TOMS RIVER - Staples in the Toms River North lineup over the last four years, Jenna Paul and Brielle Bisogno can be forgiven if they get a little sentimental from time to time over the course of their senior year.

Their careers have been intertwined from the start, both thrust prominently into the Mariners’ lineup as freshmen, entrusted to find their way with the help of nurturing assistance from upperclassmen. Those encouraging interactions, words of advice or a pat on the back, resonate with Paul and Bisogno today more than ever.

Things have come full circle for the pair, seasoned veterans posing as beacons in a sea of impressionable freshmen without the luxury of gradually acclimating to the varsity lifestyle. Instead, Toms River North is counting heavily on its wealth of newcomers to quickly grasp the playbook with Paul and Bisogno available for on-the-job tutoring.

“Being a leader is very important to me,” said Paul, the Mariners’ all-time leading scorer. “I had great ones when I was a freshman and I wanted to carry on that tradition.”

Sydney Howell and Faith Wavershak are grateful for the support. Along with Brandi Manna and Jaclyn Benevenuto, they are among the freshmen seeing the most time in the initial stages of the season and continue to impress their reviewers with performance like the ones offered during Thursday’ 43-33 win over Colts Neck in the quarterfinals of the WOBM Christmas Classic at RWJBarnabas Health Arena.

Bisogno and Paul turned in their usual, reliable work, the former with a season-high 24 points and the latter through 16 points and six boards. While Wavershak failed to score and Howell managed to hit a 3-pointer, their contributions were appreciated in ways numbers can’t attest.

Despite her diminutive 5-6 frame, Wavershak fearlessly sticks her nose where it has no business. Shrewd positioning, coupled with quick reactions honed this fall on the soccer field, helped her tear down eight rebounds and pointed at a common thread shared with Bisogno.

“We both have that hustle and feistiness,” said Wavershak, who along with Howell, Manna and Benvenuto is joined by classmates Victoria Laudien and Gia Pissott on the Mariner roster.

Howell bears more of a resemblance to the 5-10 Paul. At 5-7, she has a physicality that translates well on defense as well as under the boards and a versatile offensive repertoire the Mariners are eager to unlock.

“She is definitely a combo-type kid with the ability to score,” Toms River North coach Vicki Gillen said. “She understands the game and she, as well as Faith, gives us some physical strength, something we don’t usually get from incoming freshmen.”

Howell picked up four rebounds, a block, an assist and a steal against Colts Neck, again statistics appreciated but ones that take a back seat to other underlying contributions.

Case in point: Colts Neck posed something different for North – man-to-man defense in contrast to a lot of the early zone thrown at its way.

Considering the poise Wavershak and Howell showed in the face of on-the-ball hounding, Gillen was more than pleased.

“For my young girls to have that pressure on the wing and be able to still do something with that basketball was a great experience for us,” said Gillen. “We haven’t seen that, because we’ve seen so much zone. They are gutsy.”

The win vaulted Toms River North to 5-0 and into the semifinal round on Friday opposite dangerous Marlboro. Based on early returns, Bisogno is confident her young teammates are primed for the challenge.

“They compete and are involved and we need them,” Bisogno said. “To see the level they are playing at is amazing and makes me proud.”

*Girls Basketball Photos by Paula Lopez*

 

 

 

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