NORTH ANDOVER — Erika Zahoruiko is a rare breed.
She not only played three varsity sports — soccer, basketball and lacrosse — since her sophomore year at North Andover High, but she played ... now get this ... to have fun.
I'm dead serious. She played for the love of the game.
Oh, Zahoruiko cared about winning. The burns on her elbows and knees are proof. So are the several hundred collisions, many of which she and/or her closest opponent landed on the grass or court. And her Knights' teams have won more than two out of every three games they played with her as a regular.
Google "all-star" and "Cape Ann League" and a litany of links to Zahoruiko's name pop up.
But what separates Zahoruiko from most of the other elite athletes she has competed with or against is that fact that when one particular season was over, it was really over.
AAU or club coaches came calling in all three sports and Zahoruiko gave them all the same answer: "Thanks, but no thanks."
That meant just one sport in one season.
Talk about novel concept.
Zahoruiko's older sister, Nicole, one of the dominant basketball players in the area from the 2006-07 through 2008-09 seasons, played a full AAU basketball schedule in middle school, many times hopping in a plane to play, including a few jaunts to Orlando, Fla.
"I was asked a few times, but I had never wanted to play anything out of season," said Zahoruiko. "For each sport I play I like to be focused completely on it during that season. If I were to play AAU or club I would be playing all sports all year round. I didn't think I could manage everything in addition to schoolwork and family time.
"I wanted to be on the National Honor Society and I was," said Zahoruiko. "Those things were more important to me."
But don't discount her talent or performances. Zahoruiko has been front and center for some of the Knights incredible performances over her career.
Last October, she returned to the soccer team from an ankle injury to score the only goal in a 1-0 game against league champ and rival, Masconomet Regional.
In lacrosse, as a sophomore she started on a defense that led North Andover High to the state finals.
In basketball, the two-time All-League player, had 17 points, 13 rebounds and three steals when the Knights beat Pentucket and win the CAL title in February.
Each of her varsity coaches sound like a broken record.
All, to a person, said she's tough; she's intelligent; she's a leader (and three-sport captain); and she's one heck of a defender.
"If she ever focused on one sport, she could have gone as far as she wanted," said North Andover High lacrosse coach, Karen Lahey. "But I respect her decision to play for the right reasons; she enjoys herself and she loves to compete. She is very mature and knows what she wants. Erika is old-school."
North Andover High girls basketball coach said when it came to passion, few could compare to Zahoruiko.
"Erika was not only a very good athlete, but she was fierce," recalled Breen. "At 5-foot-8, she wasn't tall for a center. But she relished playing girls bigger. She's one of the toughest I've ever coached."
Zahoruiko will, like her older sister Nicole, attend UMass Amherst and major in hospitality and tourism.
"Ideally, I would want to be doing something along the lines of event planning or management later in life," said Zahoruiko.
As for sports, technically her career won't end with the Knights lacrosse team over the next week or two.
She is planning to play on a club or intramural team at UMass.
She apparently is not through making her mark.
"I set high expectations for myself and I don't like to settle just for average," said Zahoruiko. "I tend to push myself and strive for something more. It has definitely paid off and been well worth it. The thing I'll miss the most is playing for North Andover and representing my town. That was really fun."