Girls Basketball – Manasquan Coasts to Third Straight Sectional Championship
MANASQUAN - For anyone that might have thought that the Manasquan girls basketball team's run on top of the NJSIAA Group II Tournament and among the Shore Conference elite was ending after last year's Tournament of Champions victory, the Warriors sent another message in Tuesday night's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II final: We're just getting started.
In a fourth meeting against Shore Conference Class A Central rival Rumson-Fair Haven, the Warriors dominated the second half and rolled to a 56-30 win over the Bulldogs to win their third straight Central Jersey Group II championship.
"A lot of people, not wrote us off, but thought we were going to be down," Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda said. "I think the girls really took that and ran with it and wanted to prove that we're still the same Manasquan that stepped on the court last year."
Four Manasquan players scored in double-figures, led by freshman Faith Masonius with 15 points. The rookie also grabbed eight rebounds, while junior sister Addie Masonius added 13 points and four assists.
Both Masonius sisters and sophomore Dara Mabrey each scored eight points during the second half, with Mabrey finishing with 10 points, three assists and three steals. Junior Nikki Stevens also contributed 12 points off the bench and also grabbed four rebounds.
"I just love playing with this team," Faith Masonius said. "Knowing that this is their third year winning this, it's a great thing to be a part of and I'm just excited I can add on to it and try to keep it going toward the Tournament of Champions."
Junior Stella Clark starred in Manasquan's win over Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals by scoring 26 points, but took on more of a point guard role on Tuesday. Clark scored six points, grabbed eight boards, handed out nine assists and swiped three steals.
"A lot of times, when teams look at us, they look to their main defensive jobs to be on me, Dara or Faith," Clark said. "When that happens, it leaves open shots for other girls.
"Our main goal is for everyone to come to the game ready and prepared. We take a lot of shots to get ready for games, so when Nikki is open, she finds the spot and if I see her open, I know she is ready to make the shot and that was big today."
Among Manasquan's players, Clark is the only one to start on each of the last three sectional championship teams and Addie Masonius is the only other player to play on all three.
"I've been at Manasquan for three years and this is my third state championship, so it honestly feels amazing," Clark said. "Three for three - nothing gets better than that and our team has worked so hard for it. This team works so hard and we love doing it together, which makes it so much more fun."
Clark and Mabrey are the only two players on Manasquan to start on last year's team and the Warriors needed only 16 combined points from the two returnees to rout a Bulldogs team that already won at Manasquan during the regular season. Masonius is a Shore Conference Coaches' First-team All-Shore as a freshman this season, while Addie Masonius came off the bench last season.
Stevens played the role of wild card on Tuesday with her 12 points off the bench, including six straight points to close the first quarter and give Manasquan a 15-10 lead after one quarter. Manasquan lost two contributors to last year's team - junior Victoria Galvan and senior Gillian Black - to torn ACL's before the season and Stevens has helped the Warriors fill a rotation spot. Tuesday, she did so with her scoring, including the three baskets in the first quarter off passes from Addie Masonius.
"We don't always have that spark, but once Addie found me with the first pass, I could tell she was looking for me," Stevens said. "I just made sure I was getting open and in the right spot to get a shot."
"Nikki coming off the bench for us was huge - like a giant game for her," Mabrey said. "She was the spark for us. She made people have to guard her and when we drove, she was open. Addie was also huge today and she's coming off an injury right now, so it's all coming together right now, which is great for us."
Rumson hung around heading into the second half and trimmed the Manasquan lead to 27-21 early in the third, at which point Manasquan landed the knockout punch. The Warriors then scored seven straight points to build a 34-21 lead. Rumson fought within 36-26, but Manasquan dropped the hammer with a 17-0 run over the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth to put the game away.
Stevens ignited the 17-0 run with a pair of baskets to build the lead to 40-26, followed by a three from Clark out of the left corner. Mabrey converted a three-point play before the end of the third to send the Warriors to the fourth with a 20-point lead.
Although the Warriors appeared to have locked up the game, most of the Manasquan players recalled last year, when Rumson trailed Manasquan by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter of the Central Jersey Group II final and stormed back to force overtime before Manasquan eventually escaped.
"It's the first thing I thought of," Mabrey said, referring to last year's game. "But this group that we have, we show so much heart and I knew we weren't going to take our foot off the gas."
Tori Hyduke led Rumson with 15 points - incuding 11 in the first half - but the Warriors were able to slow Bulldogs senior Nicole Morris, who hurt Manasquan in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal game, which Manasquan won in overtime.
"What Morris and Hyduke do very well is attack the basket," Kukoda said. "We recognized that they were hurting us and that was a focus coming in for us. It was still hurting us at the beginning of our game, so we adjusted and went to our zone in order to collapse that a little more, knowing we were taking a risk and leaving some shooters open. But at that point, we felt like we needed to make that adjustment."
Manasquan will continue is Tournament of Champions title defense Thursday at Williamstown High School, where the Warriors will play Sterling with a spot in the Group II championship game on the line.