This is not the cast you want to bet against. All five starters – Stella Clark, Addie Masonius, Dara Mabrey, Carly Geissler and Faith Masonius – are back from a team that won its third straight Group 2 state title and reached the Tournament of Champions final for a third successive March, falling to St. John Vianney in double overtime. Oh, did we mention the bench got deeper with the healthy return of Victoria Galvan and transfer of Lola Mullaney from Colts Neck?
You can make a strong case for the Purple Roses to be one floor higher. They, too, are back intact and feature a whopping six players who have either signed National Letters of Intent or made verbal commitments. Seniors Ellyn Stoll (NJIT), Jen Louro (UMass-Lowell) and Alex Pendergrass (Manhattan) all inked while juniors Mikayla Markham (Columbia), Lovin Marsicano (St. Joseph, Pa.) and Lucy Thomas (Monmouth) have made their verbal pledge.
The defending Non-Public B state champion has a big void to fill due to the graduation of All-News 12 Varsity New Jersey First Teamer Niki Metzel, but the Argos are equipped to compensate. The backcourt tandem of Olivia Dabney and Jahsyni Knight is cohesive, creative and combustible while the frontcourt is loaded with Gabi Redden, Madison Stanley, Leilani Correa, Chiara Tibbitt and newcomer Brooke Pikiell assuring a fresh rotation.
4-Red Bank Catholic
Starting to sense a theme here. The Caseys have a wealth of experience, with their top seven players – Josie Larkins, Tia Montagne, Maureen Coakley, Katie Rice, Haley Moore, Rose Caverly and Amanda Hart – all in the mix. That collection bonds into a system in tune with the value of defense and balance at the opposite end.
5-St. John Vianney
Yes, the Lancers undergo a significant turnover of talent, bidding farewell to a corps of seniors who departed but not before leaving the Tournament of Champions trophy as a memorable reminder of their accomplishments. Seniors Kimi Evans, Courtney Dobrzynski and Julia Ramos, along with freshman Sarah Karpell, were key contributors to Vianney’s 31-1 showing and ascent to No. 1 in the final News 12 Varsity Tri-State Top 25. They have no intentions of seeing the brand dip and can count on senior Addy Anderko, juniors Madison Doring and Sarah Furch, and sizable sophomores Sajada Bonner and Brelynn Bellamy to step in and step up in meatier assignments.
The Celtics will be led by electrifying senior guard Qadashah Hoppie, a St. John’s commit as well as the offensive catalyst. However, her load in the backcourt with be eased and accentuated by Bishop Loughlin (NY) transfers Mimi Reid, a proven guard who is heading to Mississippi, and 6-2 junior Zaria Dorsey, who will command interior attention and can take defenders to the wings.
7-Gill St. Bernard’s
The injury bug bit Gill last winter, robbing Alexia Allesch of 15 games and tearing a huge part of its offense out of the playbook. The UMass commit is once again healthy and primed to resume being a matchup nightmare with her combination of paint prominence and perimeter artistry in a 6-2 frame. Playmaker Nisani Santiago will be joined by Paramus Catholic transfer Sydnei Caldwell in the backcourt after the sophomore sits the first 30 days, comprising a super stable of guards along with seniors Nyla Mulcahy and Emma Dean.
8- Lodi Immaculate
The runner-up last year in the Bergen County Tournament is chomping to address some unfinished business. Versatile senior Breyenne Bellerand knows how to finish with the basketball and retrieve it off the glass while Jordan McLemore blossomed as a sophomore distributing and attacking at the point. The Blue Wolves welcome back Khalya Latimer, who missed all but the first eight games a year ago due to a torn ACL, and welcome in senior Danielle Deoul, a physical post player committed to George Mason.
9- Rumson-Fair Haven
The Bulldogs ring in the Dave Callahan era as the first-year coach replaces George Sourlis, who left the cupboard fully stocked. Senior forward Hannah Scanlan, a Bryant commit, provides a soft touch around the rim, NYU pledge Katie Foos has unlimited range from 3-point territory and junior Tori Hyduke is heady floor leader on the point. Factor in the tenacity of senior forward Megan Volker and emerging junior Mikaela McGarvey and it appears the Bulldogs still have plenty of bite.
The Warriors feature a solid foundation. Sophomore Diamond Miller is a rising star, senior Monique Davis-Campbell offers muscle and dependability on the blocks and guards Tiana Jackson and Camille Grey each have a scent for creasing seams off the dribble.
11- Middletown South
The Eagles have to fill the void left by relentlessly rugged Stephanie Karcz, but take a step in addressing that matter with a healthy Haley Dalonzo, back after missing the final 17 games of her junior year with a torn ACL and signed to St. Peter's. Dalonzo embodies a grit and tenacity that will meld nicely with the smooth work of classmate Alexandra Balsamo and sophomore point guard Isla Brennan.
The Terriers made significant strides last winter, bowing to East Orange, 42-40, in the Essex County Tournament final before rebounding to claim a second straight North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 crown. Losing ’16 grads Ny-Asia and Dayjah Anderson is a big blow yet, Newark Tech will be able to move forward behind shrewd junior guard Abbey Lawrence, maturing 6-2 sophomore force Mariah Perez and inserting Shabazz transfers Caitlin Townes, a slick-penetrating junior guard and senior Jayla Thornton, a long-range specialist.
13-Saddle River Day
Few freshman have made an immediate splash the way scintillating guard Michelle Sidor did last winter, erupting for 27.3 points per game and 93 3-pointers, many launched from unthinkable distance. Her effortless penetration sets a blistering tempo for the Rebels, who won the Bergen County Tournament crown and reached the Non-Public B final. Classmates Jackie Wolak, a 5-8 off guard, and 6-2 center Jenna Jordan will be counted upon along with seniors Maggie Kuntz, Cassy Cruz and invaluable sixth-man Caity House.
14-Queen of Peace
The centerpiece for Golden Griffins will be LSU-bound Raven Farley-Clark, a 6-3 center who can face up on defenders, take them away from the blocks when she drifts outside, beat them off the bounce and run the floor to complement her work on the boards. Queen of Peace will be missing Asonah Alexander, who had a breakout freshman campaign but unfortunately is out due to injury.
Expect the Irish to have a different feel from a year ago. Gone is the fearsome duo of Samantha Widman and Nneka Ezeigbo, who provide frontcourt muscle, and shooting guard Kaiya Burnett has transferred to Life Center Academy, meaning it must replace the workload of the top three scorers from 25-4 squad that won the Mercer County Tournament. However, junior guards Hailee Jantorno and twins Eve and Maryam Crawford may seek to play at a quicker tempo while 6-1 freshman Erika Porter, 5-9 sophomore Natalie Smith and 5-11 senior Trinity Holmes are eager for bigger responsibilities.