Girls Basketball – Manasquan Rolls to Fourth Straight Group II Championship
TOMS RIVER - One win away from a fourth state championship in four varsity seasons, Manasquan senior Stella Clark absorbed the pregame message regarding the gameplan. It was exactly what her and her Warriors teammates wanted to hear.
Manasquan turned the pressure up on High Point from the opening tip and ran away from the Wildcats to win the NJSIAA Group II championship game Sunday at Pine Belt Arena, 66-40. Manasquan will participate in the Tournament of Champions for the fourth straight year and fifth time in six years.
"It hits me pretty hard now, but it's truly going to hit me when (the season) ends," Clark said of winning a group championship in each of her four high school seasons. "It doesn't end now. This is just the start of it all - getting to the T.O.C. We're not ready to stop here."
One year after defeating High Point in last year's Group II final, 68-43, the Warriors sped up the opposition and forced 12 first-half turnovers en route to grabbing a 39-18 halftime lead.
Clark scored 10 of her 13 points in the first half and also finished with six assists and three steals. Sophomore Faith Masonius scored all 11 of her points in the first quarter, handed out five assists and picked off four steals. Manasquan forced a total of 20 High Point turnovers.
"When we're out there and we're a fiery, gritty team, that's when we're at our best," Clark said. "That's when we're unstoppable. Our motto today was 'Foot on the gas pedal and don't let up' and I think we did a good job of keeping our foot on the gas pedal and not letting up today."
Junior Dara Mabrey led the scoring effort with 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the floor while also grabbing four rebounds and handing out three assists.
Mabrey hit a three-pointer to put Manasquan ahead 45-21 early in the third quarter before High Point scored seven straight points to pull within 45-28 with a little under three minutes left in the quarter.
To that point, High Point had not committed a turnover in the third quarter, but Manasquan finished the quarter with 11 straight points and forced a pair of turnovers during the run.
"I think we used our speed against them and, more importantly, used it in the right way," Mabrey said. "Taking a steal on defense and going down and scoring quickly, that was key. We knew we could push the ball on them and really pressure them, we just had to capitalize on it."
The Warriors pushed the run to 18-0 by scoring the first seven points of the fourth and forced turnovers on five consecutive Wildcats possessions at the end of the run. A three-point play by Mabrey ended the run with 5:30 left in the game and Manasquan pulled its starters with the game in hand, 63-28.
High Point junior Margo Peterson scored 19 points but Manasquan shot down the rest of the Wildcats' offensive options.
Stella Clark finds Victoria Galvan to cap the 1st half and Manasquan leads High Point 39-18 at the break in the Group 3 final. pic.twitter.com/CgegBn2cEE
— Matt Manley (@Matt_Manley) March 12, 2017
Outside of a scoreless stretch of nearly four minutes during the third quarter, Manasquan's offense was sharp throughout. Five Warriors players scored at least eight points, with junior Carly Geissler and sophomore Lola Mullaney each scoring eight points in the win.
Senior Addie Masonius did not score, but was one of three Manasquan players to record five assists, along with her younger sister and Clark.
"When people start hitting shots, it completely opens up other players," Faith Masonius said. "I think hitting those open shots early definitely created some opportunities for other players and once everyone is getting involved, it's just really hard to guard."
Addie Masonius and Stella Clark have been varsity contributors for each season during Manasquan's four-year championship run in Group II, while fellow senior Victoria Galvan was a key member of the Tournament of Champions winner in 2014-15 before losing her junior season to a torn ACL in 2015-16.
"I don't how many people can say they went four-for-four," said Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda, who has won four state titles in her five seasons on the job. "They are a great group. They are a motivated group and it says a lot about their leadership and their work ethic. I think the four titles say it all."
Manasquan is the No. 2 seed in the Tournament of Champions next week. The quarterfinals of the T of C is scheduled for Tuesday night at Pine Belt Arena, but is under threat of being postponed because of heavy snow in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. The Warriors will play the winner of No. 3 Red Bank Catholic and No. 6 Bound Brook in the semifinals, which is currently slated for Thursday.
"Coming off of last year, losing (in the T of C final) definitely gives us a little bit of an edge when we're facing other opponents," Mabrey said. "We look at everybody now as, 'You're in the way of a T.O.C. title.'"