Varsity Xtra: Let's play 2 ... or 3 -- Multi-sport athletes on rise in WPIAL


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Attend school all day.

Immediately afterward, go to tennis practice or a match until 5 p.m. or later.

Go right from tennis to a volleyball practice or match until 8 or 8:30.

Welcome to Samantha Amos' life as a freshman at Upper St. Clair High School.

"It's crazy," Amos said.

But Amos has plenty of company in this "crazy" world.

While this is supposed to be the age of high school teenagers specializing in one sport and while the number of two- and three-sport athletes at most schools are declining, Amos is the exception. Not only is she playing two sports, but she is playing two in the same season -- tennis and volleyball.

Amos, though, actually is part of what seems to be a growing trend, at least in the WPIAL. More and more athletes are turning a "double play" -- participating in two sports in the same season. And we're not talking about the soccer player who practices once during the week with the football team and then kicks Friday nights. That has been going on for decades.

There are a number of district athletes who are participating full-time in two sports this fall. Heck, Yough's Dan Turnsek is turning a triple play -- competing in three sports at Yough. He is a cross-country runner, soccer player and kicker on the football team.

Who said the days of two- and three-sport athletes are dwindling?

"It has definitely been difficult at times," said Amos, who just turned 15 Wednesday. "But it keeps you busy and keeps you out of trouble. I wouldn't picture it any other way, and I am so happy I decided to play both. I really love both sports. Plus, I really wanted to support my high school and playing two sports helps my high school."

Kids are playing two sports this fall at large schools and small schools -- from Class AAAA public school Baldwin to small, private school Geibel Catholic. Here are a few of the two-sport athletes:

• Baldwin's Alicia Mastroianni is playing soccer and running cross country. Only three days ago, she ran in a cross-country meet at Trinity in Washington County, then jumped into a car with her father and drove back to Baldwin for an evening soccer practice.

• Moon's Ciara Cavit is participating in volleyball and cross country.

• Ellwood City's Reed Kegel is playing tennis and soccer.

• Brownsville has three athletes playing two sports -- Tyler Legros (football and soccer), Maris Seto (volleyball and tennis) and Jillian Sabatula (volleyball and soccer).

• Geibel forfeited its first two football games this year because it didn't have enough players. So soccer players Bailey McIntyre, Matt Mammarella and Jarek Allen joined the football team just last week and played Friday night. McIntyre, the soccer team's leading scorer, and Mammarella played the entire game on offense and defense and Mammarella scored a touchdown. Allen had an interception and fumble recover on defense. They will continue to play both sports the rest of the season.

• Oakland Catholic's Addy McEvoy is playing golf and running cross country.

• North Hills' C.J. Paulauskas is playing golf and running cross country.

And some of these athletes are standouts in at least one of their sports. Have you ever heard of a Division I college football quarterback recruit who also played soccer in the same season? It is highly unusual, but it happened at Monessen, where West Virginia University football recruit Chavas Rawlins also played for Monessen's soccer team. He played both sports last year and also for a while this season, until recently deciding to give up soccer.

"I just think he knows where his bread is buttered and I think he just wants to do as much as he can with football right now," said Monessen football coach Andy Pacak.

But Rawlins' younger brother, Justice, a junior at Monessen continues to play football and soccer. He already has a few Division I scholarship offers for football.

Upper St. Clair's Amos is a 6-foot-2 freshman who plays at a high level in volleyball. In tennis, she plays No. 1 doubles with Kristin Stemmler.

Ellwood City's Kegel won a section championship in singles tennis a few weeks ago.

At Baldwin, Mastroianni has been a starter on the girls soccer team since her freshman year and has been the leading scorer the past two seasons. She also runs cross country and finished 74th out of 288 runners (top fourth of all competitors) last year as a sophomore at the WPIAL Class AAA championships.

"I've played soccer my whole life," Mastroianni said. "I've always kind of been into running, but never as a sport. A lot of my friends told me I should join cross country, so I just decided to do both."

It takes a lot to participate in more than one sport in the same season. First, it takes a dedicated, committed athlete. But it also takes cooperation from coaches, athletic directors and parents. It also might take a little luck.

For example, Amos said she is able to participate in volleyball and tennis at Upper St. Clair only because everything with volleyball happens at night (practices and games) while everything with tennis is after school.

"My husband [Bryan] and I were not for her doing both sports originally," said Jody Amos, Stephanie's mother. "But she really wanted to do it. Originally, the athletic director [Matt Mellinger] thought it was crazy, too.

"But both coaches came together and said, 'Listen, we don't want to lose her and we're willing to share her the best we can.' So she's playing both.

"She has had some kind of ball in her hands since she was 3. I know most parents would tell their child to pick one sport by this time. But I couldn't do that to her. As much as I might believe it might make sense to focus on one sport, I don't want her in later years to come back to my husband and I and say 'You made me pick one.' As long as she's able to keep her grades up, we're OK, although it is crazy at times."

The time and energy it takes to play two sports in one season can be hard to fathom. Yough's Turnsek played soccer and was a kicker on the football team a year ago -- not an unusual combo. This year, he added cross country.

He goes to cross country and soccer practices every day during the week after school. But every Thursday, and sometimes Wednesdays, Turnsek will also go to football practice to work on his kicking. On those days, school ends at 2:30, and he will run a mile or so with the cross-country team until 3:15. The cross-country course is at the school.

"Our cross-country coach is nice enough to let me miss a little bit of cross country, so I'll go to football and kick until maybe 3:45," Turnsek said. "Then I'll go back to cross country and run maybe another 2 miles. Then I'll go to soccer practice from 4:30 to 6.

"The hard days are like [this past Tuesday]. I go to school at 7 in the morning. I had a cross-country meet after school and then we had a soccer game at night. So I didn't get home until about 9:30 at night. But I love sports. It's a lot to do, but I'm always having fun when I'm there."

Baldwin's Mastroianni will usually run 30 to 40 miles for cross-country practice during the week and also attend soccer practices or games six days a week.

A few obvious questions concerning these "two-sport" athletes are how are their grades, what are their eating habits like and does playing two sports take a toll on a teenager's body?

"My dinners aren't usually that great," Turnsek said with a laugh.

"I'll take a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with me or some Nutri-Grain bars to eat at some point."

Jody Amos laughed when she said, "Samantha has food in bags everywhere."

As for the grades, Jody Amos said, "We wouldn't let her do it if she didn't keep her grades up."

So far, Samantha Amos is getting all A's and B's. Turnsek's grade-point average is 97 percent. Mastroianni also is an A-B student.

"You better be able to manage your time and you have to be smart about it," Turnsek said.

Critics might say athletes such as Amos, Turnsek and Mastroianni are simply more examples of high school sports getting out of control. Pacak is not a fan of an athlete playing two sports in the same season. He believes they are more prone to injuries.

"I know we're a small school and you have to try and share athletes," Pacak said. "My concern isn't them missing a practice or something. The phrase you hear a lot now is recovery time.

"If you play a soccer game Thursday, you have less than 24 hours before you play a football game Friday. Last year, almost every kid we had playing football and soccer got hurt, with the exception of Chavas. You can never attribute that to playing the two sports, but it's just a concern."

Samantha Amos and Mastroianni both said they don't plan to stop being a "two-sport" athlete in the same season.

"You'll give up social events to play two sports," Amos said. "But if you like both like I do, you can do whatever you want. You can't use excuses like your parents are making you do it or coaches are pushing you.

"You have to have a passion inside of you to do it."

Mastroianni said, "Everyone asks me how I do it and if I'm crazy.

"But I like doing both."

hsother

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh.


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