PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Taylor Rooks, Gill St. Bernard’s, Jr., G: Just on eye test alone, her durable 6-0 frame tempts observers to label her a power forward and she can certainly address such billing if needed.
But make no mistake, through effortless actions away from the blocks on both sides of the floor, Rooks provided moving evidence that she is a bona fide two-guard, a testament to rapid development and eagerness to expand her basketball resume. The Gatorade New Jersey State Player of the Year embodies the ruggedness to engage on the blocks yet it’s her nimble footwork that not only thrust her past unsuspecting defenders off the wings but enabled her to match up on point guards and cut off their paths of penetration with staunch defense.
Widely recruited by a number of top-shelf Division 1 programs, including UConn and Stanford, Rooks had no problem displaying a multi-faceted game that found limitless ways of making an impact for the Knights (23-5). She averaged 27.4 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 1.7 blocks while shooting 51 percent from the floor and 80 percent at the foul line.
Marina Mabrey, Point Pleasant Beach, Soph., G: Cut from similiar cloth as Rooks, the 5-11 Mabrey was a primary figure in the Garnet Gulls rise from a 4-14 showing last year to a 26-2 mark that included the program’s first Group 1 state title and a march to the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions. Mabrey, who transferred, along with Katelynn Flaherty, from Manasquan, played with unshakeable nerve, boundless confidence and bruising strength while pumping in 26.0 points per game (including 50 3-pointers) to go with 9.5 rebounds, 5.1 steals, 4.9 assists and 1.6 blocks.
Zaire O’Neil, Shabazz, Jr., F: Explosive bursts around the rim, coupled with the deft scoring touch, enabled the 6-1 southpaw to be nearly unstoppable inside. Her body control, smart positioning and polished technique were at the core of a 14.6 scoring average and 9.5 rebounds per contest. O’Neil erupted for 26 points and 20 rebounds – both season highs - in a 65-50 triumph over Point Pleasant Beach in the Tournament of Champions semifinal before scoring 16 and grabbing 10 boards in a 66-54 victory against Rancocas Valley to help Shabazz (33-1) secure its fifth TOC championship.
Katelynn Flaherty, Point Pleasant Beach, Jr., G: The shifty point guard demoralized defenders with her array of moves and ability to change gears in an instant. Her explosive offensive output (30.7 ppg., 4.3 apg., 53 3-pointers) enabled her to surpass the 2,000-point plateau while engineering the offense. Her scoring exploits have a tendency to overshadow equally valuable contributions on defense (3.9 spg.) and the boards (5.4 rpg.).
Kelly Hughes, Point Pleasant Boro, Sr., G (Boston College): Hughes graduates as the all-time leading scorer in the Shore Conference with 2,560 points and 14th in state history. She will be recalled for the unlimited range on a jumper that connected for 257 career 3-pointers as well as her proficiency at the foul line. Hughes was a driving force in three sectional championships and a march to this year’s Shore Conference Tournament final. She capped a stellar four-year run by averaging 25.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 4.6 steals for the Panthers (26-3).
Samantha Wilkes, Immaculate Heart, Sr., G (Villanova)
Aliyah Huland El, Randolph Jr., G
Jade Walker, DePaul, Sr., F (St. John’s)
Isis Young, Trenton Catholic, Jr., G
Myisha Hines-Allen, Montclair, Jr., G
BERGEN: Jackie Reyneke, Northern Highlands; Kayla Gibbs, Teaneck; Melanie Lockett, Holy Angels; Samantha Fuehring, Lodi Immaculate; Katherine Haines, Ridgefield Park; Rebecca Rabeiro, Midland Park; Melissa Errico, Old Tappan; Sophie Lederer, Glen Rock; Caitlin Roche, Immaculate Heart; Lauren Beausoleil, Ridgewood; Christina Costantino, Mahwah; Madison Dunbar, Northern Highlands; Amanda Fields, Holy Angels; Kellie Lane, Ridgefield Park; JK McAvoy, Ramapo; Kate McCue, Bergenfield; Njaire McKoy, Bergen Tech; Kayleen Melvin, River Dell; Tianna Smith, Paramus Catholic; Brittany Stone, Paramus.
ESSEX: Ashunae Durant, Bloomfield Tech; Teana Muldrow, East Orange Campus; De’Ashia Jones, Shabazz; Naqaiyyah Teague, Shabazz; Camille McPherson, Mount St. Dominic; Ijeoma Ikpe, Caldwell; Zhane Robinson, Central; Marvellous Osagie-Erese, East Orange Campus; Jocelyn Willoughby, Newark Academy; Gloria Rothenberg, Golda Och; Blair Watson, Nutley; Grace Montgomery, Nutley; Doniyah Cliney, Shabazz; Alsymeena Alexander, Weequahic; Chisom Ameafuna, West Orange; Maya Harris, Bloomfield; Jenny Smith, Millburn; Amanda Langan, Verona; Gina Guccione, Montclair Kimberley; Shannon Bertscha, West Essex.
HUDSON: Breana Bey, Lincoln; Icies Hammer, North Bergen; Andie Lennon, Secaucus; Kiante Johnson, Lincoln; Julia McClure, Secaucus; Doris Ilic, North Bergen; Zoe Pero, Secaucus; Aneia Williams, Bayonne; Shekinah Suber, Lincoln; Sasha Geathers, Snyder; Hannah Johnson, St. Dominic; Alexis Wilson, Marist; Jalia Carter, McNair; Sydney Stanton, Hudson Catholic; Jesenia Montalvo, Bayonne; Mandy Jaing, Kearny; Karina Garcia, Union City; Eboni Wood, Union City; Rayven Lucas, Harrison; Alexis Ogbin, Holy Family.
MERCER: Tyler Raysor, Trenton Catholic; Erin Garner, Trenton Catholic; Kara Hageman, Hopewell Valley; Candace Scott-Mason, Ewing; Samantha Widmann, Notre Dame; Daphne Ginn, Lawrence; Nellie Tanguay, Hopewell Valley; Amriah Brown, Lawrence; Erin Septer, Hamilton; Jen Didun, Hopewell Valley; Marcia Senatus, Trenton Catholic; Khajira McCallum, Trenton; Gabby Bennett, Steinert; Cassidie Geffrard, Hightstown; Tyquasia Peterson, Trenton; Brooke West, Lawrence; MyLeisha Richardson, Ewing; Imani Alston, Nottingham; Sarah McNeilly, West Windsor North; Courtney Allen, Robbinsville.
MIDDLESEX: Danielle Padovano, South Brunswick; Brittany Washington, Iselin Kennedy; Cassie Smith, Metuchen; Taylor Stanley, Woodbridge; Jackie Rodriguez, Sayreville; Morgan Peacock, Edison; Dayna Sclafani, East Brunswick; Jenna Harsh, Bishop Ahr; Taylor Freeman, Iselin Kennedy; Kiki Bynes, Piscataway; Kristyn Shea, Piscataway; Stephanie Guevara, North Brunswick; Brittany Vick, North Brunswick; Alyssa McDonough, Sayreville; Dominique Potter, Carteret; Brianna Strahm, Bishop Ahr; Kenya Adams, Perth Amboy; Janasia James, Perth Amboy; Kerry Johnson, Dunellen; Lexus Blocker, Highland Park.
MONMOUTH: Grace Fallon, Red Bank Catholic; Lyndsay Rowe, St. John Vianney; Tara Inman, Holmdel; Caroline Corcoran, Red Bank Catholic; Jackie Dluhi, Middletown South; Grace Stant, Rumson; Ivy Harrington, Neptune; Lauren Postell, Matawan; Camerin Spahn, Freehold Boro; Haley Unger, Marlboro; Emily Lavin, Middletown North; Kelly Campbell, St. John Vianney; Alex Alfano, Red Bank Catholic; Amanda Hagaman, Manasquan; Mary Kate Caverly, Red Bank Catholic; Sam Sullivan, Manasquan; Jess Harvey, Rumson; Sarah Kurtz, St. Rose; Kat Phipps, St. Rose; Kim Dana, Freehold Boro.
MORRIS: Lauren Daugherty, Hanover Park; Imani Brown, Jefferson; Sade Idera, Morris Catholic; Grace Conroy, Chatham; Alana Dudley, Whippany Park; Brielle Kelly, West Morris; Kristen Swerzenski, Jefferson; Alexa Giuliano, Morris Catholic; Kerri Clifford, Villa Walsh; Kendall Davies, Chatham; Liana Ilutzi, Hanover Park; Liz Malman, Mendham; Courtney Chase, West Morris; Sarah Wells, Mount Olive; Morgan Bartner, Morristown-Beard; Katie O’Reilly, Montville; Maja Sekulovska, Butler; Andrea Morales, Dover; Christine Clark, Villa Walsh; Julia Murawisnki, Jefferson; Sarah Bozzo, Mountain Lakes.
OCEAN: Hannah Missry, Jackson; Dana Carbone, Msgr. Donovan; Kerry Malleck, Point Pleasant Boro; Kendall Kauffman, Toms River North; Stephanie Mason, Jackson; Amanda Timmes, Toms River South; Kristen Kennedy, Toms River East; Kyasia White, Jackson Liberty; Rachel Iozzia, Central; Brianne Allender, Central; Victoria Alvarez, Toms River South; Anna Bojakowski, Toms River South; Samantha DeCapua, Barnegat; Christina Gerew, Toms River North; Lauren Hughes, Point Pleasant Boro; Jess Macchi, Point Pleasant Boro; Kelly Milana, Msgr. Donovan; Allison Spaschak, Southern; Mary Kate Sullivan, Toms River East; Sheana Vega, Jackson Liberty.
PASSAIC: Erika Brown, Paterson Kennedy; Taylor Brown, Paterson Eastside; Brianah Ramos, DePaul; Koryn Lawrence-Barrett, Paterson Kennedy; Kelly Douglass, Clifton; Kayla Diaz, Paterson Eastside; Carly Veenstra, Eastern Christian; Morgan Taylor, Paterson Kennedy; Kierona Morton, Passaic Tech; Jackie Bergen, Clifton; Erika Jarrett, Passaic Tech; Nia Adams, Paterson Eastside; Nikki Johnson, DePaul; Victoria D’Addario, DePaul; Mallory Noordeloos, Hawthorne; Tina Brindisi, Lakeland; Samantha Legreaux, Manchester; Tamirah Easterling, Passaic Tech; Kelly Wieczerzak, Wayne Valley; Brielle Mulvihill, West Milford.
SOMERSET: Denisha Petty-Evans, Bridgewater-Raritan; Jasmine Sina, Gill St. Bernard’s; Adreana Miller, Franklin; Trevena Bennett, Gill St. Bernard’s; Caroline Barberi, Somerville; Sam Mahon, Ridge; Sarah Ryan, Bernards; Jessica Suk, Immaculata; Frankie Chersaro, North Plainfield; Zojajha Ayub, Montgomery; Allison Girardi, Rutgers Prep; Alexandra Jackson, Franklin; Kate Sienko, Pingry; Mary Trossi, Franklin; Eunice Abogado, Bridgewater-Raritan; Jaeda Wildgoose, Franklin; Samantha Kramer, Gill St. Bernard’s; Kim Thomas, Rutgers Prep; Bridget Douglas, Somerville; Hannah Yuhl, Watchung Hills.
UNION: Sydney Morang, New Providence; Mallory George, Gov. Livingston; Erin Ferguson, Gov. Livingston; Cassandra Squeri, New Providence; Taylor Sebolao, Scotch Plains; Jada Lewis, Linden; Breana Spencer, Plainfield; Jessica McCoy, Cranford; Kerri Moran, Oak Knoll; Drew Winter, Plainfield; Lillian Scott, Westfield; Jaqueline Knapp, Westfield; Tabitha Davis, Benedictine; Jenna Goeller, Cranford; Tori Pozsonyi, Roselle Catholic; Kaitlin McGovern, Cranford; Patrice DiTommaso, Gov. Livingston; Renee Oliver, Roselle Catholic; Nikki Athan, Dayton; Christine Grispart, Brearley.
WEST JERSEY: Loren Kaiser, Phillipsburg; Carli Wilson, Hunterdon Central; Lauren McBride, South Hunterdon; Justine Doran, Delaware Valley; Shannon Croasdale, Delaware Valley; Allison Lane, North Hunterdon; Alicea Foran, North Hunterdon; Lindsay Sabo, Lenape Valley; Jamie Melville, Sparta; Nicole Calella, Kittatinny; Tara Lynch, Newton; Kirsty Gartner, High Point; Darby Smith, High Point; Jess Kovatch, Phillipsburg; Rachel Edwards, Phillipsburg; Marissa Quaglia, Lenape Valley; Heather Yaros, Hopatcong; Jessie Sharr, Belvidere; Jamie Greene, North Warren; Brittany Lee, North Warren.
Team of the Year: Shabazz
If you didn’t already know it, the Shabazz faithful are always willing to serenade a reminder after each win.
They’ll tell you in a full-throated chorus, “It’s so hard to be a Bulldog” which may be true, but one thing that proved even more difficult was beating this year’s collection. Able to rely to a larger degree than in recent years on man-to-man defense accentuated the Bulldogs’ strengths - length, quickness, anticipation, aggressiveness and tenacity – and limited opponents to a mere 36.4 points per game.
Shabazz entered with a pretty good idea of what it could expect from junior forwards Zaire O’Neil and De’ashia Jones and they didn’t disappoint. O’Neil, a slick 6-1 power forward, dominated inside with great scoring touch and an iron grip on the glass while the 6-0 Jones expanded her game, showing confidence shooting along the arc to go with her power game underneath.
The biggest surprise with the vast improvement and composure of Naqaiyyah Teague, who took over the point after three years spent as a defensive-oriented two guard. The senior developed into a true playmaker, uninhibited off the dribble and vocal in steering the offense. She teamed with junior guard Doniyah Cliney to apply tough defense against opposing guard.
Together, they fueled Shabazz on a wire-to-wire stay atop the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, picking up an Essex County Tournament, NJSIAA Group 2 and Tournament of Champions titles along the route. It opened the season with 20 straight wins before falling to New York power Long Island Lutheran and rebounded the very next day with a triumph over Newark Academy that touched off a season-ending run of 13 consecutive victories to finish 33-1 for the second time in three years.
Coach of the Year: Joe Montano, Red Bank Catholic
Over the course of 22 years at Red Bank Catholic, Joe Montano has never wavered from a core set of principles that have yet to betray him. Players come and go, leaving an indelible impression on him as much as he sends them off with.
There are no hangers adjacent to the gym and with good reason because Casey teams are annually devoid of ego. Montano is steadfast in team first, no part remotely greater than the some and perhaps, none of his RBC’s squad better embodied his philosophy more so than this year’s group.
The seamless exchange of guarding assignments within its signature man-to-man defense captured the value of communication but also something much deeper. Players competed not for themselves but for each other in a system where each individual was invested equally. Perhaps, there’s no better explanation than that shared passion in figuring out what pushed RBC through a gratifying and bountiful 29-2 campaign.
The Caseys went unbeaten in the taxing A Central Division of the Shore Conference, claiming home-and-aways against the likes St. John Vianney (which it defeated three times by a combined margin of seven points), Rumson, Holmdel and Manasquan. The daily level of competition primed Red Bank Catholic for the post season, where Montano piloted his crew to a sixth Shore Conference Tournament crown (its first since 2007) before moving on to the NJSIAA Non-Public A playoffs.
A 51-37 victory over Holy Cross in the opening round of the South Jersey sectional provided Montano with his 500th win and sparked a charge to the Caseys’ seventh state title. While the championship haul was satisfying, there may not have been a moment Montano cherished more than the effort Grace Fallon, Alex Alfano, Mary Kate Caverly, Caroline Corcoran, Alex Barazotti and Quinn McMenaman put forth in the semifinals of the Tournament of Champions.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner