Marc Narducci: Cherokee track star enjoys being part of basketball team

Cherokee's Jess Woodard tries to steal the ball from Moorestown's Tristan McGinley. When not on the court, Woodard stars as a field performer in track. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Cherokee's Jess Woodard tries to steal the ball from Moorestown's Tristan McGinley. When not on the court, Woodard stars as a field performer in track. APRIL SAUL / Staff
Posted: January 27, 2013

As a field-event performer in track, Cherokee senior Jess Woodard has gained a national reputation for all her accomplishments.

And while it is impressive enough that she won the shot put and placed second in the discus at the New Balance Nationals last summer in Greensboro, N.C., or that she has twice won the discus title at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, Woodard's work in her so-called second sport tells a great deal about her competitive nature and her character.

National-caliber performers have been known to ditch the secondary sport late in their high school careers, but Woodard has embraced competing for Cherokee's basketball team, which is 10-5 and among the more improved teams in South Jersey.

The 5-foot-10 forward-center has thrived despite frequently going up against taller opponents.

Woodard also has been a true leader, and more than that, her personality has lit up the locker room.

"Jess Woodard is probably one of the most genuine, heartwarming people I have ever met," Cherokee coach Shannon Bretz said. "We are blessed to have her on our team, lucky that track didn't steal her for her senior season, and Jess has made the most of her season."

Woodard, who has made an oral commitment to attend the University of Oklahoma on a track scholarship, concedes that she thought about not playing basketball because of the potential for injury. Yet her bond with her team won out.

"I could not leave my team hanging," she said. "I love track, but we are such a family on this team and I am having so much fun."

That last statement shouldn't be taken lightly in the high-pressure world of scholastic athletics. Sometimes we forget these are youngsters, who despite all the inherent pressures, especially for a national-caliber performer such as Woodard, just want to have fun competing in a sport they love.

In a way, basketball has served as the perfect diversion.

"Considering that my spring season is so long, going from March probably until the end of August, it's great to play basketball, and you don't get burned out," Woodard said.

While she enjoys the fun and subsequent hard work in basketball, she clearly has her eye on the bigger picture one day: the Olympics.

"That is always a dream, but you have to take it step by step," she said.

The first step was choosing a college. Besides Oklahoma, Woodard made official visits to South Carolina, LSU, and Oregon.

"Oklahoma has great education programs for my major, which is health and exercise science, and they have a great track program and I see success with my future there," she said.

Despite all that is in front of her, Woodard has done a great job of staying focused on the task at hand in basketball.

"Jess is an athlete, and whatever sport is in season, she will give her whole heart to," said Bretz, a former basketball player at La Salle University.

High school seniors can sign a letter of intent for track and field beginning Feb. 6, and that will be a proud time for Woodard, another milestone in a young career full of accomplishment.

Yet one of her great achievements has been giving everything to this basketball season, not treating it with secondary status and thus providing a first-rate effort to the Cherokee program.

Contact Marc Narducci

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