick it in the fridge.

SJM: Do you like growing up in Haddonfield?
TC: I do. It’s a great place to live. There’s a lot of high-achieving people and it pushes you to live up to those goals. It’s a smart school so I can’t slack off. 

SJM: How about South Jersey in general?
TC: I love it. I like the beach and I’m a big Philly sports fan.

SJM: Do you like watching the top swimmers from across the country? Who stands out to you?
TC: Henry McFadden. He just took third at the U.S. Open. I have confidence [that he’ll be an Olympian].

Tye Dorset, Lenape basketball

Dorset, a senior guard, is a three-year starter who helped Lenape win a South Jersey title as a sophomore. He averaged a team-high 18.7 points as a junior, leading the Indians to a 22-8 record and appearances in both the sectional and Burlington County Tournament finals. He will continue his career at Merrimack, a Division I school in Massachusetts.

SJM: After two big seasons, do you have any particular goals for your final year at Lenape?
TD: Just to go all the way. I think we have a pretty good shot at it this year, and it would be good to at least play at Rutgers [in the state final]. But if you get to Rutgers, you might as well win at Rutgers. That’s the goal we have as a team this year. We had a little locker-room sit-in, and we talked about personal goals and team goals, and that’s what we all said: It would be nice to win a state championship.

SJM: Anything for you personally?
TD: I would say getting to 1,000 [career points], but really just winning. You only get one senior year so I want to make the best of it. Winning is my goal.

SJM: You’ve played in a lot of big games already at the high school level, like sectional and county finals. Have those experiences made you better?
TD: I think they’ve benefited me, for sure. I was playing in a South Jersey final when I was a sophomore. It just feels like another game—you know the magnitude of it, but it just feels like you’re playing basketball.

SJM: What did you learn from being around Derek Simpson, your former Lenape teammate who is now at Rutgers? Did he have an influence on you?
TD: For sure. Every day at practice, I would go right at him and he would go right at me. Watching how he processes the game and how he takes every day serious and how every little thing matters [was helpful]. I think stuff like that helped make me the player I am today.

SJM: Now you’re in the role of leader. Is that an important part of the game to you, to be a mentor for your teammates?
TD: Yeah. I think every good team needs a leader on the court. In big games it’s loud, so you need somebody who’s not the coach to be the coach on the floor. I took it personally last year, knowing that me and Tekie [Clark] were the only returnees, so I tried to help everyone out because it helped me as a sophomore having leaders on the floor.

SJM: Do you watch a lot of basketball?
TD: Yeah. I’m a big college guy. 

SJM: Are there any guys you like to model your game after?
TD: Tyler Kolek from Marquette; Erik Reynolds from St. Joe’s is really good; Derek [Simpson] is my guy so I like watching him; A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker from Michigan State. I like watching point guards play at a high level.

SJM: Do you consider yourself more of a one than a two guard?
TD: I think I’m going to play both in college, but I prefer to play the one. I just like controlling the tempo of the game.

SJM: You’re going to be playing at the same level as those guys pretty soon. How excited are you to see what you can do in college?
TD: I can’t even form it into words. I’m super excited, I’m going into a good situation at Merrimack, and I think they’re going to welcome me with open arms.

SJM: What made you commit to Merrimack?
TD: I liked the family atmosphere. I took my visit and they made me feel super welcome. They gave it to me straight; they didn’t sugarcoat things and just try to be super nice. Of course they were nice, but they also took me seriously and made me a priority.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study?
TD: I’m going to major in communications and minor in journalism, specifically sports journalism. I’ll see where it takes me, but I’m looking to get into TV.

SJM: Are you into other sports besides basketball?
TD: Yeah, I watch a lot of college football and the NFL of course.

SJM: But you only play basketball?
TD: Yes. I also played flag football and soccer and lacrosse, but basketball was always No. 1 for me.

SJM: Is there a rival team you like facing the most?
TD: Of course there are the district schools like Cherokee and Shawnee, and Cherry Hill East is always tough. We’ve played Egg Harbor for two years now, once in the [sectional] semifinal and once in the final, and they’re tough. I always look forward to the Score at the Shore too, because you get good competition like Mainland and Holy Spirit. … And Eastern is always good too.

SJM: What else do you do for fun?
TD: Just hang around my friends, because they are super important in my life. I enjoy anything with them.

SJM: Have you always lived in Mount Laurel?
TD: Yes, I’ve been here since first grade or kindergarten. It’s a big town but everyone knows everyone and it’s a good community.

SJM: What do you do before a big game? Do you have any certain music you like to listen to?
TD: A lot of Drake. That’s about it—I don’t really do anything specific, except maybe close my eyes for a little bit. I’m not really superstitious. I might wear the same shoes if I’ve played well, but that’s about it.

SJM: Who’s the guy on the team who can make everyone laugh during a tough practice?
TD: I would probably say Mehki Carter. Him and Caleb Lundy are both funny kids, but they’re also super intense at every practice.

Max Portnoy, Eastern basketball

A 6-foot-4 senior guard, Portnoy does a little bit of everything for Eastern and is coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14. 9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists. He helped the Vikings reach the sectional semifinals and is gearing up for another successful year before moving on to a college basketball career.

SJM: How do you feel about the way the team looks heading into the season?
MP: I’m pretty optimistic. We have a lot of returners: me, Damien Edwards, Kaedon Harper, Sam Winsett. I think we have a good squad and I’m very hopeful for a great year.

SJM: Did the experience of last year’s playoff run and coming so close to a sectional final motivate you in the offseason?
MP: I think it did at times, when I needed it, but at this point I just want to have the best senior season possible. I’m not really worried about what happened in the past. I’m going to take it game by game and have fun, because it’s the last time I’m going to play high school basketball.

SJM: The thing that stands out about your game is how many different ways you contribute. Is it important to you to have that versatility?
MP: Yeah. I think it helped that I worked on my skills a lot when I was younger. I was average height, so when I grew it gave me the opportunity to do a little bit of everything. I think it’s good to involve your teammates: You don’t want people mad at you if you’re being selfish and taking all the shots. I like to share the wealth, and if I’m playing point guard I have a lot of weapons. Damien, in my opinion, is the best shooter in the area, so that’s a gift that I have.

SJM: You and Damien work well together. Have you been playing with him a long time?
MP: I’ve been playing with Damien since fourth grade and we met in preschool, so we’ve been around each other forever. Going into our junior year, we would work out every day together, so I would try to pass it exactly into his pocket. I would try to see, if I pass it too low, how does it affect his shot? If I pass it too high, how does it affect him? If I get it in the right spot, he wouldn’t miss.

SJM: Do you know what you’re doing next year?
MP: Not yet, but I definitely [want to play]. 

SJM: How is the process going of trying to find the right college?
MP: I’ve liked going to games and trying to pick out things I like and dislike about a coach or about a program or the team’s system. I find that valuable, because when I’m playing college basketball I have to put myself in the best situation.

SJM: Are you looking to go far away or stay close?
MP: I want to stay close. I like this area.

SJM: Your brother plays college baseball, right?
MP: Yes, at Rutgers. That has helped my parents because they know all the ins and outs [of the college search] and they know how to handle it better than if it was their first time around.

SJM: Do you know what you want to study in school?
MP: Probably communications. I’m very interested in sports media. 

SJM: Did you play baseball like your brother?
MP: I did for a little while but eventually I got good at this and I stopped playing baseball. I was pretty good at track too but I messed up my knee in seventh grade and called it quits at that. I still have love for baseball and I’ve always loved football, but basketball is for me.

SJM: What are the rivalry games you get most excited to play?
MP: Definitely Lenape, and probably [Cherry Hill] East also. My sophomore year, we lost to East in the playoffs. They were the one seed and we were the eight seed, and we lost by one. The aftermath of that was that we had a bunch of seniors leave, and then all the upcoming seniors [for the following year] left, so I realized that loss started the exodus of a lot of players. So there’s a little extra every time we play East, thinking of all the sadness that it brought us.

SJM: What’s it like playing for coach Kevin Crawford? Is he tough on you?
MP: He’s very tough on me. At times I like it, at times it’s a little excessive, but at the end of the day I see where he’s coming from. He’s trying to make me the best version of myself.

SJM: Do you watch a lot of college basketball and the NBA?
MP: Yes. I’m very into the minute details. Our assistant coach, Jason Landis, the way that he thinks about basketball is very similar to me. Last year, we would watch film and he would break it down like it was chess, and I like it very complicated like that. I try to look for little things, like I noticed the other day that the Sixers kept running flex for Tobias [Harris]. I like seeing things like that, or just seeing actions that team like to run.

SJM: What else do you do for fun?
MP: I spend time with my friends and we watch a lot of sports, and I like hanging out with my girlfriend. The normal kid things. I take a couple of music production classes, and I like researching things about history.

SJM: Who is the funniest guy on the team who can lighten the mood during a tough practice?
MP: Probably Sam Winsett. Sam and Damien are always joking around on the sideline. Sometimes I get a little hard on myself, and it calms me down just hearing them.

Author: Matt Cosentino Photography by Tim Hawk


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