New Egypt improving heading into girls basketball CJ I tournament


New Egypt High School’s girls basketball team has an interesting game on Feb. 14 when it plays at Burlington City, the team it opens against in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I (CJ I) tournament on Feb. 26.

New Egypt is the No. 12 seed. Burlington City High School, which beat New Egypt by two points on a 3-point basket with four seconds left early in the season, is the No. 5 seed.

Things did not look so promising on paper a couple of weeks ago when New Egypt was 2-14. Since then, the Warriors have won four straight games coming into this week and secured a berth in the state tournament for the fourth year in a row on the basis of power points.

New Egypt comes into the week off a 36-20 victory over Palmyra High School, a game in which coach Matt Brogan said his team played “really great defense.”

“We’re playing our best basketball right now,” Brogan said. “It took a while for the players to get used to it with three new starters and they weren’t prepared for the tough schedule they’d be playing.”

One of the returning starters off last year’s 13-12 team — captain Alexa Magnotta, a 5- foot-8 swing player — is the only senior on the roster. She’s averaging 11 points per game, second best on the team behind the other returning starter, junior point guard Bridgette Buckalew, who scores 14 points a game.

Buckalew was the sixth man as a freshman on the section championship team two years ago that lost in the state semifinals to Haddon Township High School, 44-41, in a 21-6 season.

They sparked last year’s team to a strong finish, much like this year’s team, with five straight victories to the section final, where New Egypt lost to a 22-6 Metuchen High School team, 40-22. Magnotta actually is the tallest starter, although Rebecca Bausher (5 feet 9 inches), who is the younger sister of former New Egypt standout student-athlete Emily Bausher, brings in some height off the bench.

In a sense, the team plays a five-guard offense with its regular lineup that includes freshman Emily Davis, sophomore Ashlyn Borik and junior Makenzie Magnotta, Alexa’s younger sister. They’ve had to make up for the loss of standout players Kassandra Stillwell and Julie Ciak to graduation.

“We don’t have a lot of height, which is a challenge, but we have people who can really hit the boards at times,” Brogan said.

Danielle Lewis, a 5-foot-6 sophomore, has also gotten considerable playing time in the rotation.

There have been some close losses along the way, including a

40-39 loss to Maple Shade High School, during which a shot rimmed out at the buzzer, and a 5-point loss to Holy Cross High School that was a 3-point margin in the fourth quarter. Lawrence High School held a 5-point lead early in the second half before breaking away.

“I really think we’re playing better,” Brogan said. “We went through growing pains. Next year, we’ll have more game savvy. We just needed time to get better.”

The Warriors have four games left before the state tournament, including a Feb. 12 game at Bordentown Regional High School. Brogan said the players have a better understanding now of the commitment they need to make to play in the very competitive Burlington County Scholastic League Freedom Division.

“They didn’t make a whole lot of improvement from last year but they understand now,” Brogan said.

Brogan said there is talent on the horizon with a competitive junior varsity team that had all freshmen in the starting lineup and some talented eighth-graders coming into the school this fall.