Glory Days file photo/Sully

By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
Remember that movie “Oblivion” starring Tom Cruise? The one with the post-apocalyptic landscape? It probably feels a bit like that in the halls of Middle Township High School these days. For the first time in years, there no longer is a Herlihy roaming the halls — and dominating for multiple sports teams.
Kate Herlihy graduated in June and is beginning her college basketball career at Rowan University, and the shoes she left behind to fill by some senior this year might as well be clown shoes. There simply is no way to replace a student-athlete like Herlihy, who not only was one of the best players in South Jersey in three sports, but also one of the best teammates and leaders. She’s the last of a line of Herlihys that include older sisters Summer and Jenna and older brother Brian, and that family has left an indelible mark on Panthers sports history.
And Kate, the youngest, may have been the best of them all. Glory Days Magazine’s Girls Sports Senior of the Year was a 100-goal scorer in field hockey, a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and she also scored more than 50 goals in her lacrosse career. She likely would have scored more than 100 goals in lacrosse but played only two seasons, as she ran track as a freshman and her junior season was wiped out due to Covid-19. She also graduated as one of the top 20 students at Middle and was involved in multiple community service projects throughout her career.
“I had a very successful career, not only in sports, but in school, and I think that’s because I’ve always been pushed really hard to do my best,” Herlihy said. “I’ve had really good teammates, really good coaches, really good teachers — everybody at Middle wants you to do your best and achieve your potential. From the beginning they saw potential in me and did whatever they could to help me.”
“I coached Jenna and now Kate, so that’s eight years we’ve had one of them involved in our program. You look back at some of the names in our program and you literally spend eight, 10, 12 years with some families, when you think back to the Ruskeys, the Hunters, the Nelsons, the Sides — these are families that their kids grew up with my kids,” said Middle girls basketball coach John Leahy. “You spend a lot of time with certain families, and obviously Kate has been a special player and a huge part of our success. She is the full package when you talk about what a student-athlete is supposed to be like. She’s impacted more than just basketball — obviously in field hockey and lacrosse she’s been a huge part of their programs. She’s involved in multiple community service things and she’s in the top 15 in her class. She’s the definition of what a student-athlete is supposed to be. We’re all going to miss her. It’s been great to see her improve and grow and just get better and better as her career has gone on.
“It’s a credit to their parents and the support they have, for sure,” Leahy added. “A lot of these kids, from an early age, are really driven to do well in the classroom. In a sense they are just as competitive in the classroom as they are on a field or on a court. They understand the importance of it. And I think athletics teaches you so much. The first thing you learn when you come in as a freshman and want to play a fall sport is you learn how to manage your time really quickly. If you don’t manage your time, you’re going to struggle if you want to play sports. Athletics teaches them so much and I think our staff does a good job in stressing how important academics are. Kate has been an outstanding student, and if you take a look at the top 20 or 25 kids in every class, I’ll guarantee you that three-quarters of them are multi-sport athletes. I think athletics teaches them a lot.”
Some kids are just born to be leaders, and Herlihy certainly fits that mold. She was the one her teammates — on every team she played for — looked to when the going got tough, to make a big play that could turn the tide of a game.
“It was a very big responsibility,” Herlihy said of being a team captain on multiple teams. “I’ve never been a super outgoing person but I didn’t really have a choice, I kind of had to be a leader. But it was nice to not only get pushed but also to push other people and see my teammates getting better. I played hard because I wanted our whole team to play hard. I wanted everyone to be good and us pushing each other was very important.
“All my siblings — my brother Brian and sister Summer, they are the two oldest and they were both really good athletes at Middle, as well as Jenna,” she added. “All of them really helped me from childhood become a good athlete because we’d always be playing different sports. I would always lose when we played one-on-one and it would frustrate me, but it made me better.”
“There’s no question she has really learned a lot and improved over the years. She came in as a freshman and we basically handed her the keys to the car and said, ‘go ahead, you’re driving.’ And that’s not easy. Point guard might be the hardest spot to do that in but she has learned a lot and we’ve all grown together. She’s really developed into not only a tremendous athlete, but she’s just a really nice young lady and I’m sure whatever she does in life she’ll be successful,” Leahy said. “I don’t think there’s any question she was the best player in our league. It’s impressive. She has a lot of natural ability, and obviously the athleticism and instincts, and she’s a naturally competitive kid. She’s also a kid who during the season puts in a lot of time working on her body and strength and being in top condition. And during field hockey season she’d try to find an hour here or there to work on basketball skills. To be one of the elite kids in our school — and really in South Jersey — and be a three-sport athlete is pretty impressive.”
Herlihy no doubt will have a successful career at Rowan, and in the years to come she’ll have closest full of memories and trophies to look back on and reflect about her athletic career. But to her, she said, the biggest impact was always the people she was succeeding with in all those different sports.
“My major milestones, like hitting 100 goals in field hockey and 1,000 points in basketball. I could replay those moments in my mind over and over,” Herlihy said. “And the playoff games stand out a lot, like the (basketball) playoff game against Manchester, even though we got crushed it was fun to play a team that was so insanely good. There were so many big games, and all those practices with my friends. I’ll go to work and see all kinds of people I played with or against and it’s funny sometimes how small the world is and how big of an impact that school had on me. It had a huge impact on my life.
“It’s fun to have so many good things happen to me, especially my senior year. It was a blessing.”
Leahy said Herlihy and her exploits in the black-and-orange won’t soon be forgotten. She’ll continue to have an impact on Middle Township athletics, even now that she’s gone.
“There’s no question she’s a kid we’ll be talking about for years,” he said. “She might get embarrassed when you talk about it, but she has no idea the impact she has made on some of the grade school kids who are playing basketball right now. I coach a lot of the younger kids, we have camps, and they see her play — they see girls like Kira Sides and Maddie Barber, and girls like them throughout the years — and they are inspired to work harder and be better so they can experience the success these types of girls have had. Barber is a great example. She’s starting at Temple lacrosse. She walked on, as a freshman, and now she’s starting at a Division I lacrosse program. You look back at the career she had a Middle, and we like to think that all of that has helped her attain one of her goals in college. There’s no question these kids are having a tremendous impact on the nex t generation of athletes to come through Middle.”

Candidates:
Lauren Baxter, Egg Harbor Township soccer, basketball:
Baxter battled injuries throughout her career but when healthy was one of the most important players in the EHT girls soccer program, and the school’s best girls basketball player. She exemplified leadership and commitment.
Haleigh Schafer, Absegami soccer, basketball, lacrosse: Schafer was one of the top all-around athletes in the Cape-Atlantic League during her career and was a CAL All-Star in multiple sports. She excelled on the basketball court, where she led the Braves to a 10-1 record this past winter and was one of the top scorers in the league. She also was a prominent scoring attack player in lacrosse.
Sophia Pasquale, Holy Spirit tennis, basketball, softball: One of the most underrated athletes in the league, Pasquale was the heart-and-soul of a girls basketball program that completely rebuilt itself during her high school career. She also was an outstanding tennis player, and even joined the cheerleading squad as a senior. One of the best students to come out of Holy Spirit in recent years.
Abby Gunnels, Cedar Creek basketball, softball: During the basketball season, Gunnels helped guide a rebuilding effort with a lot of young players, and in softball all she did was finish with 100-plus career hits while leading the Pirates to a sectional championship.
Bailey and Brooke Dickenson, Vineland softball: These twins both fought through devastating knee injuries during their careers but despite that were able to become some of the league’s best players their senior year. They became the face of Vineland softball, one of the top Group 4 teams in South Jersey, during their high school careers.
Casey Biglan, Egg Harbor Township soccer: She played defense her entire career, which may have been why she was overlooked, but perhaps the most valuable player for a program that continues to shine as one of the CAL’s best. With Biglan leading the way, EHT’s defense was one of the best in South Jersey.
Haley Korsak, Egg Harbor Township softball: Not only was she one of the best pitchers in South Jersey, but a true, gritty competitor who helped set the standard for the new generation of Eagles softball stars.


Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sullyglorydays@gmail.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays