By Jay Cook |
Head Coach: Steven Jannarone, 1st Season
2016-2017 Record: 13-12
Division: “A” North
While he might be fresh to the girls basketball scene, new Colts Neck head coach Steven Jannarone knows how to teach the game. Jannarone, with 30-years of coaching experience to lean on, began his career in 1986 with Manalapan High School, spent three years at Brookdale Community College and had been the associate head coach for the Colts Neck boys basketball team up until last year.
“The basics of the game are really the same but the only difference is the speed and the height at which the game is played at,” said Jannarone, who is taking over for Glenn Jansen. “As far as teaching the fundamentals of defense and positioning, there’s no change in that. The court is still the same size.”
Jannarone plans to employ a full court man-to-man defense and a fast-paced offense, opening scoring chances for the number of different athletes on his team. Senior point guard Cara Volpe, a 5’8” commit to Ithaca College, will be the centerpiece for this Cougars squad. Although she missed about 10 games last season, Volpe was on the cusp of averaging a double-double (12 points per game, 9.1 rebounds per game). Regarding her commitment to Ithaca, Jannarone said “from what I’ve seen so far, that’s a steal.”
Also on the hardwood this year will be senior Lauren Feaster, a Monmouth University soccer commit, and Amy McGee, the second-highest scorer on a 17-2-1 Cougars field hockey team.
Jannarone said his main goal will be ensuring the team gels with one another to compete for a top spot in “A” North.
“I want to try to break it down to just getting better every day,” he said. “There are a lot of similarities, Glenn was a boys freshman coach here for about a decade, so he was doing a lot of the stuff that we were doing.”
Head Coach: Doug Shaw, 3rd Season
2016-2017 Record: 16-11
Division: “A” Central
After hovering around a .500 record over the past two seasons, the Lady Hornets made a significant jump up their divisional standings last season for the first 16-plus win season since 2013-2014. Finding consistency throughout the season can be a challenge but Holmdel was able to string together two four-game win streaks a year ago, showing signs of progress.
Holmdel’s top player in 2017-2018 will be senior point guard Christina Antonakakis. The 5’5” workaholic has coaches raving about her work ethic in the gym and it’s sure to translate to the hardwood this season.
Antonakakis’ high school hoops journey has been interesting. After starting as a freshman for Holmdel, she transferred to Rumson-Fair Haven for her sophomore season. Antonakakis saw the floor but didn’t have nearly as many scoring chances, and ended that year with about 90 less points than her freshman campaign. She came back to Holmdel for her junior season last year and was good for 14.7 points per game and hit 39 three pointers. Expect the heart of this Hornets team to challenge her own 323 points scored a season ago and have Holmdel compete in the 20-win realm.
Mater Dei Prep
Head Coach: Brian Laux, 5th Season
2016-2017 Record: 14-12
Division: “B” Central
It’s never easy when a team loses its top scorer, rebounder and shot blocker after graduation, but its hurts even more when it’s one player who held that title. With Cassidy Stimpson no longer with Mater Dei Prep after graduation, there’s a major void left, said head coach Brian Laux, but he thinks he has enough skill position talent to not miss a step.
“We’re blessed that we have a pretty good pipeline of players that are continuing to come in and want to be a part of Mater Dei Prep,” Laux said.
The Seraphs have floated around the 14-win mark for a few seasons and with Stimpson no longer on the floor there will be some changes to this young starting lineup. Key returners are seniors guards Jill Williams (8 points per game, 6 rebounds per game) and Valerie Zoda, a rotational player from last season (2 points per game).
There is a lack of juniors on this Mater Dei squad, so the remaining six key players will be sophomores and freshman, something Laux said is different for his program. Sophomore Katie Zoda (8 points per game, 2.5 assists per game) and freshman Marie Martin will both see significant playing time and could be a force for Mater Dei not only this year, but for many down the road.
“I anticipate we’ll have some up and down moments like any young team, but I’m very excited about the next three seasons including this one,” Laux said.
Head Coach: Justin McGhee, 1st Season
2016-2017 Record: 14-10
Division: “B” North
Replacing a resume with 459 career wins over a 40-year coaching career is no small task yet new Middletown North girls basketball coach Justin McGhee is up to the challenge.
McGhee is taking over for Ed Jones who retired from coaching this past summer. While McGhee was on staff for the past two seasons with Jones, he’ll bring in his own style of coaching to the Lions program.
“I don’t really like to compare myself to anybody specifically,” McGhee said. “As a coach, I’m still learning something new every day and still figuring out the style I want to play.”
The Lions will be without some of their most productive players in school history. They graduated Hailee Hallard, who ended her high school career last season with a school-record 1,324 points scored, and teammate Kamani Williams, a physical post player with 752 career points. Filling that void will be senior Caleigh McAnuff, last year’s second leading scorer with 5.9 points per game. She’ll be assisted by fellow senior Kiera Williams, the returning team leader in boards and steals.
The going isn’t easy for Middletown North, who plays in arguably the toughest division in New Jersey – they have to deal with Middletown South, Red Bank Catholic and perennial Tournament of Champions contenders Manasquan. But McGhee says he welcomes the test for his group.
“We’re going to play the best,” he said. “You can argue that our division is one of the best in the state, so you have no other choice but to show up and play. That’s something I hope the girls get excited about.”
Head Coach: Tom Brennan, 22nd Season
2016-2017 Record: 18-9
Division: “B” North
After graduating a 1,000-point scorer in Alexandra Balsamo and two-way threat Haley Dalonzo, head coach Tom Brennan says Middletown South has “pretty big holes to fill.” Don’t sweat it though, Eagles fans, because Brennan always seems to have an answer.
Although the Eagles are battling the injury bug right now with ACL recoveries and preseason wear-and-tear, Brennan is confident this Middletown South team can deliver in 2017-2018.
“I’m not 100 percent sure of what we are, but I am 100 percent sure of what we can be,” Brennan said. “If we can get all the way back health-wise, I think there’s an awful lot of talent and experience.”
The only senior on the squad this season is Gabby Cook, a Rider University girls soccer commit. The goalie turned forward took time away from the hardwood last season but Brennan said she’s giving it a go for her senior campaign. Look for her to be a defensive presence in the paint.
Also returning for the Eagles is Brennan’s daughter, Isla. While it might be an interesting season yet again in the Brennan household, as they both also share a class (Brennan teaches at Middletown South) we can be sure their relationship will translate to the gym. Isla Brennan is currently battling shin splints, but when healthy, she’ll be good-to-go as the top rebounder (5.1 rebounds per game) and a reliable scorer (9 points per game).
The Eagles will look to get back into the Central Jersey Group 4 mix again after falling to South Brunswick on a missed three pointer last season. If Middletown South wants to return to the playoff stage, Brennan said it will come with how well his team meshes.
“I like this team a lot,” he said. “They’re a tight-knit group and really want to work together and play for each other.”
Head Coach: Lawrence Schuler, 1st Season
2016-2017 Record: 5-18
Division: “B” Central
No one could have predicted the meteoric rise of Ranney School’s athletic program over the past three seasons. Five-star recruits Scottie Lewis and Bryan Antoine have garnered national headlines with their basketball talent, and some believe it’s been a positively infectious phenomenon.
One of those believers would be Ranney’s new girls basketball coach Lawrence Schuler, who is taking over for longtime coach Tom Moriau. Schuler has spent time as a graduate assistant and manager with the Princeton University men’s basketball team, was an assistant coach at Sarah Lawrence College’s men’s basketball team and spent three years coaching freshmen and JV at Monmouth Regional.
“It’s been a source of pride for the entire athletic department, not just the girls basketball team,” Schuler said of the boys basketball team’s influence. “With the success that they’ve had and the work they put in, it’s a great reflection on all of us.”
Schuler is taking over a Lady Panthers team looking to get back over the .500 mark since they last did in the 2014-2015 season (12-10). As a first-year coach, he’ll rely on seniors Allison Sobieski, Kaitlin Serpico and Victoria Cuciniello to keep the pace up this season, who together average 15.1 points per game.
“It’s hard to predict game to game but I think those three will give us a strong foundation, and on any given night, the rest of our team will pitch in,” Schuler said.
Red Bank Regional
Head Coach: John Truhan, 1st Season
2016-2017 Record: 17-10
Division: “A” Central
There’s no doubt the Red Bank Regional community is going to miss former head coach James Young, who departed for an assistant coaching job with the Monmouth University women’s hoops team. The beloved program leader ushered a winning culture into RBR, evident through their seven trips to the state or conference playoffs during his tenure.
Taking over his position, though, is a coach with a stellar resume looking to continue his winning ways in the Shore Conference. That would be John Truhan, a New Jersey State Coaching Association Hall of Fame inductee with 18 years of head coaching experience. Through his career with the girls hoops teams at Toms River South, Colts Neck and Central Regional, Truhan compiled a 323-141 record. Last season he spent the year as the top assistant coach for Caldwell University’s women’s basketball team finishing at 25-6.
Truhan said he plans to build off of Young’s success to turn RBR into a consistent winning team.
“James did a great job of really pointing the program in the right direction,” Truhan said. “He worked so hard to build that over the last three to four years and deserves all the credit.”
The Bucs will return with a different look this season after seven seniors were lost to graduation. That means this RBR team will rely heavily upon senior guard Bridget Tobin and junior guard Meghan Murray. Truhan says Tobin “will be our floor general and leader on and off the court” and could be a catalyst on offense. Murray, an accomplished lacrosse player with 120 career goals, will play a big role on both sides of the ball. The junior has a knack for scoring wherever she’s playing and figures to improve on her 6.5 points per game last season.
With a young squad this season, Truhan said the focus will be on reloading, rather than rebuilding in 2017-2018.
“That’s the main thing,” he said. “Rebuilding gives the kids an out, but I think a reload can get us started.”
Head Coach: William Wishart, 2nd Season
2016-2017 Record: 10-20
Division: “A” Central
As the only Group 1 school in the Two River area, Shore Regional’s girls basketball team has found it difficult to compete in and around the Shore Conference, evident from their 10-20 record from a season ago.
But if there’s one bright spot for the Blue Devils, it was their late-season playoff-push which found them in the Central Jersey Group 1 final game in March.
After going 2-8 to close out their regular season, Shore Regional powered back with three straight road wins against Middlesex, Dunellen and Metuchen and put themselves face to face with a dominant Bound Brook team, with Shore eventually losing 73-33.
It was a major learning curve for head coach William Wishart, but the results were tangible. A sense of excitement surrounds the Blue Devils girls hoops program and could propel Shore to closing the gap on their 1:2 win-loss ratio.
Captaining this Shore squad will be 5’10” senior forward Jacklyn Shapiro. She was an ironwoman last season, missing only one game during that title run and will slide right into the elder statesman leadership role. Shapiro netted 197 points in her junior campaign, averaging out to 6.8 points per game.
Holding down the backcourt will be fellow senior Breanna Jackson, a 5’4” point guard with a nose for the basket. She’s coming off a 242-point season where she averaged 8.1 points per game. That senior duo will be a big part in deciding if Shore will again play for a Central Jersey Group 1 title.
Head Coach: Pat Grier, 4th Season
2016-2017 Record: 18-8
Division: “B” Central
A coach’s first senior graduating class is always special, but for head coach Pat Grier, this one means a little more. Not only will this be Grier’s first senior class, it’s the first group of seniors on the Trinity Hall girls basketball team.
“They’re a very determined, hard-working group of girls and I’d take anyone of them as my daughters,” Grier said.
After improving from 13-9 to 18-8 last season, the Monarchs are really starting to make waves in the Shore Conference. Trinity Hall was a divisional force last year after going 14-2, only losing twice to perennial powerhouse St. Rose. While it won’t be easy to topple the Purple Roses, which boasts arguably the best roster in the Shore Conference, Trinity Hall can still make waves.
Leading the charge yet again this season will be super senior Bridget Andree. She’s coming off a junior year where she averaged a remarkable 17.7 points per game with 13 games of over 20 points scored. Andree will also enter her senior season with 790 points scored and should easily break the 1,000-point threshold this year. She’ll follow the footsteps of her older brother Pat Andree, the top-scorer in Christian Brothers Academy history.
She notched 213 rebounds, 97 assists and 84 steals and will be the driving force to how successful the Monarchs can be this season. And Grier said Andree is more than just a basketball player.
“She’s a wonderful leader for our team, bringing a lot of experience, energy and positive attitude on and off the court,” Grier said.
This article was first published in the Dec. 14-21, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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