High School South’s Emma Gartenberg shoots the ball during a recent game.

Emma Gartenberg is one of the increasingly rare athletes who plays three sports in a sports culture that lends itself to specialization.

The junior plays girls’ soccer, basketball and lacrosse at High School South, but that can’t be too big of a surprise. She has never been one to enjoy downtime.

“Ever since I was younger, I was always doing stuff,” Gartenberg said. “I would go outside and climb my neighbor’s trees. I would always keep busy. It wasn’t always a sport, but I had to do something.

“Three seasons is really good for me, because I enjoy all three sports that I play. I can never pick just one to only focus on. I like meeting people from school to rec, and the relationships I make with people from different sports, it’s really nice.”

Gartenberg hasn’t lost her love of activity as a high school student. It’s in her DNA. Her parents and grandparents are all big sports fans and she grew up watching and playing athletics.

“I definitely needed sports,” Gartenberg said. “I had so much energy when I was younger. I would play with my neighbors. We’d play every sport, it doesn’t matter if I don’t play it now. We were so active playing outside, running around in our backyards. I always needed to be active. That’s why I like playing three sports. Even to this day, I need to be active. I still need something to do, or I’ll have extreme boredom.”

Gartenberg doesn’t let herself get bored. She looks at her athletic endeavors as a way of cross-training.

“Each sport takes different skills—like footwork, and ball-handling, which helps basketball and lacrosse,” she said. “Each sport piggybacks off the other and helps me be more successful in each sport. There are different styles of play in each sport, and I can apply it to the other sports I play.”

Gartenberg played travel soccer and lacrosse growing up and played recreational basketball. She was coached by her father.

“Since first grade basketball, my dad has always been my coach and my brother’s coach,” Gartenberg said. “He’s taught me basically everything I need to know… My dad trained me like a real coach, like an AAU coach. He’s played basketball and watched the greatest NBA players and tried to help me be the best I can be. He’s turned me into the player I am today.”

Gartenberg has developed into a leader and a standout for the girls’ basketball team. The only returning starter from an eight-win team in 2019, she enjoyed her best high school season to date for a rebuilt Pirates squad that equaled last year’s win total Feb. 11 when they swept rival High School North, 36-21.

“It’s a really great feeling,” said Gartenberg, who had 10 points and 13 rebounds in the win to improve to 8-12. “We scheduled them twice because we wanted to beat them twice obviously,” she said. “We beat them in January, and it felt so great because it’s the first time our program has beaten them in years so that win was emotional in a good way.”

The wins were the first over WW-P North for the Pirates since 2015. Gartenberg, who was only in sixth grade at the time, is seeing the program start to turn the corner and raise its standards under new head coach Bryan Fisher. The Pirates have been more competitive even with four new starters.

“There are so many more games that we lost by five four or five points (this year) that we got blown out in last year,” Gartenberg said. “I think it’s confidence in each other and trust that we have, and we’re playing more as a team this year than the past two years I’ve been on the team.”

Gartenberg has helped to bring along the less experienced members of the Pirates. She knows what the new players are feeling having been in their shoes two years ago, then as the lone freshman starter and player on the South varsity squad.

She has tried to be fostering for teammates and create that same culture to welcome this year’s new varsity players. They have worked to build relationships with each other, like the entire program eating together at Aljon’s Pizza.

“We got to escape the school life and hang out with each other and make new friends with the underclassmen and people we haven’t talked to before,” Gartenberg said. “Getting pizza together was a turning point in our program and unified all three levels as one, which is what Coach Fisher and all three coaches encourage.”

On the court, Gartenberg has set an example with her work ethic and consistency. She picked up her eighth double-double in the win over North, and she has had double-digit rebounds in all but three games this year.

“Her effort is always outstanding. She’s a double-double girl every game almost,” Fisher said. “She’s getting double digits in points and she’s getting rebounds. It’s a lot to shoulder being the only girl back. She’s done a fantastic job.”

What has been most valuable about Gartenberg’s play is her consistency and her competitiveness. Those examples are important for the younger Pirate players, who have stepped in to help the team. Shira Black had nine points and Kavya Karra, a freshman county tennis champion last fall, had six assists and eight steals in the win over North. WW-P South has gotten contributions up and down their new lineup this season.

“It shocked me that they were so ready to play,” Gartenberg said. “You can sometimes see, even I can be still inexperienced, and they’ve stepped up and we play more as a team and people filled into roles. It felt like we’ve been playing together for a few years and not just a month and a half.”

It’s just a start for Fisher, who brought back Beth Fitzpatrick to coach the Pirates freshman team and Lauren Small to coach JV. He has watched the young team grow through the season and is looking forward to starting where they leave off.

“The losses are lessons. The wins are lessons,” Fisher said. “It’s a big learning year for us. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of young women. They’re a lot of fun to be around. They’re positive and there’s a lot of good spirit. We’re excited for the future. We do have a young team. We graduate four girls and we’re bringing back everybody. We’re excited for where we see ourselves in ’20-’21.”

Gartenberg is excited too as she thinks about her senior year. But it will have to wait two more seasons. She is on to her next sport, lacrosse, for the spring and then there is soccer next fall.

“After soccer season, it’s a whole new different sport I get to play and I get to build up my confidence for and showcase my skills there,” Gartenberg said. “And then the next season is lacrosse and it’s a totally different game. I keep switching things up while playing a sport at different times throughout the year. I do a sport for a while and then I do a different sport. It’s good for me to keep busy. I have friends from each sport. I look forward to the next sport and the next year.”