They’ve outpaced the competition, sent rocketing tennis balls so quick the opponents barely knew what whizzed by them, and thrown winning touchdowns, one after another. They’ve shaken off double-teams with speed and strength. They’ve blocked so many goals the opposing offense bemoans them by name. And they’re more than ready for another season of extraordinary athletic accomplishments. We gathered some of South Jersey’s most outstanding athletes, across a broad range of sports, and found out what they’re thinking as they head into another hard-fought fall high school sports season.
Andrew Lisa (pictured), Moorestown High School Football
Lisa, a 6-foot-2 senior quarterback, threw for a school-record 2,240 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first year as the starter in 2010. After leading Moorestown to a 7-3 season and a playoff appearance, the heavily recruited QB is looking to lead the Quakers to a sectional title this fall.
What colleges have shown the most interest in you? The big football schools are Maryland, New Hampshire, Western Michigan and Kent State. The other schools I’m more likely to go to are Penn, Princeton, Harvard and Yale.… My future will probably be in the Ivy League.
Have you enjoyed the recruiting process? In the beginning it’s really fun just to be able to talk to coaches and to get letters. It kind of gets stressful toward the end because you want to make the right decision and enjoy your senior year. Overall, I’d say it’s a great experience to go through.
I’m sure you’ve been dreaming about playing college football for a long time. Was there a point when you realized you had a good chance of fulfilling that dream? Probably in eighth grade when my class was at 125 [pounds in midget football] and we won the championship. Ever since then, I’ve loved football and really wanted to play in college.
You went to the state championship last year, but didn’t go undefeated. This season, where are you looking to improve as a team? I would say confidence as a team and not looking ahead. Every game is going to be a battle. We’re ranked pretty high and everyone is going to be gunning for us, so we have to bring our A game every single snap of every single down of every single game in order to make it where we want to go.
Was there any aspect of the game you personally focused on in the offseason? Footwork, pocket presence and being able to command and lead the offense. Being able to recognize defenses and put the offense in the best situations to get first downs and score touchdowns.
How long have you been playing football, and when did you become a quarterback? I started when I was 11 or 12. Back when I first started playing I was a tight end, lineman and middle linebacker. In seventh grade, they needed a quarterback, and I knew I could throw the ball so I tried out. It just took off from there.
Which college or NFL quarterbacks do you admire? In college, this Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, just the way he controls the offense. I’ve met him: he’s a real nice guy with a good head on his shoulders. In the NFL, [Atlanta Falcons QB] Matt Ryan is probably one of my biggest role models. He has a big frame but he can control the game from a pro set, drop back and throw the ball deep.
Kaitlyn Grabert, Washington Township High School Field Hockey
As a junior, Grabert was named an all-South Jersey defender after leading the Minutemaids to a 17-5 season. And after three one-goal losses to eventual state champion Eastern, the last of those in the South Jersey semifinals, Grabert is hoping to best the state champs in her final year of high school play. Also known for her playmaking skills in the midfield, Grabert has high expectations for her senior year on the team.
Is this season going to be bittersweet since it’s your last at Washington Township? Yes. Everything you do is for the last time. Your last first scrimmage, your last first game. It’s sad, but fun at the same time.
Now that some time has passed, do you consider last season a success despite its disappointing ending? It was definitely a big year for us. We had a lot of accomplishments, even though we didn’t achieve our biggest goal of beating Eastern. But we have a lot of people coming back and it should be another great year.
What are your goals for the season? I just want us to have a good year and finish strong. When it comes to our last game, I want us to be satisfied and not look back with any regrets.
You’ve played midfield and defense in your career. Which do you prefer, and which will you be playing this season? I like midfield, and that’s mostly what I’ve been playing. I’m not really sure [what I’ll play this year] because we’ve been trying different lineups and formations.
How did you get started in field hockey in the first place? In sixth grade some of my friends were going out for the team. I had never played [an organized] sport before so I thought it might be fun. I ended up falling in love with the sport.
Your coach, Jeannine O’Connor, calls you the quarterback of the team. What does that mean to you? She’s said that to me before too. She said it’s because I have the best view of the field and I can create. I don’t score a lot, but I think I can create a lot [of opportunities] for my team, and they always help me out by finishing off the goal.
Have you become more of a leader as a senior captain? Yes and it’s a little different: Everybody is looking up to you now and you can never slack off. It’s a lot of pressure, but I like it. It makes you work even harder. I can be a vocal leader, but I’m not great at talking in big groups. I mostly lead by example.
Connor Herr, Shawnee High School Boys’ Cross Country
As a junior, Herr was one of the state’s best runners—finishing 10th at the Meet of Champions with a time of 15:58 and placing 10th at the Group 4 state meet. As a senior, he’s looking to improve on those finishes and guide the Renegades to a sectional championship. And after missing most of the spring track season with an IT band strain, he’s recovered and ready to run.
When you miss an entire season like you did last spring, does it really make you appreciate the time you have left as a high school athlete? Definitely. There was a lot I wanted to accomplish in spring track, but now I have one season left to do it.
Looking back on your cross-country season, you were able to accomplish a lot. Were you happy with last season? By the end of the season I was really happy. In the beginning I wasn’t really living up to the potential I thought I had: I wasn’t hitting the times I wanted. I just stayed patient and got a lot of long runs in, and it paid off at states and the Meet of Champions.
What are your goals for this season? For one thing, I want the team to try to win sectionals. I think we have the support we need to get that title again, like we did two years ago. That was a great feeling, so I want that to happen again: that’s my biggest goal for the season. On the individual level, I want to win sectionals. For [my race] time, I want to be closer to 15:30 at sectionals.
Running alongside a teammate like Peter Murray—a fellow senior who placed 24th in the Meet of Champions and 21st in the state Group 4 meet last year—do you guys push each other? It definitely helps. We push each other in practice. We’re friends and we ran captains’ practices together all summer. We train in between seasons together.
Does your strategy stay the same for every race? It all depends on the course and the people who are in the race. If I’m up against somebody I know is fast, like a good miler in track, I’ll try to get a big lead on them so they don’t out-kick me in the end. But if they’re more of a long-distance runner, then I try to out-kick them. And at courses like Holmdel, you have to watch out for all the hills. Holmdel is definitely rough: you have to know where all the hills are and how fast to run up them.
When did you know you had a talent for long-distance running? Back in elementary school, we used to run the 1,000 in school. I guess I did really well, and my gym teacher told my mom I should try out for the Medford Township track team. I started cross country in fifth or sixth grade.
What do you love about running? It’s good to get your mind off things. It helps me with time management, like with schoolwork. I know I have to go run after school, then when I get home I know I have to be focused on schoolwork. When I’m not running, I have all this extra time that I just throw away.
Do you plan on running in college, and where do you think that might be? I know I want to run in college.... I like Cornell, that’s where my old teammate goes, Dave Forward. And I really like Duke University—I just visited there a couple of weeks ago. Those are my top choices right now.
Mike Ryan, Cherokee High School Boys’ Soccer
One of the best scorers in South Jersey, Ryan found the back of the net 24 times last year as a junior, one short of the school record for a season. He also had seven assists and led Cherokee to the Group 4 state championship, the second state title in program history and the first since 2000.
You suffered a pretty bad left ankle sprain early in the summer. How does it feel now? I was playing club soccer and some kid took me out and I just rolled it. I was out four or five weeks, but I’ve recovered 100 percent.
Obviously last year was a huge year for the team and you personally. Were you satisfied with your season? I had a lot of goals, but when it comes down to it I’d rather win the game than get goals. It’s fun to get records and all that, but the team comes first.
Since you brought it up, what would it mean to get the school record for goals in a season? It would mean a lot, to be one of the top scorers for Cherokee. Like I said, the team comes first, but it’s in the back of my head.
You played with another great forward last year, Dave Schlatter. How different is it going to be now that he’s graduated? We did work really well together. But Jason Speaker, who also plays on my club team, is up there now and we work well together, too. We’ll probably have a good season together.
Have you always been a scorer? Yeah, I’ve always played forward and scored goals. I feel like I can read the game very well. It just comes natural to me.
When did you start playing soccer? I think the first year I started was when I was 7. My dad played through college and he’s still coaching, so he got me started at a young age. He coaches our club team [the Marlton Lightning Red].
What’s it like playing for him? Is he extra hard on you because you’re his son? When I was younger he was hard on me, but now he just gives me that look like, “You better step it up.” He’s a good coach; he knows what he’s doing.
Have you made a college decision yet? I verbally committed to Temple in June, right before school ended. They have a good soccer program. I’m looking to go for business and they have a really good business school.
Despite losing some key players from last year, is this year’s team capable of winning another state championship? Yeah, I think we have the talent. Last year when we went into the season we didn’t think we were a state championship team. But over the season we started becoming a family and we fought for each other. I think we can do that again, but it is harder to repeat.
Was winning the state championship your best moment in soccer? That and my club team won the U.S. club nationals last summer, so that was pretty nice.
As a senior at Cherokee, are you becoming more of a leader? Yes. Me and Barry Fitzgerald were named captains, so that’s making me be more respectful and more of a leader. You have to be loyal, determined and willing to do anything to help the team.
Jade Dixon, Eastern High School Field Hockey
Considered one of the best young players in the area, Dixon burst onto the South Jersey scene last year by scoring 30 goals as a freshman. After helping the Vikings to their 12th straight Group 4 state championship and a 26-1 season—losing only in the Tournament of Champions finals—Dixon is hoping to guide Eastern back to the Tournament of Champions this year.
What’s it like being part of a program that’s expected to be the best in the area every year? It’s a great program with a lot of history and a lot of tradition. It’s really great to be a part of it.
Do you ever feel the pressure of those expectations? There’s pressure, but I think as a team we handle it well. We just go out and play hard every game. It gives us something to work hard for.
What kind of personal goals have you set for yourself for this season? Well, the team comes first, and if my stats come, they come. I’m more worried about the team.
Have you always been a goal scorer? I’ve always been a forward, so I’ve always gotten a lot of opportunities to score. I get [my goals] from a mixture of things. Some come off penalty corners.
Were you surprised to have so much success last year as a freshman? Yeah, I was surprised. There was a lot of pressure last year coming into such a great program and starting as a freshman. This year there’s a little less pressure because I’m getting used to it. I’m part of it now.
How did you first get involved in the sport? I started playing field hockey the summer going into fifth grade. I went to Berlin Community School and played there. I also played softball, basketball and lacrosse. [But] I just loved field hockey. My aunt [Jackie Dixon] used to play at Eastern, and she helped get me into it.
Who are some of the people you look up to in field hockey? On this year’s team, obviously my coach, Coach [Danyle] Heilig. The [current] players I look up to are Alana Barry, Carly Celkos and Julia Osisek. Last year, Cori Allen I really looked up to. She helped me out a lot.
What’s it like playing for Coach Heilig? It’s intense but she’s a great coach. We’re really lucky to be coached by her.
Frantz Felix, Cherry Hill High School East Football
A 5-foot-11 senior lineman, Felix enjoyed a stellar 2010 season on the defensive side of the ball. He was named first-team all-conference and defensive MVP for Cherry Hill East. His focus now is improving the Cougars’ one-win season from a year ago—a goal accomplished within the season’s first two games, both wins. Felix hopes that’s just the start of a turnaround season to come.
Obviously last season was disappointing. Do you think the team will turn things around in 2011? I definitely feel we’re going to improve. I personally went to several camps over the summer and I’ve definitely improved as a football player. We had a lot of energy going into camp because we don’t want to have the same season as last year. I think we have 26 letter winners coming back, so we should be pretty good.
Will you be starting on both the offensive and defensive lines again this year? So far I’m just playing defense. They want to keep me fresh so I have more energy during the game. I was fine with it: I’m trying to primarily focus on defense. But if they ever need me on offense I know all the plays like the back of my hand and I’ll be right back there.
How did you get started in football? I always played after school with kids in middle school and I always told people I played football. I went out and tried it [freshman year] and I loved it. When I first came out I wanted to play wide receiver. I didn’t really know anything about football, and I wanted to be one of the glory guys who catches the ball and scores the touchdowns. But I found out that playing line is just as rewarding.
Was last season your breakout year? Yeah, definitely. I played end my first two years but they switched me to nose guard because I got a lot bigger, and I really excelled at that.
You really showed a burst off the line last year. Is your speed your biggest strength on defense? Yeah, my speed and I’m a pretty strong guy. I’m definitely not the tallest guy around but I think I have a lot of leverage.
Is there anybody you try to model your game after? I always go on the Internet to find undersized linemen. People always tell me that I’d be better off as a fullback or linebacker because linemen are usually from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-6. There’s not many linemen under 6 foot, so that gives me more motivation. Michael Vick is really short for a quarterback, so that’s motivation right there. If you think you can do it, then work yourself to that point. Don’t let height be a factor.
There’s a YouTube video of your highlights from last season. Have you gotten any response to that? I have two [Division III] schools and one D-I school interested in me. Rochester University really wants me. They said they’re losing eight linemen, so I’d be going to a great situation. Fairleigh Dickinson, they liked my tape too.
What are your goals for your final season at Cherry Hill East? I definitely want to make first team all-South Jersey if I can. Last year I didn’t expect to make all-conference or all-group, I just played as hard as I could. Now I’m shooting for the stars. For the team, I would like to go undefeated. Everybody wants to say that, but I definitely want to give people a run for their money, because everybody says we’re going to lose our conference.
Last year you snuck up on a lot of people, but now you’re well known. Is that going to be added pressure? I don’t really think there’s added pressure. If they’re going to double-team me, I’ve beaten most teams’ double-teams. I don’t think there’s much they can do.
Taylor Ng, Haddonfield Memorial High School Girls’ Tennis
The South Jersey Player of the Year in both of her first two scholastic seasons, the junior went 39-4 last year. She captured Colonial Conference, Camden County and South Jersey Interscholastic titles as a sophomore.
You went 39-4 last year. How often do you think about the four losses? Honestly, not very much. Normally after the matches I lose, I think about what I did wrong and what I can do better the next time. Maybe my serve or my footwork were off. I think it can be a positive experience [to lose], not something that’s going to hold me back.
Haddonfield is replacing several players who graduated, including your older sister Spencer. What do you think it’s going to be like without her on the team? A little strange. It’s nice having a sister on the team. I think all three of our seniors who graduated provided great leadership. They’ll definitely be missed and hard to replace. But we have the Senopoulos sisters [Catherine and Rebecca], who are also great leaders, and I think I can take on more of a leadership role this season.
What does leadership mean in a sport like tennis? I think leadership can be vocal and also by example. Leadership is going out there and showing that you’ll never give up and trying to make an impact on the other players. Show them that there’s always another match and you can always improve. That’s the most important part of leadership, and also picking each other up.
Your sister Spencer owns the school record with 140 wins, which will certainly be in your reach in the next two years. Is the record something you think about? I think about it sometimes, but it’s really not of the greatest importance to me. It’s a great record, but I think if I’m improving, that will be satisfactory to me. Winning the most matches or having that number is not all that important.
Allison Johnson, Lenape High School Girls’ Soccer
The South Jersey Player of the Year in 2010, this three-year starter at goalie led Lenape to a 23-1-2 season that included the Group 4 state championship. Last season, she recorded 14 shutouts and had a .33 goals-against average.
Has it sunk in yet what a historic season you personally had in 2010? I mostly thank my defense, because it definitely wasn’t all me. I didn’t really get that many shots last year and I can thank my defense for that. I can thank my defense for all of my accomplishments.
When you became the starting goalie as a sophomore, what was the adjustment like being in that position for one of the best teams in the state? I’m pretty shy, so the coaches would always get on me about talking to my defense. They expected a lot of me my sophomore year. I had to step up.
Now that you’re a senior do you feel more comfortable in that leadership role? Now I’m used to everyone, and I feel like I can talk to my players and they’ll listen. I’m more confident now, and I’m definitely more of a leader.
What do you like most about being in net? A lot of people don’t get this, but I like having the pressure on me. I like when people have to rely on me. I love PKs, [that is, penalty kicks]. I’ll take any goalie one-on-one in PKs. Not a lot of goalies will say that.
Have you made a college decision yet? I’m still weighing it. I have no idea where I want to go. I’ve had schools look at me but I really don’t know where I want to go. I don’t care what division, but I definitely want to play.
What are your goals for your last year at Lenape? Last year we let in 11 goals. My goal for this year is to let in less than eight. We definitely want to win a state championship and the Coaches Tournament, the same as last year.
A look at some of the other players we expect to stand out this season from across the tri-county area.
Claire Bennett, Cherokee girls’ volleyball: An all-South Jersey outside hitter, the senior had 72 kills and 22 digs a year ago.
Marissa Cutry, Shawnee field hockey: An all-South Jersey defender as a sophomore, she led the Renegades to an 18-3 record and a sectional championship.
Courtney Kovac, Lenape girls’ soccer: This midfielder was named all-South Jersey as a junior after recording 12 goals and eight assists for the Group 4 state champs.
Emily McGee, Lenape girls’ cross country: McGee is coming off an impressive freshman season, in which she placed fourth in Group 4 in South Jersey and 16th in the state.
Grace Streicher, Cherokee girls’ volleyball: The senior was named all-South Jersey for the second straight year after posting 83 kills, 360 assists and 49 service points.
Jarred Alwan, Camden Catholic football: An all-South Jersey linebacker as a sophomore, he had 104 tackles, three sacks and two defensive touchdowns a year ago.
Alana Barry, Eastern field hockey: A senior goalie, Barry was named to the all-state team after posting a 26-1 record with 19 shutouts last year in leading the Vikings to their 12th straight state championship.
Holly Bischof, Bishop Eustace girls’ cross-country: This senior took second at the Meet of Champions and the Non-Public A state meet and won the South Jersey Open in 2010.
Katie Johnston, Haddonfield girls’ soccer: The all-South Jersey midfielder scored 13 goals as a junior, including five game-winners.
Elliott McCummings, Gloucester Catholic football: As a junior wide receiver last year, McCummings had 44 catches for 529 yards and five touchdowns.
Jamie Silverberg, Cherry Hill East girls’ tennis: The senior first singles player is coming off a 32-3 season and is 101-7 for her career.
Madison Tiernan, Eastern girls’ soccer: One of the most explosive scorers in South Jersey, the junior has 32 career goals and has already accepted a scholarship to Rutgers.
Maddie Graziani, Woodbury girls’ tennis: An all-South Jersey singles player, this junior has won the Gloucester County title two years in a row.
Kevin McCollick, Washington Township boys’ soccer: An all-Gloucester County defender in 2010, this senior is the leader of a talented Minutemen back line.
Joe Moffa, Delsea football: The senior was named all-South Jersey as an offensive lineman and is looking to help the Crusaders reach the South Jersey championship game for the fourth straight year.
Jamil Pollard, West Deptford football: A dominant two-way lineman, this Division I recruit should once again be a difference-maker for one of the top teams in the area.
Idi Uffen, Williamstown girls’ volleyball: After being named all-South Jersey second team for the Group 4 state champs, this junior has the chance to become one of the best middle hitters in the state.
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 7 (October, 2011).
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