As the Marlboro High School girls’ basketball team embarks on its 2015-16 season, the Mustangs carry over the momentum of last year’s championship season.
Last winter, spurred by guard Nicole Shatsky, Marlboro captured the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV championship, defeating Monroe Township High School in an overtime thriller. Shatsky willed her club to the championship, and the graduated standout’s presence will be missed.
While the 1,000-point career scorer sparked the Mustangs, her teammates learned how to win and the role players stepped up to play crucial roles. This year, those players will take on more important roles for head coach Brad Hagensen and his staff.
“Tatum Evans, Jessie Iacobellis, Molly Weiss and Jessica Broad each played major minutes during our run to last year’s [Central Jersey] Group IV championship,” Hagensen said. “They are sharing that experience with this year’s group to lead the way.”
The 5-foot-11 Evans, a four-year starter, and 5-foot-7 Iacobellis are the only seniors on the team, and they give Marlboro one of the strongest front lines in the Shore Conference A North Division, along with Broad, a 5-foot-9 sophomore. Evans plays center and has good post-up moves, and Iacobellis and Broad are forwards.
The Mustangs are off to a 2-0 start with Evans averaging 20.5 points and nine rebounds a game. Broad is averaging 17 points and 10.5 rebounds, while Evans has 13 points per game. Broad is also averaging five assists a contest.
Weiss and freshman Gisella Romeo are the starting guards.
Marlboro is young with three freshmen — forwards Theresa Besso and Allie Garcia join Romeo — and sophomore forwards Broad and Isabella O’Hare.
Completing the team are junior guards Jean Angelone and Jillian Krantz.
The Mustangs are deeper than last year, and Hagensen hasn’t been hesitant about using his bench.
Hagensen likes what he’s learned about his team through practices, preseason scrimmages and the opening week of the season.
“They’re competitive, encouraging and, best of all, fun to be around,” the coach said.
“We’ve got a long way to go as far as understanding the system, but we get a little better every day.”
Middletown High School South has ruled A North the last few years, and Marlboro has been the team finishing behind the Eagles. The Mustangs would like to reverse that order this year. The teams meet for the first time Jan. 5 in Middletown.
Last year at this time, Colts Neck High School was the defending Central Jersey, Group IV champ.
Head coach Glenn Jansen has a Cougars team that finished last season playing its best in March and has key players Elise Brown (senior guard), Cara Volpe (sophomore forward) and Sam Roth (junior guard) back along with Amanda Hunt (senior forward) and Jamie Prestigiacomo (junior goad) returning. The Cougars will look to build on that momentum.
Lexie Iglesia (junior forward), Lola Mullaney (freshman guard) and Alana Janniello (senior forward) have been the team’s impact newcomers.
Colts Neck is off to an impressive 3-0 start, led by Brown, who is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds.
“Elise Brown is one of the most underrated players in the [Shore Conference] senior class,” Jansen said. “She is the team leader in so many ways.”
Mullaney has extended defenses with her 3-point shooting. She has seven treys while averaging 14.7 points.
Prestigiacomo and Roth have been chipping in the scoring column as well.
The Cougars offense has team averaged more than 60 points a game with a high of 74 against Long Branch High School. Even more impressive, they are allowing only 35 points a game.
Completing the Cougars are Camryn Allmers (sophomore guard) and Lauren Feaster (sophomore forward).
Colts Neck plays in the B North Division, where Red Bank Catholic High School looms as the team to beat.
Jansen is looking for his team to be in the title chase for B North and to make the Shore Conference and state tournaments, where he would like to make deep runs.
There are some big shoes to fill at Freehold Township High School (0-3). The Patriots will have a new look with four-year starters Sam Famulare and Tori Wagner now off to college — Famulare to Florida Southern College and Wagner to St. Francis College of Brooklyn.
The career 1,000-point scorers were the focal point of the team’s offense the last four years, and finding a way to replace those points will be a challenge for head coach Mike Stoia. He’s starting three sophomores in Theresa Sanzone, Sarah Hughes and Katie Potter.
The Patriots have point guard Harlie Kneler as a floor general to guide the underclassmen. She’s a four-year starter.
“Harlie has been great throughout this process,” Stoia said. “She has been a coach on the floor and is tremendous at building up her teammates.
“I can’t say enough about how well she is playing and how well she is transitioning to more of a leader with our loss to graduation.”
Kneler is still the team’s playmaker but is also scoring more (10.3 points per game).
Completing the starting lineup is senior Kaela Chadziutko.
Hughes, who provides an inside presence, and Potter have added to the offense.
Sydney Rathsmith and Christina Heintz have the potential to provide more scoring.
Stoia’s goal for the Patriots is to improve each week and qualify for the postseason tournaments.
Just three years ago, Freehold High School (0-1) carried the day, winning Central Jersey, Group III. This winter, Colonials head coach Jenn Brzucki is looking to rebuild to be competitive in A North after being hit hard by graduation. Career 1,000-point scorer Rebecca Cobb is gone, as are her points, rebounds and leadership.
The Colonials have one returning senior from last year’s team: guard Stephanie Giardina. Also back are juniors Kayla Fletcher (guard), Sierra Strong (forward) and Olivia Duffy (guard) and sophomores Emme Leung (point guard) and Sydney Przygoda (forward).
The newcomers include Jenna Huskey (senior guard), Shayla Hunley (junior forward), Sholanda Hickman (junior guard), Jennifer Finnegan (senior point guard) and Samantha Wiles (senior forward).
Freehold is a very athletic team that can play defense. Hunley (5 feet 10 inches tall) and Wiles (5 feet 9 inches tall) provide a presence in the paint.
The Colonials will need consistent scoring to be competitive in A North this year.
At Manalapan High School (0-2), head coach Scott Horton will continue to go after teams with “the system” — the up-tempo game that features liberal substitutions that keeps fresh legs on the court to pressure teams from end to end. Over the years, the Braves have pulled off some big upsets in the postseason.
As always, Horton has a very deep bench that he utilizes.
Sophomores Arielle Kaplan (10 points per game) and Kerry Tanke (9.5 points per game) have been the team’s leading scorers thus far.
The roster includes seniors Emily Gresco, Briana Waring, Carly Niro, Erin Rotondo and Jenna Goldberg; juniors Danna Meier, Sarah Girolamo, Marisa Presby, Gina DeLorenzo, Mya Donnelly, Christine Critelli and Nicolette Conforth; and sophomore Grace DiPalermo.
The 3-point shot is an important part of Manalapan’s offense, and Kaplan and Critelli have been the team’s leading longrange shooters.
The Braves are an all-around athletic team that will again be a challenge for teams to play.
The goal is to get back to the postseason, where Manalapan will go up against teams, unlike in A North, that are unfamiliar with their game.
Joe Santopietro is the new head coach at Howell High School, and he has a club that is a mixture of all classes.
Senior Rebecca Hamilton and sophomores Lauren Kocsis and Perri Clifton form the trio sharing the scoring load for the Rebels (0-2).
Led by soccer standout Hamilton, they are a very athletic group.
Seniors Brittany Lucey, Gianna Ciaccarelli and Katie Capestro; juniors Jen Hodge, Michelle Hodge, Caroline Osborne and Erin Cannon; and sophomores Rachel Gazzola and Elizabeth Capestro complete the 2015-16 Rebels.