By the time Danielle Castaldi-Conroy, Michelle Zinckgraf and the rest of the Egg Harbor Township High School girls basketball team made their run to the finals of the state Tournament of Champions in 1992 and to the Group III finals in 1993, they had played together for years. Having honed their skills together in youth programs since elementary school, they were a tight, talented unit.
Recent EHTHS girls teams haven't had the success the teams had two decades ago, largely due to the closing of youth feeder programs, said Castaldi-Conroy. Now, most township girls don't have formal basketball training until middle school, years after much of their competition.
Now, 20 years after they played their last game for EHTHS, the women of the 1993 team are looking to invigorate the program by giving today's kids the same opportunity they had as girls, organizing youth teams and an August skills camp in the hope of building a base of young athletes in the township.
"We grew up playing together in rec league and loved it," Castaldi-Conroy said. "We want our daughters to have that same experience we did."
This summer, Castaldi-Conroy and Zinckgraf decided to hold tryouts for a team in a summer league in Margate. Enough girls showed up to organize four teams, two at the fifth- and sixth- grade level, and two at the seventh- and eighth-grade level.
The women got the idea for putting the team together from their daughters, who had played in the Egg Harbor Township Recreation Department's coed youth basketball league.
Playing with stronger, more aggressive boys made the game less fun, said Zinckgraf's daughter, Kierstyn.
"They were just rough on me. It was crazy," Kierstyn said. "I didn't like it."
Like Kierstyn, some of the girls on the team played in the Recreation Department's league, while others played in the Upward Basketball Program at Greentree Church, also in Egg Harbor Township.
But while many of the girls had experience, the new program's focus on the basics and its girls-only approach has seen their skills increase dramatically.
Barbara Harmon enrolled her 11-year-old daughter Lauren in the program after a similarly poor experience in the co-ed league. So far, she said, the new program has been a godsend.
"We've been waiting for some good women coaches that know the game, love the game and are going to train these young girls for the future," Harmon said. "She's learning so much."
The camp will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 5-8 at Alder Avenue Middle School, and will emphasize fundamentals, making it good for players of all skill levels. The camp is open to girls in third through eighth grade, and is not restricted by residence.
Castaldi-Conroy and Zinckgraf have enlisted other members of the 1993 team, a few veterans of strong local boys teams, and current EHTHS girls coach Karen Shutz to staff the camp.
Shutz, who was in eighth grade when the girls made their run, said she was inspired by their success to redouble her basketball efforts. Now that Egg Harbor Township again has a feeder program, she's hopeful the Eagles can get back to championship form.
"It's a great chance to learn the game," Shutz said. "It gives them an option, for high school, to come out and kind of build a program, and get it back to where it was."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Egg Harbor Township Junior Lady Eagles Basketball Camp
When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 5-8
Where: Alder Avenue Middle School, Egg Harbor Township.
How much: $100 first child, $90 each sibling.
More info: Contact Danielle at 609-601-1656 or Michelle at 609-601-2696