Rachel Kuhl loves Old Bridge Township.
The 16-year-old moved to the town with her family when she was one, and she has lived there ever since.
Kuhl, a junior girls’ basketball player at Old Bridge High School, also believes in her hometown. She wants younger girls’ basketball players to be like Rachel, and choose the local public school over the elite private schools in central New Jersey.
On Jan. 14 at Old Bridge, Kuhl showed those younger girls just how much they can thrive by staying home. In the second quarter of a game against Metuchen High School, Kuhl stole the ball, pulled up on the right wing and drilled a three pointer.
The game stopped as Kuhl’s teammates and coaches streamed onto the court. The shot lifted Kuhl over 1,000 points for her career.
As she posed for pictures holding a 1,000-point banner, Kuhl thought about her legacy.
The players from Old Bridge’s two middle schools, Carl Sandburg Middle School and Jonas Salk Middle School, were in attendance that night. Before the game, they even watched the Knights prepare in the locker room.
“I hope I showed them that you can stay here if you have talent,” Kuhl said. “You don’t have to go to private school.”
“Hopefully it makes them want to be a part of the program,” Alspach added.
Kuhl and Alspach are trying to overcome a dominant narrative in basketball culture today: that talented players need to attend private schools to develop into complete standouts, compete for championships and attract collegiate attention.
They are doing a pretty good job of it, too. Kuhl is the main reason for that.
The junior developed into more than just a scorer this winter. She became an elite creator as well.
With Kuhl opening the floor for teammates, and hitting them with passes, Alspach found a rotation of capable scorers in Payton Alcorn, Abigail Zimmerlink, Mia Alcorn and Jordan Totten.
After a 4-12 start to the season, Old Bridge won four straight games to end the regular campaign. Then, in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament’s first round, 11th-seeded Old Bridge upset sixth-seeded Sayreville War Memorial High School, 54-46.
The Knights lost their next game, a quarterfinal matchup, to John P. Stevens High School, ending their season. But Zimmerlink is the only senior in that rotation. Behind Kuhl, Old Bridge could be a GMC contender next winter.
“She took a huge step forward,” Alspach said of Kuhl. With her leading the way, the Knights did, too.
Old Bridge’s season ended on Feb. 16, a Saturday. The next day, on Feb. 17, Kuhl went to the Basketball Warehouse in Edison to work out. She is preparing for her last summer AAU season.
Going into it, Kuhl is already a Division 1 prospect from past AAU summers. Her goal now is to become an even more complete player.
“I want to develop every skill to prepare me for the next level,” Kuhl said.
Kuhl got to this point by combining modern basketball culture, with her AAU participation in the summers, and old school basketball culture, by playing for her hometown school in the winters.
She showed that you can balance individual ambition with community pride.
“You play AAU to get that exposure. It’s where the recruiting starts,” Kuhl said. “But with high school, I wanted to do it for my hometown. I grew up here. It means everything to do it here.”