Area basketball players gear up for Cager Classic
A bow that ties just about every Alle-Kiski basketball season together, the Cager Classic is furnished with finality — in a good way.
For senior basketball players who get invited to take part in all-star weekend, the Cager represents one last game, performance and impression.
“It is a time when 20 area schools, their communities and families get together for what will probably be the last organized event of the student-athlete's high school basketball career,” Event organizer Tracy Edwards said. “And it's one last opportunity to see the local seniors play one more time with players they played against during their basketball careers.”
The 17th annual Cager games will be Saturday night at Highlands High School. The girls game begins at 6 p.m., with the boys immediately following.
“It's nice to be able to play again,” said Springdale forward Charlie Guy, who will play for the West team. “It's nice to get another game, whether it's with your teammates or not. I am not playing in college, so this will be my last organized game.”
Like Springdale's boys, the Kiski Area girls didn't make the WPIAL playoffs, so players from those teams are itching to play again.
They have been out of action since early February.
Kiski Area and East forward Maddie Antone is a three-sport standout who likely will play softball in college.
“I'm pretty excited; it's finally my turn to play in the Cager,” Antone said. “It's kind of weird because it's my last game. I'll be happy to get on the court again.”
Guy's West team includes three of the Alle-Kiski's top four scorers in St. Joseph Johnny Arcuri (25 ppg), Deer Lakes' Tim Jaczesko (23 ppg) and Freeport's Brendan Lynch (19 ppg), as well as SWCAC East MVP Tyler Knupp of Cheswick Christian Academy.
“I know John pretty well,” Guy said. “We've talked about the competition and having a good time.”
The East boys feature West Shamokin's Anthony Rocco (20 ppg), Kittanning's Sterling Henry (17 ppg) and Kiski Area's talented backcourt tandem of Nick Stone and Adam Robison. Arcuri, Rocco and Henry are 1,000-point scorers. Arcuri, Jaczesko and Rocco also have been picked for the Roundball Classic on April 20 at Geneva College.
West Shamokin is a new addition to the Cager.
“I was aware of the Cager Classic and have followed the highlights in the paper and on their website, but I have never gone to a game before,” said West Shamokin girls coach Judd McCullough, who will coach the East girls. “Everybody I talk to speaks very highly of the whole experience.”
West Shamokin's Mike Nagy will coach the East boys. Deer Lakes' first-year coach Jon McKay will coach the West boys.
Antone is looking forward to playing with Kiski Area and East teammate Tara Stolarski.
“She's one of my good friends, and it's great that one of my teammate will be there with me,” Antone said. “We didn't make playoffs and didn't have it all together this year. We didn't have enough time to develop with our new coach.”
If Antone has her way, she'll score a basket via Stolarski's help.
“She'll hit me in the post like old times,” Antone said.
West Shamokin standout forward Jill Glover (18 ppg) will join Antone on the East, providing a hard-to-beat post presence, while the West girls have Highlands' Nikki Misejka (18 ppg), Deer Lakes' Big 3 of Becca Babincak (18 ppg), Danielle Kearns and Nichole Kearns and Freeport's Jess Aulicino (15 ppg).
Antone, Glover and Babincak have more than 1,000 points for their careers.
Participants often refer to the Cager as “an experience.”
“The kids usually do not get the full effect of what the Cager Classic is about until they participate in the event,” Edwards said. “The response afterwards is the ‘big wow' factor; the kids and parents are so appreciative. The Cager Classic has sold out every year since its existence. With the positive reaction from the players, family members and the support of the various communities — that says it all.”
Last year's boys game saw records fall for most points by a team and player. The West put up 118, and Plum's Nolan Cressler, now a starting guard at Cornell, scored 38 points.
The boys teams broke the record for combined 3-pointers with 31. Fox Chapel's girls have produced a record 11 Cager MVPs (7 girls, 4 boys).
The annual skills competition will be 7 p.m. Friday.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.