While the multi-sport high school athlete is becoming less and less common in today’s age of specialization, that trend isn’t quite as widespread in places such as Union County, which has a large contingent of Class 1A and 2A schools. With smaller student bodies than their Class 3A and 4A counterparts such as Sun Valley, Weddington, Porter Ridge and Marvin Ridge, the smaller programs typically rely on athletes who are willing to play several sports throughout the school year and often compete during all three seasons – fall, winter and spring.
But even in such a setting, Monroe’s Zasha Barrett and Kendall Cox are turning heads while competing in two sports in one season, many times on the same day.
“On the court, we’ve had two or three games where they’ve had track meets and turned right around and showed up for the basketball game and played all four quarters,” said Monroe girls basketball coach Chanda Wright. “That’s a lot of work, a lot of dedication and a lot of talent for these girls.”
This winter, both Cox and Barrett have made sizeable contributions to the Redhawks basketball and indoor track programs. As a sophomore forward on the 19-1 Redhawks, Barrett leads the team with 1.9 blocks and 11.6 rebounds per game while ranking third in points (11.3) and fourth in steals (2.1). A senior guard, Cox has poured in 6.4 points per game (fifth on the team) while chipping in 3.7 assists and three steals, which both rank second.
At last week’s Class 1A/2A/3A state indoor track and field meet, the duo also played major roles in the Redhawks’ third-place team finish. Cox leapt 17 feet, 0.25 inches to place fourth in the long jump, while Barrett cleared 4-8 in the high jump, good for eighth.
To be fair, it’s not that uncommon for basketball players to lend their talents to their track teams, but usually that entails competing in one or two events until they post times or distances that qualify them for the state meet. After that, they don’t usually put on their track spikes again until a medal is on the line at the state competition.
Instead, Cox and Barrett have been dedicated members of both squads. The duo is with the track program from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day before trading their spikes for high tops until 6 p.m.
The key, said Cox, was making sure they entered the winter in shape.
“Just staying healthy (during the fall),” Cox explained. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s not really that tiring if you’re in shape.”
Cox said she initially considered dropping basketball this season in order to increase her exposure as a college track and field recruit. Without a college scholarship offer in hand, competing well during the indoor season, she hoped, would give her a leg up on the recruiting trail.
“I love track, but I love basketball, too,” Cox said. “I think indoor track would be better for me to get (recruiting) looks.”
Barrett, however, said her first love is, and has always been, basketball. But as a Class 1A athlete, she decided to give outdoor track and field a shot last spring and found immediate success as a freshman. Barrett placed sixth in the high jump and joined Cox on the fourth-place 4×400-meter relay team for the Redhawks, who won the Class 1A state team title.
“I’m trying to get ready for the spring (season), that’s why I’m doing indoor, too,” Barrett said. “I’m trying to get another (state championship) ring.”
Both players said they had doubts as to whether they could pull off the double duty.
“I thought I would be too tired coming from track practice to basketball practice, but I got used to it after a while,” Barrett said.
Cox agreed and said by the second week, her body adapted to the work.
Cox and Barrett’s double-dipped winter hasn’t just taken flexibility on the part of the athletes. Monroe girls track coach Nichole Jackson explained that she and Wright have had to formulate a plan to make Cox and Barrett available for both teams.
“I think it’s always the intent by all coaches to make (something like this) work, but it’s kind of hard,” Jackson said. “It takes a little more forethought. You have to look a little down the road (and ask), ‘How’s this really going to pan out?’”
The coaches’ communication has been key, agreed Wright.
“(Jackson and I) sat down at the beginning of the season and compared our schedules and made sure it fit the best for both of us,” Wright said. “As soon as we saw that the practice wasn’t going to be a conflict, I think everything just fell into line from there.”
There has also been some give and take from both sides. Wright said that after the players broke down their typical workouts, she saw that she could allow the duo to take it a bit easier during the team’s basketball conditioning. Jackson, on the other hand, limited the girls to just a single track event during the meets that fell on the same day as basketball games.
“That has played a huge role,” said Cox. “I’m happy both (coaches) can communicate instead of arguing which one I need to be at the most. They’ve been even with that.”
Both athletes said they’re in the best shape they’ve ever been in, which has especially helped their basketball games.
“Track shape is different than basketball shape, but my events are kind of the same because I do short bursts (in track), just like basketball” said Cox, who also competed in the 55-meter dash during the indoor season and is a sprinter during the spring.
“It’s helped me out a lot for basketball.”
The coaches said they’re not surprised by Cox and Barrett’s success this winter, nor the fact that they’ve been so dedicated to both sports. Jackson said the athletes haven’t had to look too far for motivation.
“They’re kind of used to being in the groove, and I think they enjoy being involved (in both sports),” said the track coach. “I think they’re going to see success in both seasons, and that doesn’t hurt, either. If you’re on a team that’s doing well, when you’re feeling drained, it gives you extra motivation to keep going.”
And in this age of sports specialization, few athletes can match what Cox and Barrett have done this winter.
“It kind of makes you feel like you’ve done something (big), like you’ve accomplished something,” said Cox.