By TOM WILLIAMS
Things are loosening up a little but limitations necessary to battle the COVID 19 virus continue to frustrate people of all ages. Every wise person knows it is the right thing to do but the life changes are still difficult for everybody.
Especially high school and recent high school athletes.
Now, one final time, the thoughts of some more prominent area athletes are offered.
Maddie Brestle is a three-sport senior at Atlantic City High School – an all star in soccer, an all star in basketball on the CAL Tournament champions and a starter in softball. She will attend the University of South Carolina.
Brestle: “Initially I was bummed out about the quarantine and all of the high school memories my fellow classmates and I weren’t able to share. But after I changed my tune about the quarantine I realized that it has given me the opportunity to spend more time with my family, close friends and myself before I’m off to USC. To keep busy, train, and work out I am fortunate enough to have my mom, the most energetic person on the planet, help me. I have worked out with my mom, gone biking and my favorite – going on long walks with my dogs or just solo. I can’t wait for everything to be up and going again and have an awesome summer.”
Ava Casale is a three-sport senior at Our Lady of Mercy. She played soccer in the fall, softball in the spring and was an all star in basketball. She will play basketball at Immaculata College.
Casale: “Life is like a game, your opponents can sometimes throw you a curve ball. At first I thought how will I ever prepare for my season. However, adversity reveals character. It’s what you do when no one is watching that matters. At the end of the day, it’s you alone that makes opportunities out of difficult situations. During this quarantine, I decided to focus on all the positives which include family time, friends and OLMA. OLMA certainly was a tremendous positive throughout this quarantine. I received so many unexpected surprises: letters, treats, signs, virtual ceremonies and even a farewell parade. Having a tremendous amount of downtime wasn’t something I ever experienced, so I focused on trying to transform my body. In preparation for my transition from high school to college basketball I am working on all aspects of my game. Whether I am jumping rope to work on foot speed, lifting to build more muscle, along with core and flexibility training, each day I schedule a large block of time to focus on my future at Immaculata University. I’ve discovered with a positive outlook, you can overcome any obstacle.”
Jake Cook is a two-sport senior at Mainland. He was second among CAL schools in receiving yards in football and eighth in the CAL in scoring in basketball, though he spent the last third of the winter season on crutches. He will play football at St. Anslem.
Cook: “Quarantine is new to all of us, and I know especially to my generation. It is very easy to make excuses and push off your workouts. Especially since I got injured (fully torn meniscus) and I am rehabbing, it would be an easy thing to do to make excuses, and to not put in hard work to keep my body in its best shape. Every day that I push off a workout or push off physical therapy, I know I am cheating myself and I am not going to let that happen. If I want to be the best I can, then I have to put in the effort and the time to get there. So to get through this quarantine, I have had to keep a positive mindset. You have to keep your head strong to keep your body strong. I have been going to physical therapy sessions twice a week to get my legs and knee back to where they need to be and I have been going to my trainer three times a week as he’s pushing me to my limits so that I can come back stronger. One of my favorite quotes is “Everyone wants to be a beast, until it’s time to do what real beasts do.” And I plan on being a beast. Quarantine is hard for athletes because it feels like there is nothing to do and it’s easy to push off your workouts. But if you want something for yourself then you will only get it if you work for it.”
Bridgette Gilliano is a three-sport senior at Buena who scored over 1,000 points in her basketball career, played soccer and had 151 hits in softball, finishing three hits short of the school record without a senior softball season. She will play softball at Mount St. Mary’s.
Gilliano: “During this quarantine, I‘ve been focusing on improving on the little things. Not being able to have my teammates around me as much as usual is very odd. By now, we would have accomplished so much. I’ve been training every day. My typical work out usually starts with a two-mile run. Afterwards, I lift in my basement. I’ve been really focusing on my strength in my lower half and core. I keep in contact with my team very often via Zoom, group chats and I’ve even spent some time with them together. It’s been a very hard pill to swallow that my senior year has come to an end without achieving my goals this season What helps me get through it, is that I know I’m not the only athlete who is missing out on breaking records. I’m so blessed and fortunate to continue my softball career at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland for the next four years. I can not imagine the feeling of not ever being able to play again after the short pre-season we had. My heart goes out to all athletes that are going through this. All we can do is better ourselves and hope that when this is all over we are at least able to come back stronger physically and mentally. Working out in quarantine has really helped me push myself. I use this time to make sure that I work out until I have nothing left. I feel as though there is nowhere else to exert my energy so why not give it my all and see how far I can push. I’m excited to get back onto the field with my teammates again. Hitting alone is peaceful but it definitely leaves an empty hole in my heart to not hear my coach’s or teammates’ voices. For infield I usually have balls hit to me or when that is unavailable I use the wall. That is the time I really lock in because it is just me, the wall and the softball. I’ve been training younger girls during the quarantine around my area and this has helped me grow as a player and person. It makes me happy that they can learn and get better each day.”
Karl Giulian is a three-sport senior at Middle Township – a two-way star in football, 2-time district runner-up in wrestling and jumper and thrower in track. He is headed to Stevenson University.
Giulian: “Training for Stevenson Football in the fall has not been what I thought it would be. I was expecting to be in the gym, doing some serious lifting, cardio, working legs one day, upper body another, etc. COVID-19 has changed things a bit. However, I am making the most of it. Coach (Ed) Hottle, SU Football, sends us an ‘at home workout’. It is not like being at the gym. I supplement his workout with cardio and finding places around my town to run sprints and do pull-ups. I work out with my younger brother, David, who is a rising junior at MTHS. Dave has workouts from Coach (Frank) Riggitano, MTHS football, so together we complete those and work out lifting weights as well. I am confident both of us will be ready for football in August— actually we are ready now. We just pray that we are allowed to have football this fall.”
Nicole Ortega, a Vineland senior, was one of South Jersey’s top softball pitchers. Last spring she won 17 games with a 1.68 earned run average and nearly 10 strikeouts per seven innings, all among the CAL leaders. She will go to Salisbury University.
Ortega: “If I could be anywhere right now I would choose to be on the softball field with my teammates. Unfortunately, quarantine has made that impossible for the time being, but I still get my reps in and do what I can. This quarantine has affected me in many ways, such as teaching me true dedication and what it means to be a real student-athlete. I have been keeping myself in shape by jogging around my neighborhood, doing workouts that my college sends me and getting to a field as much as possible. If there is anything I have taken away from this quarantine it is that I should never take the game for granted. I cannot wait until I can next step foot on the softball field.”
Marianna Papazoglou is a three-sport junior at Wildwood Catholic. She was an all star in soccer, played softball and has already scored over 1,000 points in basketball, where she is a three-time all star. She will attend the University of Pennsylvania but is most excited that she will get to graduate from Wildwood Catholic next year after all.
Papazoglou: “My whole goal with staying in shape is to do different things every day, so I am not just focusing on one thing. Certain days I will run long distance, or sprints. Other days I will be working out at the courts, or doing ball handling drills outside of my house. Most importantly I watch cardio videos on YouTube and workout in my living room sometimes. It is good that I participate in both soccer and basketball, because our coaches are constantly giving us workout plans to follow.”
Joe Sacco was a two-sport all star at Ocean City High School who just completed his freshmen year at Vassar College. Playing just over 17 minutes a game off the bench he led The Brewer in steals and was third in assists.
Sacco: “It’s definitely been an interesting year thus far. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been trying to stay as active as possible and consistently work on my craft. Luckily, I have adjustable dumbbells at home as well as a bench that makes at home workouts (sent from Vassar’s athletic trainer) accessible and efficient. I have been working out pretty much everyday. As for the basketball training, since every court was closed down I have been doing lots of dribbling drills.”
Kanye Udoh is a sophomore running back at St. Augustine who was sixth in rushing among backs at CAL schools despite only playing in seven games. He could not play in the first four games because he was a transfer.
Udoh: “My thoughts about the quarantine is that it changed a lot things that we are very used to doing and it’s just something that we have to get through. The way that I have been staying in shape is that I’ve been able to go to a field and do ladder drills. Another way I’ve been staying in shape is that I was able to lift with the weights I have in my house.”
Mahogany Wheeler, a senior at Millville, is one of South Jersey’s best softball players. As a junior, she was second in the CAL with a .561 batting average, led the league in home runs, was second in RBIs and was 17-2 on the mound with a 1.84 ERA. She will attend Ramapo College.
Wheeler: “During this time it has been extremely rough, not waking up every Saturday morning for travel tournaments or getting to fulfill my last senior year moments for high school softball – even not being able to wake up early in the morning just to practice. It had been a huge adjustment in my life, especially since softball is second nature to me. I was extremely upset about all these things being put on hold or even cancelled. It’s hard to find a new groove when everything was already set for me to follow. However, just because we can not play with our teammates, coaches and opposing teams at the moment does not stop me from polishing skills that I have been taught. I have a net that is tied up to two big trees in my back yard, and a rubber tee with a cinder block holding the base down. I hit just about ever other day to continue to practice. My college trainer has also sent a very long schedule with many exercises for my future college team. I do them at home to not only stay in shape but to get a little taste of what’s to come in the fall. Although times like these are very hard I am doing the best of my ability to stay in the best shape and to keep my mechanics as sharp as possible. I’m just patiently waiting for that announcement for all things to go back to normal and to step back on that field with my coaches and teammates.”
Meghan Pellegrino was an all star in soccer and lacrosse at Mainland who will attend Delaware Valley College with her twin brother, Ryan, a two-time all star in soccer.
Pellegrino: “This was supposed to be it. Our year. One last run. Every season, every practice, every moment leading up to this. The preparation in the off-season, all of the conditioning and weight lifting would finally pay off one last time. This was the chance to be a true leader. The last chance to make your mark, to leave your legacy behind in a program that had shaped and molded you into what you are and who you have yet to become. They said high school would go by fast, but they never said how quickly and abruptly it would end. Senior year is supposed to be the year where everyone looks up to you and you carry your team on your back through indescribable victory and crushing losses. We were supposed to have our Senior Day, signs, banners and balloons appreciating us. Packed sidelines, sweet spring air and nothing but pride to be representing your team would have been day to day festivities. We were supposed to enjoy pasta parties, long bus rides with blaring music and obnoxious singing, and hype pregame rituals. Banquets and awards ceremonies were supposed to be held to recognize us for the untiring work we put into our own school, to showcase our success. Some were lucky enough to experience a fall season, while the rest of our year was taken far too soon. Maybe we took these days for granted. We have been cheated of our final moments and memories on a team that has brought sheer happiness and instilled untouched gratitude to be part of something so successful. The feeling of having a whole team behind you, your family supporting you and the ability to be a voice for your school’s athletics is unlike any other. Senior year was supposed to lead us to fame and glory, it was supposed to be filled with experiences that cannot be artificially created. It was supposed to be the best season yet. But it was taken. We are left feeling voiceless, wondering what we are left with in our final moments. It feels like nothing. Who are we without our team, without our school, without our home turf? Are we simply just the number on our back, or the school showcased on our chests? Its scary to have everything you’ve ever known, and everything you’ve looked forward to taken away. But I can promise you, we are stronger than this. We are bigger than this. Student-athletes, we are more than what was given to us and far greater than the circumstances of our senior year. We are powerful, we are real, and we are on the cusp of becoming real people in this world. Being a part of a team for your school has prepared you to be brave in beginning your next chapter. Everything ended early because we already have everything we need to start fresh. We are already prepared to take on anything headed in our direction. We have had coaches make impressions on us over the years to shape us into real people, filled with respect and resiliency. Grit and grace. No amount of words could express the gratitude for our coaches and athletics directors. They simply paved the way for us. We are not defined by our current situation or by our past, but by what we make of the cards we have been dealt. We will be defined by how we will blossom into young adults capable of futures without limitations. This small bump is the first true test of our character. Our high school experience has been the best three and a half years of our lives, thanks to the people who have screamed for us on the sidelines and picked us up on the field. It has allowed us to create real relationships and to be part of something bigger than ourselves. So while this was not the outcome we wanted, the final whistle has been blown, the buzzer has signaled the end. We still must hold our heads high and do what we do best; fight. Now is our time to become something more. But now, this is our opportunity to grow and overcome, learn that we are more than a victim of circumstances. We are real people and we have become strong and powerful young adults ready to conquer the game of life.”
One more group of talented student athletes – frustrated, but making the best of a bad situation..