The banner was raised before their first practice and the memories of last March are still fresh. Last spring, Moorestown’s boys basketball team collected the program’s first state title since 1959.
But it’s easy to forget that those Quakers didn’t reach their full potential until after Groundhog Day. Moorestown was 13-5 in the season’s first seven weeks. Good, but not great.
And then Moorestown became great, reeling off a 15-game winning streak that culminated with a victory over Haddonfield in the Tournament of Champions three days after claiming the Group 3 state championship.
It’s not a bad history lesson when Moorestown considers its quest to make another run in 2020. The Quakers lost nine seniors from last year’s state title team to graduation, including South Jersey Player of the Year Nick Cartwright-Atkins and 1,000-point scorer and program three-point record holder Jagger Zrada.
As Quakers head coach Shawn Anstey ran through a practice a few days before the team’s first game of the 2019-20 season, he was almost more teacher than coach, trying to get some of the younger players into the varsity flow.
“The challenge is getting all of the guys who have the experience to gel with the guys who don’t,” Anstey said. “That’s a tough process. We have a sophomore group who is getting some minutes this year and they didn’t play varsity last year, so they’re adjusting to the speed, adjusting to the physicality of the game. And our offense (will be a challenge). We’re going to take our bumps and bruises, but I think by February we’ll be good to go.”
Cartwright-Atkins, who came six points away from 1,000 points in his career, formed a foursome with Zrada and fellow three-point sharpshooters, Akhil Giri and Vinnie Caprarola that scored 1,329 of Moorestown’s 1,918 points on the season. If you do the math, that’s four seniors accounting for 69 percent of the team’s total points.
But don’t get too lost in the arithmetic and underestimate the potential of this year’s senior class.
Kevin Muhic, the Quakers standout soccer goalie who will continue that sport at Gettysburg, is entering his third varsity season after a strong junior season (he was second on last year’s team in rebounds and third in assists). Hayden Greer, who won state championships in basketball and golf as a junior, could help fill the three-point shooting left behind by last year’s senior class. Shane Knobloch, a lacrosse star committed to Rutgers, has jumped into Zrada’s role at point guard.
“The seniors we have, we’ve been playing together since third or fourth grade,” Greer said. “So we know how each other plays. We just have to incorporate a few of the younger guys. Once we figure that out (we’ll be good).”
“The talent is definitely there,” added Muhic, “it’s just getting the experience.”
Thankfully for Moorestown, the most important games won’t come in December or even January. As long as the Quakers are competitive and growing as a unit, they could once again make a run on the back half of the four-month grind that is the high school basketball season.
“We’re a scrappy, athletic team that just wants to win and doesn’t care how we do it,” Muhic said. “At the end, that will win us games more than talent sometimes. That will be important, on those days when our shots aren’t falling because we don’t have a Jagger or a Vinnie or Akhil, we still have a good mentality this year.”