Determination puts Liberty Lions in conference and state tournaments


Five seniors expected to play a big part in Jackson Liberty High School’s girls basketball season vowed before the start of it to make the Shore Conference Tournament and to return to the NJSIAA tournament.

The Liberty Lions reached those goals on Jan. 24 when they rolled to a 56-28 Shore Conference B North victory over Manchester Township High School to improve their record to 11-6 with six games left.

Junior guard Sheana Vega scored 16 points, while senior forwards Kyasia White and April Szymczyk each scored 14. Szymczyk used her 5-foot-11-inch height to her advantage as she grabbed 11 rebounds.

“We’re really excited,” White said. “We worked really hard and we have the chemistry to understand each player on the team and what she does.”

Seniors Courtney Titus at point guard and Maggie O’Connor at the other guard spot complete the starting lineup in a three-guard offense. Both started last year when Jackson Liberty finished 9-14 and Szymczyk is in her fourth season as a starter. Seniors Ariel Donza (swing player) and Mary Varsalona (guard) complete the rotation.

“We’re pretty much on target,” coach Dave Kasyan said. “We won the games we expected to win and the games we thought we’d lose badly we did. We have five seniors who play a lot, four of them starters, and with that we get the leadership that helps us get wins.”

White admits that it may have been a reachable goal, but this much success is “shocking,” with three victories in the last four games coming into this week. Jackson Liberty also beat division opponents Brick Township High School and Barnegat High School during that stretch. The team also lost for the second time this season to Shore powerhouse Point Pleasant Borough High School. Jackson Liberty is 6-4 in the division. “It’s really exciting and we’ve had more fans coming to our games,” Kasyan said. “Some also had a taste of success playing on the girls volleyball team that had a good season. Along with our team winning, the boys [basketball] team also has been doing well. That breeds excitement.”

The games are still meaningful, as Jackson Liberty is playing for a good seed in the tournaments before the cutoffs. It played

Pinelands Regional High School on Jan.

29 and is home against Ocean Township High School the next day.

The players also look to avenge a loss to Central Regional High

School at home on Feb. 1.

The Liberty Lions have their final three games next week. They play Lakewood

High School on Feb. 4 and

Monsignor Donovan High School on Feb. 6 at home before traveling to

Freehold High School on Feb. 8.

What raised their confidence, according to Kasyan and White, is the team’s strong showing in its first appearance in the WOBM Christmas Classic in Toms River, as Jackson Liberty beat Toms River High School North, lost to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and then won its consolation game against Freehold Township High School.

“We play good defense, tough defense,” said Kasyan of the team’s main ingredient for winning. “Offensively, every night we have five starters who are capable of scoring and having a big night. We try to get the ball underneath to Kyasia and April. If we take care of the ball, we’re tough to beat.”

Turnovers by all five starters have been a concern, Kasyan admits, but when the offense is efficient but can’t cash in from the low post, Vega and Titus can hit from outside, hitting 19 and 14 3-point baskets, respectively, this season.

“We have to keep playing hard. We have to make smart decisions [and] be smart ballplayers,” White said.

Kasyan said now that the team has made both tournaments for the first time in the same season, they face a new goal — to win a state or Shore Conference tournament game.