Pirate girls focused on states

State hoops tournament scheduled to open Monday

By: Justin Feil
   It does not matter to Tory Sharpless the make-up of the West Windsor-Plainsboro South girls’ basketball team is.
   The Pirates have come too far, done too much to worry about how young they are. They do not have a senior starter.
   "If you think about it, it would be nice if teams just looked at us as good," said Sharpless, a sophomore forward. "It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re good at basketball, you can do whatever you want."
   Sharpless and the Pirates may be young, but they learned last year that they had the potential to be good. For players like Sharpless, last season was a first chance to play at the varsity level and they were welcomed by a small group of seniors. It made for a more enjoyable season. This year, the Pirates have tried to keep that attitude, and it’s built quite a season.
   "Last year, we had such a strong bond between everyone on the team," Sharpless said. "It was important to keep that. If you’re fighting and arguing, that’s going to pull you apart. Since I was a freshman and we had people from every grade level last year, we had to pull together. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior. I feel like as a team, we’ve taken that and it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s not time to worry about what grade you are."
   What the Pirates want more than anything is to pull together for a win Wednesday in their first state tournament game. WW-P South drew the No. 2 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV, and awaits the winner of Monday’s scheduled first-round game between No. 7 Steinert and No. 10 Howell for the quarterfinals. No. 11 seed Montgomery was scheduled to play No. 6 Rancocas Valley on Monday with the winner playing at No. 3 Hillsborough on Wednesday in another quarterfinal.
   In the CJ III tournament, No. 6 West Windsor-Plainsboro North will play at No. 3 Hopewell Valley on Thursday. Both teams received first-round byes.
   "Last year, we did make it to states," Sharpless said. "We only got to the first round. We’re obviously excited to make it. Hopefully we’ll make it past the first game."
   Not only would winning Wednesday put the Pirates into the CJ IV semifinals, it would mark a milestone for them. A win would be the 20th of the season for the Pirates.
   "We’re going for a 20-win season," said Pirates head coach Lisa Guarneri. "That’s our goal right now. I don’t care who we play. A 20-win season is an accomplishment. That’s our goal right now. For us to do that, that’s a huge accomplishment. In the Mercer County Tournament, we didn’t do as well as we wanted, but if we win Wednesday, we get to play in the sectional semifinal. Anything past Wednesday is good for us."
   The Pirates enter Wednesday with a new confidence about them. WW-P South picked up plenty of momentum when it went undefeated in January. The Pirates are hoping to put together another unbeaten run in the CJ IV.
   "It almost feels different this year," Sharpless said. "We went into it last year playing a hard team because we weren’t seeded high. We know every game isn’t easy. Every game will be hard. We have to play good offense. We have to play good defense. We know it won’t be a walk in the park. We have to work to win all these games."
   WW-P South was a loser to CJ IV finalist Rancocas Valley in the first round to end last season. Then, Sharpless was a freshman just happy to be a part of the team.
   "Last year, I felt like I was a freshman," Sharpless said. "I was excited to always be on the court, just being able to play basketball. This year, it feels different. I have more responsibility. I have to step it up more personally. I feel like I have more responsibility."
   Sharpless has been able to contribute more substantially as a sophomore for the Pirates, who are 19-4 after a 54-42 loss to Manchester Township on Friday. Becky Peters led WW-P South with 16 points.
   "The Hopewell Valley game, Tory barely played, and we had a hard time on defense without her," Guarneri said. "She’s my rock on defense. She gets it done. Defensively, she’s got it. She’s bought in. Offensively, she’s starting to look for her shot. We need that. We need her offensive putbacks and high post shots."
   Sharpless was instrumental in WW-P South’s 46-33 win over WW-P North last Tuesday. Sharpless was part of a stifling defense and also contributed nine points.
   "We were excited," Sharpless said. "The first time we played them, it also wasn’t that great. For some reason, we felt we could beat them this time. We went out and did it. We played better as a team. We moved the ball around more."
   The Pirates have put the ball in Sharpless’s hands more as the season has gone along. She has responded with some of her best performances in the second half of the season.
   "It seems like at the beginning, I wasn’t touching the ball at all," Sharpless said. "I wasn’t getting shots off. Now I’m seeing the ball. If I’m getting an open shot, I’m taking it. I feel a little more comfortable. It’s like with anything, you need time."
   It didn’t take Sharpless long at the other end to find a way to contribute.
   "For me, I love to play defense," Sharpless said. "I love to feel like I’m stopping someone from scoring. Offense is good too. But defense, you almost feel a rush that you’re preventing them from scoring. Early in the season, we weren’t as great a defensive team. Now we’re more comfortable. We’re more confident in each other. You can let someone switch onto your girl and know they’ll get her."
   The Pirates know their defense will be a key, regardless of whether they play a team they beat once earlier this season, Steinert, or a team like Howell from the hyper-offensive Shore Conference.
   "If we can have a strong defense and form off that a strong offense, that helps," Sharpless said. "I know being a basketball player, if a team is playing excellent defense you get frustrated and turn over the ball. Hopefully we’ll play good defense."
   It is a young Pirates team that will take to the floor Wednesday. But it is a group that has grown together in the past two seasons. Now, they try to come together for the state tournament win that eluded them last season. WW-P South has greater experience and the understanding of the magnitude of what lies ahead.
   "Last year," Guarneri said, "they had no clue. I think they’re starting to realize it. If we win a state game, next year, we’ve been there and let’s go farther than that."
   The first step is winning Wednesday.