Rebels gain early edge in A North hoop race

Staff Writer

When girls basketball action resumes in the Shore Conference A North Division this week, Howell High School is the team that the rest of the squads in the division will be taking aim at.

Coach Bill Gallacher’s Rebels (3-0) scored the first decisive win in the division on Dec. 20 when they beat preseason favorite Middletown South, 46-38. The Rebels defeated Marlboro, 47-34, in their next A North game.

Middletown South and Howell were the teams that were expected to battle for the division crown, and with the first game to be played in Middletown, the Eagles figured to draw first blood.

However, it was Howell, riding the hot shooting and leadership of guard Sarah Olson, that won the first big matchup between the clubs. Olson is expected to continue her career at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Olson andAlex Milne sparked a rally in the second half as Howell’s defense held Middletown South to 11 points. The Rebels outscored the Eagles, 27-11, over the third and fourth quarters to overcome a 25-21 halftime deficit.

Olson nailed four three-point field goals on her way to a game-high 16 points. Lauren Kolacki scored 15 points, and Milne scored eight of her 10 points in the third quarter.

Gallacher said he was counting on Howell’s experience— four seniors in the starting lineup— to pay off this year, and it did in round one against Middletown South as the Rebels kept their composure when they found themselves trailing on the road.

“I don’t expect any panic attacks when we feel serious pressure,” the coach said.

Seven Howell players scored in the victory over the Eagles, and that is the type of balance Gallacher is looking for this season.

“We seem to be spreading the ball around more,” he said. “Everyone can score. Sarah does not need to force anything like she used to do. Sarah Olson and Lauren Kolacki have shot very well. Chelsea James, the only junior in our starting lineup, is playing very well on both sides of the court. I’m very pleased with her progress.”

Howell’s depth has proved to be a real strength for this team in addition to its senior experience.

“I have also gained a lot of confidence in the bench players like Christina Justiniano, Marina Lukianov, Shannon Pickett and Allie Moreland, who is a sophomore,” said Gallacher. “Many of them have already played significant time since we’ve had some foul trouble in the first few games. They have all performed well. [Their play] would help preserve our starters’ legs at the end of a game and keep us fresh for the latter part of the season. We haven’t had such a deep bench in a long time.”

Gallacher knows theANorth division is no walk in the park. Howell and Middletown South will collide again in Howell on Jan. 20.