By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
Erika Tanko takes on all challenges, whether it’s on the hardwood, the track or the cross country course.
The Cedar Creek High School basketball player is the lone returning starter on a young, rebuilding squad, and has taken it upon herself to be the leader. As a leader, Tanko is making sure she is not letting early losses ruin her own or teammates’ optimism.
“It’s kind of hard because they start to get nervous because they want to do well, and I want to keep spirits high,” Tanko said. “We play some tough teams. We moved up in the conference and we play teams like Ocean City, and it’s so much harder than last year and I think they are a little scared, I guess.”
The 17-year-old Mullica Township resident played a pivotal role last year, as the Pirates were among the best teams in the conference. Tanko, a slashing guard, had some big scoring games, as the team won 17 games and made the playoffs.
Tanko is in her fourth year in the program, and knows what it means to be part of the Cedar Creek girls basketball team. When she was a freshman, the squad brought home a sectional title.
“It’s a lot of pressure. We’ve always been so good,” Tanko said. “I think some teams don’t see us as a threat, but we are definitely capable of having a great season even though we lost some good players. I think we can still do well.”
“She is the only varsity senior returner, so a lot of pressure is put on her this year,” Cedar Creek coach Fran Raph said. “I don’t know if she feels it or she feels like she has to step up because she is the only senior. When we won the South Jersey championship she was freshman. She has seen the success and has seen how good the program has been over the years.”
Tanko has been leading the Pirates in scoring, and is also the team’s defensive stalwart. Raph hopes the rest of the squad follows in Tanko’s footsteps.
“She is our best defensive player,” Raph explained. “Last year, she helped out a lot in games, scoring 16 or 17 points, but she is also pretty intense on defense. I’m trying to get the young kids to model after her a little bit. She is intense. She’s fearless.”
She has to be fearless, especially since becoming the school’s best pole vaulter. She also will do whatever event Raph, who is also the track coach, asks her to do.
“I like it a lot,” Tanko said of the pole vault. “I know a lot of people get scared by it, but I never am scared. I think it is so fun. I can’t wait for (track season).”
Tanko also stood out during cross country the best two seasons, after making the switch from soccer. She became a consistent part of the Pirates’ pack this past season, and improved with every meet.
“Erika is a hard worker,” cross country coach Sam Chelnik said. “She is a talented runner and a competitive worker.”
Tanko also excels in the classroom, taking Advanced Placement courses, and is among the best students in her class, according to Raph.
The senior has yet to commit to a college, but there is little doubt she is up for whatever challenge comes next.
Contact Guiseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO