Lineup change helps Hopewell turn the corner

Hopewell Valley wrestling

By: Mike Molaro
   It hasn’t been the same kind of start to the season the Hopewell Valley Central High School boys basketball team has experienced in recent years, but a couple of minor adjustments may have the Bulldogs pointed in the right direction.
   "When we were one-and-three, we met as a team and agreed that we would start a new season," HoVal coach Tony Mormile said following last Friday’s 51-48 defeat at Hightstown. "We made some changes in the Hillsborough game (53-46 win in late December), and the guys bought into it.
   "We’re playing much better than we were a few weeks ago. We beat two good teams in Hillsborough and Rutgers Prep, and our two losses were each by three points. The question is, will we improve quickly enough to go with our upcoming tough schedule."
   Against the Rams, sophomore forward Judah Matheny led the Bulldogs (3-5 overall, 0-3 in the Colonial Valley Conference) with 11 points on just six field goal attempts and sophomore guard Mike Valcarcel added 10.
   HoVal opened a 21-11 first-quarter lead, but Hightstown fought back and held on for its first victory of the year.
   "Our lack of rebounding hurt us in this game," Mormile said. "We had 34 rebounds against Rutgers Prep (a 56-51 win Jan. 3) and only 12 against Hightstown. We shot well and defended well, but Hightstown beat us on the boards and to loose balls.
   "Hightstown played like a desperate team. We played hard but not hard enough."
   Two of the adjustments recently made by HoVal were inserting sophomore Will Alton into the starting point guard slot and having Matheny, one of the best pure shooters on the team, take more shots.
   "Will is our best perimeter defensive player," Mormile said. "He is a natural point guard and can knock down the shot. He moved up from junior varsity for the Hillsborough game and has started ever since.
   "Judah has a lot of ability. He needs to be more aggressive. We want him to shoot more."
   With a starting lineup of three sophomores (Alton, Matheny, and Valcarcel) one junior (guard Pat Jablonski) and one senior (center Craig O’Shea), the Bulldogs also go with three guards, a forward, and a center. This combination of youth and a lack of height has meant some tough early times.
   "We are seeing a lot of progress," Mormile said. "It may not show up in the record, but the progress is there. I like where we are and how we are playing better than two or three weeks ago. I want the guys to keep practicing well and play well each game.
   "The core of this team is inexperienced. Even our seniors don’t have much varsity experience. We are gaining experience and improving."
   To make a run at the state tournament, the Bulldogs feel there are three keys to changing those losses into wins.
   "We must play more consistently, we need more easy baskets, and we need to keep getting better," Mormile said. "We have not had back-to-back wins this year. Our inexperience shows at times. We are working hard for our offense. We need more baskets in the paint."
   Navigating these tough times is difficult for a program used to punching its ticket for the postseason and challenging for the CVC Patriot Division crown. But HoVal is standing tough and refusing to feel sorry for itself.
   "We have to look for improvement every day," Mormile said. "We’re trying to keep the guys’ confidence up. Our captains (Jablonski and senior forward Kevin Osagie) provide great leadership every day.
   "This is a hard-working group, and we have consistently good practices. The program is healthy right now."
• NOTES: HoVal hosted West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Tuesday night and visits Notre Dame tomorrow evening. The Bulldogs face perennial Group III power Lakewood in Sunday’s Ocean County Challenge.
   "Getting Lakewood is our gift for winning the tournament last year," joked Mormile.