Multi-talented high school athletes placing emphasis on one sport
It's not that Celina Sanks of Knoch, Kiski Area's Brent Kennedy and Fox Chapel's Elly Wagner dislike basketball. Admittedly, they all miss playing for their high school teams.
And Kiski Area's Matt McCutcheon still has fond memories of playing baseball — he knows exactly where his glove is in the family garage.
It comes down to time and commitment.
A number of local athletes have the talent to shine in more than one sport, but many of them have shelved one to focus solely on another.
The specialized plans have passed with flying colors — in the form of Division I college scholarships.
“I am still doing our stats,” said Wagner, who gave up basketball to focus on a college softball career as a catcher at North Carolina. “The first game was the roughest for me to watch.”
Wagner plans to enroll early at UNC. Her first classes are Jan. 9.
“I still lift and run with the (basketball) team,” she said. “My travel team is out in New Jersey, and I have been able to train with them during the winter.”
McCutcheon, another highly regarded power-hitting catcher who probably could have played in college, quit baseball to concentrate exclusively on wrestling.
The result: a full wrestling scholarship to Penn State, which has one of the country's top programs.
“I am amazed at how hard Matt has worked to up his game,” Kiski Area wrestling coach Chuck Tursky said. “Some guys accomplish something and lay off. Not Matt.”
Quitting baseball, McCutcheon said, took his wrestling to another level.
“I still have a catch once in a while,” said McCutcheon, who won a state title as a junior. “Baseball isn't gone forever. I picked wrestling because I enjoy it more. I wanted to be the best in my weight class and I needed the extra time to get there. I wouldn't be where I am now, with the practice over the summer, if I was still playing baseball.”
McCutcheon has risen to No. 1 in the 195-pound weight class in the national Intermat rankings.
Juniors Sanks and Kennedy also are chasing Division I scholarships by way of specialization. Sanks has devoted her time to volleyball, while Kennedy's focus on cross country and track has made him one of the top runners in the country.
“I was actually kind of surprised when she said she wasn't playing basketball,” Knoch volleyball coach Diane Geist said. “There was no coercion on my part. I don't encourage the girls to just play one sport.
“Celina is very mature and driven, and knows what she wants.”
Sanks plays for the Pittsburgh Elite club team, which has extensive winter practices.
“Playing year-round is going to improve my game for next year and help with my pursuit of playing college volleyball,” Sanks said. “I am always trying to improve and step up my game. Volleyball is a game of mistakes.”
Sanks has college interest from UNC-Wilmington, Lafayette, Juniata, Georgetown and Boston College, among others.
Kennedy recently competed in the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships in San Diego, an event reserved for the nation's top 40 boys and girls runners.
Kennedy still plays basketball for St. Gertrude's, a CYO team from Vandergrift, but doesn't have to put in the practice time he did with the Kiski Area varsity.
More time to run means more time to improve.
“That's the idea,” Kennedy said. “I am still getting the competition in basketball. Last year, I would run after (Kiski Area basketball) practice. That was taxing. Now I can get in more running and train.”
At the national meet, Kennedy heard he has interest from Syracuse and Villanova.
Highlands' Allan Cratsenberg and Burrell's Kami Kaczanowicz, meanwhile, also chose to hone their talents in one sport — sort of.
Despite reaching the PIAA individual wrestling tournament last season, Cratsenberg put away his head gear and singlet and opted to play basketball instead. His goal is to play Division I college football, and the star junior linebacker could very well get his chance.
He thought giving up wrestling would give him more time to prepare for football, without having to worry about a fluctuation in his weight.
Kaczanowicz surrendered basketball when she began high school to give track a full-time effort. Although she plays volleyball in the fall, she competes in indoor track and trains in the winter.
“My training is six days a week,” said Kaczanowicz, a junior. “I have to give 100 percent to track. If I was trying to juggle both sports, I believe I wouldn't excel.
“In either sport, my time would be divided. My dream has always been to run in college, so this is the best way to make that come true.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.