J.P. Stevens girls turning the corner under coach Bonk



 J.P. Stevens High School’s Molly Yelencsics puts up a shot as she drives to the basket against North Brunswick Township High School during the Jan. 22 game played in North Brunswick. The Hawks won, 40-33.  FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI J.P. Stevens High School’s Molly Yelencsics puts up a shot as she drives to the basket against North Brunswick Township High School during the Jan. 22 game played in North Brunswick. The Hawks won, 40-33. FRANK WOJCIECHOWSKI J.P. STEVENS

Just 10 years ago, the J.P. Stevens High School girls basketball team captured its third consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament title and appeared to be building a bona fide dynasty.

However, since winning the last title, J.P. Stevens’ fortunes began to suffer, and it became one of most underachieving programs in the conference — until this year.

Amy Bonk is in her third year as head coach and is one of the reasons the program has stabilized to the point it is now competitive again in the Red Division. As of the last week of January, J.P. Stevens owns an 8-5 overall record.

When the East Brunswick High School product took over the program, she inherited a group of inexperienced players who simply chose to believe in her system. The coach said the turnaround actually began following a 6-17 campaign last season.

“We put in a lot of hard work during workouts, at camps and in the summer league,” she said. “Our focus was on developing skills, playing together and instilling confidence every minute of every game.”

Junior Molly Yelencsics leads a balanced scoring attack with 10.1 points per game and is joined by juniors Katy Tong (9.2 points per game) and Rebecca DiSerio (6.4) and senior Sarah Martinez (5.3).

“Everything has started to come together, and it has been great to see the girls’ efforts pay off,” Bonk said.

Bonk said the mottos that have motivated the team are “never give up” and “next play.”

“[That] has helped us keep working hard no matter the circumstances and to move on if the results aren’t satisfactory,” Bonk said. “The girls have always played hard to the end, despite the score.”

The top goal — to improve on last year’s record — has already been achieved, and the team is focused on achieving more.

“We want to continue to grow as a team and individuals, and that means working hard, learning from every game, building confidence and having fun,” she said.


Vinnie Gioffre described the wrestling program at J.P. Stevens as being in “dire straits” when he took over as head coach two years ago. The Hawks won one dual match last season, but this year is different. The current record is 7-10 and, just as important, the Hawks have been competitive even during losses.

Gioffre said the increase in wrestlers who joined the program has contributed to the improved performance.

“Our roster is dramatically different,” he said. “We returned 13 but have added 18. We want to grow as a team and be more competitive.”

Now that both goals have been reached, Gioffre is looking to elevate the program to another level.

“Most wrestlers [have] no more than three years’ wrestling experience,” he said. “So whatever we achieve will be a plus.”

Ice hockey

Russ Berner has become the coach of the co-op ice hockey team from Edison and J.P. Stevens, and he hopes to make it competitive in the GMC. He believes the goal is attainable but acknowledges the Eagle-Hawks have a lot of work ahead of them.

The current record is 1-14, which reflects inexperience in many players who are new to hockey and only two who played in travel leagues.

Among those who have kept the team competitive is sophomore defenseman Robert Distefano, who has registered five points. The goaltending duties are split by Edison freshmen Parker McKenna and Will DiSano-Dominic and sophomore Eryk Liberman.

The defensive pairings include junior Michael Tutalo (Edison) and Distefano, and junior Tom Wales (Edison) and sophomore Chuck Youse (J.P. Stevens).

The first forward line consists of Edison seniors Nik Cheng and Dan Naraine, who are joined by J.P. Stevens sophomore Zach Coronacian. J.P. Stevens sophomore Kyle Conlin combines with Edison junior Dan Lesch and freshman Chance Berry to form the second line, and senior Polina Semenoff from J.P. Stevens mixes on the first and second lines along with Edison freshman Pat Tanzi.

Also seeing time are freshman Tushar Khan, sophomores Dan Useyevich and Yianni Kostis and senior Srivathsa Ravindra, who are all from J.P. Stevens.

Berner knows what has to happen in order for the program to win more.

“We really need to focus on youth hockey programs and just spread the word,” he said. “The sooner we get players on the ice, the sooner we can develop them into varsity athletes.”