2009-03-26 / Front Page
Lancers back atop New Jersey hoops
St. John Vianney captures Tournament of Champions crown at Izod Center
Last year was about restoring the reputation of the St. John Vianney High School girls basketball team. A 12th state championship and a trip to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions semifinals did that for the Lancers.
On March 23 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, the Lancers (31-2) delivered on their season-long quest by beating Colts Neck High School, 56-44, to capture their record sixth Tournament of Champions crown. A crowd of more than 6,000 people watched SJV return to the top of Garden State basketball.
The win was especially sweet for seniors like Katelyn Linney, who had seen the program decline when they were underclassmen and who had vowed to resurrect it. Last year was the start and this year was the completion of their journey.
Coach Dawn Karpell, who was a TOC champion as a player for SJV herself, praised the way her team had handled the pressure of being the top-ranked team in the state for most of the campaign.
"They've done a tremendous job handling the task of being No. 1 for a good deal of the season," she said. "They worked hard every day. We got everyone's best shot."
By finishing the season with 31 wins (31-2), this 2008-09 Lancers tied the school record for wins in a season.
"To tie a record here, this has to be a special group," said Karpell.
It indeed was a special group.
Like the other five Lancer TOC winners, it was Defense, Defense and more Defense, that powered the team to the victory. It also didn't hurt to have Linney pouring in 23 points and to have a string of five straight three-point shots that started late in the third quarter and carried over to the fourth, that broke the game open.
In Colts Neck, the Group IV state champion, the Lancers were facing a very dangerous team. The Cougars were peaking in the playoffs. They had dismissed top seed and returning champion Malcom X. Shabazz in the semi-finals and had perhaps, the state's finest backcourt in Brooke Hampton and Lauren Clarke, players who can break a press by themselves and could beat a team with their penetration or threepoint shots. St. John Vianney was going to have its hands full. That just made the Lancers that much more focused on the defensive end.
Karpell pointed out that after watching film of Colts Neck, she decided to trap the Cougars everywhere.
"We decided that no one had gone after them," she explained. "We trapped them at all different angles to try and get them on their heels.
"They're such a rhythm team," she added. "It (the traps) affected their shooting. They were rushing their shots."
Cougar head coach Truhan noted that that was exactly what the Lancers had done to his team.
By doubling Hampton and Clarke when they were bringing the ball up the floor with their traps, the Lancers forced them to give up the ball and threw the team's half-court sets out of sync.
Truhan wasn't surprised by the Lancer
strategy. "If I was coaching against my team, I'd want to get the ball out of their (Hampton and Clarke) hands," he said. Taking away the pickand roll at the top of the key was another part of the Lancer defense and that was where Arron Zimmerman came into play. "My job was to rotate and get out on their shooters," she said. Zimmerman's hawking of the Cougar shooters limited a team that had lived on the three to just four. Tiffany DeTulio, who had made more than 80 threes on the season had none, and Hampton and Clarke combined for just one between them. The Lancers, Zimmerman added, welcomed throwing a new look at the Cougars. "We took it as a challenge," she said. "Their guards are good. No one had trapped them." The Lancer defense made its mark from the very start. SJV ran off the first nine points of the game, and the Cougars didn't make their firstbasket until there were just 52 seconds left in the first quarter. It was a three by Emily Laurence.
SJV had the game playing at its pace leading 11-5 after one quarter. The Lancers stretched it to 10 twice in the second quarter (17-7 and 19-9), before the Cougars closed to within 19-14 on another three from Laurence.
Zimmerman beat the buzzer with a jumper to extend SJV's lead to 21-14.
Despite shooting just 5-21 and turning the ball over 10 times, the Cougars were still in the game thanks to their defense, which forced eight Lancer turnovers. When Clarke, held scoreless in the first half, scored back-to-back baskets the Cougars pulled to within five, 23-18, and their confidence level was up.
Linney extended a 25-20 lead to seven points with a jumper and then it starting raining threes for the Lancers.
Kate Wilverding, Missy Repoli, Linney, Jackie Kates (beating the third quarter buzzer) and Repoli again gave the Lancers a 42-30 lead with 7:11 left in the game.
Truhan had seen that kind of gamechanging before, from his Cougars.
"They gained momentum with those threes," he said. "We're used to doing that. That's what we do against teams and they did it to us."
Karpell noted that the three point shots came in the flow of the game when the Lancers were running.
"We were going up and down," she said. "We weren't thinking, just playing and when we do that, no one is better."
Another Linney basket made it 44-30 and the Lancers could begin to think about their first TOC title since 1999.
Kates and Linney would clinch it from the free line in the final 2:18 going 12-12 (each was 6-6), as the Cougars were down to their last option fouling and hoping the Lancers. They didn't and the TOC title was returning to Holmdel for the record sixth time (SJV held the record at five with previous wins in 1990, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999).
Linney, who will be playing a Fairfield (Conn.) University next year, was named the game's Most Valuable Player for SJV. She was 8-14 from the field and 6-6 from the line. She had two assists.
Clarke was Colts Neck's MVP scoring 10 points and dishing out four assists.
Kares had nine points and four assists for the champions. Repoli and Zimmerman each had six. Jen Mulvey had a game-high seven rebounds for the Lancers.
St. John Vianney, the No. 2 seed in the TOC, had beaten Paterson Catholic, 72-52, in its semi-final played March 19 at the Ritacco Center in Toms River. Freshman Michaela Mabrey stepped and scored 23 points for the Lancers on a night they struggled offensively.
Brittany Howes shared team-high scoring honors with 10 for Colts Neck (29-4), which was making its first-ever TOC appearance.
The Cougars, the No. 4 seed, had beaten Rumson-Fair Haven, 42-39, in the first round and defending champion Shabazz, 58-48, in the semi-finals.
This was just the second time that the TOC was an All-Shore Conference affair. Back in 2000, Red Bank Catholic beat Toms River North, 57-40.