Impact of Moorestown boys basketball’s state title goes beyond the basketball court

The Moorestown community rallied together to support the team throughout its playoff run, which culminated in the program’s first state title since 1959.

Moorestown High School’s boys basketball team poses with the Group 3 state championship photo on Sunday, March 10. The Quakers beat Ramapo for their first state championship in 60 years.

The story of Moorestown High School boys basketball’s 2019 Group 3 state championship can’t be told in just box scores and game stories.

The impact of the Quakers’ achievement goes far beyond the basketball court. Prior to this season, Moorestown boys basketball hadn’t won a state championship since 1959. This year, the Quakers ended a 60-year drought, and in doing so captured the imagination of residents across the township.

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Moorestown’s 2019 championship team was built differently than many other top teams around the state. Most of the team consisted of multi-sport athletes whose main focus was on a sport other than basketball. Head coach Shawn Anstey mentioned how none of the Quakers’ graduating senior players will go on to play basketball in college.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Anstey said. “For that to happen shows what kind of athletes these guys are. For them to succeed in this sport and not play it year-round is really impressive.”

The core of this year’s team was extremely tight, with many of the seniors having played with each other since fourth grade. Senior Jagger Zrada said that familiarity was crucial.

“We played through Moorestown travel,” Zrada said. “We knew each other on the court and that chemistry helped us.”

“We love each other,” senior Nick Cartwright-Atkins added. “We play for each other. We never play for ourselves, you can tell by our stats.”

Statistics showed a team where anyone could score on any given night. Six players scored more than 100 points in 2018–19 for Moorestown and no one averaged more than 15 points per game.

“It shows how we were a team,” Zrada said. “If you have guys who want to do everything for themselves, you’re not going to go far.”

The championship run wasn’t about flashy play either. The Quakers prided themselves on playing fundamentally sound basketball. Junior Kevin Muhic said fundamentals are something the team has always stressed.

“It’s stuff we’ve been taught since freshman year, with JV or varsity,” Muhic said. “At the end of the practices, we’re always shooting free throws or working on passes to the outside shoulder, the small stuff.”

With a strong senior class, Moorestown realized it had the potential to make the 2018–19 season special. Zrada said there was some pressure at times on the team, but credited the support from the community and having home court advantage in the playoffs for boosting the team’s confidence. Moorestown earned the №1 seed in South Jersey Group 3 after finishing the regular season with a 21–5 record.

“We were able to get the №1 seed again this year,” Zrada said. “(The fans) always come out to support us. I think it was just a fun experience.”

Cartwright-Atkins said the support in the community was unlike anything he ever experienced.

“I remember times where I’d be at Chick-fil-A or any restaurant and people would come up and say, ‘Great job at the game,’” Cartwright-Atkins said.

“Just being around town and seeing little kids and people who wouldn’t otherwise recognize you, just high-fiving or talking to you is really cool,” Muhic added.

The support surrounding the team was evident throughout Moorestown’s playoff run. Anstey noted the stands were full for all four of the Quakers’ home playoff games in the South Jersey Group 3 tournament, which ended with a 61–43 Moorestown win over Mainland Regional High School in the sectional final on March 5. Two nights later, Moorestown had many of its fans make the drive to Brick Township to watch the Quakers defeat Wall Township, 64–44, in the Group 3 state semifinals. Then, on March 10, for the Group 3 state championship game, a large Moorestown contingent traveled to Rutgers University to cheer the Quakers on to a 58–44 win over Ramapo High School and witness history.

“To have over 2,000 people from the community at Rutgers and make that a home game for us there, it was phenomenal,” Anstey said.

When Moorestown arrived home that evening from the state championship game, they were greeted by the Moorestown Fire Department and dozens of thrilled fans as they received a fire truck escort back to the high school.

“We paraded through Main Street and the turnout there was great,” Zrada said. “There were parents, kids, just waving, people coming out of their houses to cheer us on as we went through the town.”

The support for the team continued all the way through the end of the season as Moorestown defeated Haddonfield Memorial High School, 60–59, in a matchup between the only state champions from South Jersey in the Tournament of Champions quarterfinals.

“That was like the cherry on top for the season,” Anstey said about the win over Haddonfield. “Winning TOC games and winning state championship games is very hard to do. That was like the championship game for us.”

Moorestown’s run ended in the Tournament of Champions semifinals with a 62–40 loss against Ranney School, the top team in New Jersey. Nearly one week after that loss, however, the team’s season remained fresh on everyone’s minds. Wanting to give back to the community, the team wrote a letter to the community thanking them for all of their support. Anstey believes the team’s run served as an inspiration to many, especially the younger basketball players in town.

“After this year, with the run we made and the history we made and the way the kids support our team and the adults, we’re hoping to generate a bigger buzz about basketball in our town,” Anstey said.

Moorestown will lose a large chunk of this year’s varsity team to graduation, but the players vowed to keep in touch and stay together even as they go their separate ways to college.

“We have a group chat, we’re still talking about it,” Cartwright-Atkins said. “No matter what it is, we’re going to remember that.”

“I’m hoping they come back,” Anstey said. “I’m hoping they come back and visit our teams in the future. Once that number gets up on the banner, that legacy is there. These kids made history with Moorestown basketball.”

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