Brookdale women are ranked fifth nationally

Jersey Blues are 15-2

BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer

To the Brookdale Community College women’s basketball team the No. 5 ranking in the country is just a number.

But what the National Junior College Athletic Association coaches’ poll does indicate is the caliber of basketball the Jersey Blues are playing.

“I’m very happy where we are,” said cohead coach Joanne Cobb. “Things are going good.”

After defeating Ocean County College, 77-63, on Jan. 27 in Lincroft, Brookdale is now 15-2 overall and 13-1 in the Garden State Athletic Conference. They are on line for the No. 1 seed for the Region XIX Tournament that begins at the end of the month. The Blues are the defending champions in the Region. They used that win as a springboard to a fifth-place finish at the NJCAA National Championship in 2008.

What has fueled the Blues’ recent run is the play of the team’s role players. They’ve stepped it up making it that much harder to deal with BCC’s stars.

“We’ve got four really solid players,” noted Cobb. “The rest of the kids are the unsung heroes.”

In the first half of the season, the team was more focused on getting the ball to Chanel Gomez (Perth Amboy), Erika Jones (Perth Amboy), Erica Jones (Perth Amboy) and Maria Locicero (Mater Dei); and for good reason. They are that good.

Against Ocean, Gomez had 20 points and 19 rebounds. Erika Jones scored 17 and pulled down 11 rebounds. Katora Jones chipped in with 19 points and seven assists, and Locicero contributed 16 points, five assists and five rebounds.

Gomez, a center, has had a double double every night for the Blues and four triple doubles. She is averaging just less than 14 points a game. She ranks among the country’s leaders in rebounds (14 a game) and is tops in the country in blocked shots at 6.7 a game.

Cobb and co-head coach Marianne Campacci like the defense to start the offense and Gomez’s shot-blocking and rebounding triggers the fast break.

Erika Jones fuels the transition offense. She’s pulling down 11 caroms a game and has averaged 5.5 blocks a game. While doing that, she ranks second in the country in scoring at 23 points a game. She recently registered a quadruple-double (points, rebounds, blocks and steals) and has been named the NJCAA Player of the Week.

Kitora Jones is scoring at an 18-pointsper game clip, and Locicero is also in double figures. They are the team’s long-range threats with 39 and 21 3-pointers respectively.

The playmaking is evening distributed among the Joneses and Locicero with all three averaging more than four assists a game. One of the keys for Brookdale is that there is no designated point guard. All three guards are capable of bringing the ball up the floor and running the offense.

However, if the Blues are to live up to their No. 5 ranking and have a shot at getting back to the national tournament, they need the role players to do more than get the ball to their stars and watch them. They need contributions on both ends of the floor and they’ve been getting it.

“Everybody has a green light to shoot,” said Cobb. “You’re not pigeon-holed to one spot with us.”

Kelly Ridolfi (Middletown North) and Ishakemya Bunting (Academy Charter) are the players that the Blues can turn to for points off the bench, while for defense, Jessica Liubicich (Middletown North) and Jana McCabe (Brick Township) provide defense and rebounding, which is what fifth starter Kim Coleman (Monsignor Donovan) gives the team also.

Along with spreading the offense out more, Cobb said, the Blues need to “focus” more on the defensive end. They’ve been scoring, it seems, at will (the team hasn’t been under 70 points since November), which can made a team lax on the defensive end. At times, the Blues have been satisfied winning high-scoring games. That’s not to their coaches’ liking.

“We don’t want teams to score their [season] average,” noted Cobb. “Our offense flows from the defense.”

BCC will close the regular season out with a pair of home games. They host Salem, a Division II team on Feb. 12 at 7:30 p.m. and on the 14th, close out the GSAC schedule with a 1 p.m. game against Passaic.

The Region XIX Tournament will start Feb. 20. The early rounds are at the site of the highest seeded team. The County College of Morris is hosting the semifinals Feb. 27 and the final March 1.

The national tournament is March 12-14 in Rochester, Minn. The Blues have been to the tournament in three of the last four years.

For now, that No. 5 ranking is just a number. All that matters to this team is getting to the national tournament where they will have a chance to live up to that ranking, or do even better.