Girls Basketball – Shore Conference Tournament Championship Preview
Shore Conference Tournament Girls Championship
Saturday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m.
Ocean First Bank Arena, Monmouth University
No. 3 St. John Vianney vs. No. 5 St. Rose
Note: Listen to the game live on 1160/1310 AM or streaming on the Shore Sports Network.
St. John Vianney (22-3, 12-0 in Class A Central)
Head Coach: Dawn Karpell, 11th season
Prior SCT Final Appearances: 19
SCT Championships: 13 (1990-92, 1994-99, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2016)
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 19 Howell 56-28, No. 6 Neptune 65-59 and No. 2 Red Bank Catholic 54-48.
Key Bench Players
Since 1990, just a couple of years before current head coach Dawn Karpell starred for the program as Dawn Werner, St. John Vianney has dominated the Shore Conference girls basketball landscape. The program has won all of its record 13 conference titles from that year on and has also won more NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (7) than any other girls program in N.J.
Karpell has been one of the more significant figures of that rich history, having won Tournament of Champions titles as a sophomore and a senior and taking the reins as head coach for the 2006-07 season onward.
In Karpell’s 11 seasons as head coach, St. John Vianney has been in the SCT final four every year and won two Tournament of Champions crowns – including one last season. Despite the undeniable success of the program, last year was somehow the first championship the Lancers won under Karpell and the first trip to the final since 2011.
After enduring the long wait with more experienced and perhaps more talented Lancers teams, St. John Vianney has not needed any time to rebuild in order to get back to another SCT final. The Lancers graduated four starters and their top player off the bench from a year ago and despite the graduation hit, they are in position to win a second consecutive SCT title when they take on No. 5 seed St. Rose Saturday night at Monmouth University.
"We're just excited to be going (to the final) in back-to-back years after graduating so many (seniors)," St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell said. "The kids we have just grew so much this year that we've really started to hit our stride."
The lone returnee from last year’s starting lineup is senior center and Seton Hall recruit Kimi Evans. The 6-3 center has been a consistent source of double-doubles over the past two years and is leading the Lancers by averaging better than 14 points per game this season.
That St. John Vianney has been as successful as it has without Evans having to score closer to 20 points (her season high is 23) speaks to the talent and development of its new wave of players. Senior Courtney Dobrzynski returned with plenty of big-game experience and moved into the starting lineup this season. Despite being the most experienced of the new starters, she has maintained her position as an intangible player who makes the right pass and instructs the younger players on defense.
The top producers among the new starters have been sophomore Sajada Bonner, senior Julia Ramos and sophomore Sarah Karpell – the daughter of Dawn Karpell. Both Ramos and Karpell played important minutes off the bench last year, while Bonner has stepped in and emerged as the team’s second-leading scorer in her first full varsity season.
Junior Madison Doring has been a spark off the bench of late for St. John Vianney, scoring 12 points in each of St. John Vianney’s last two wins. Junior Sarah Furch and sophomores Rahmena Henderson and Brelynn Bellamy have also given Karpell good minutes to complement the starters.
The new supporting cast was integral in the semifinal win over Red Bank Catholic. The Caseys held Evans to four points on no field goals, but the Lancers still made enough shots on offense to back up a typical sterling effort on defense. Bonner led the way with 16 points, while Doring and Ramos poured in 12 apiece.
"We know that every game, teams are going to double team Kim or even triple-team her," Bonner said. "Kim always told us in practice that we had to perfect our shooting because we're going to get feeds from her. We had to step up when she wasn't able to be there because basically the whole (opposing) team plays Kim.”
Evans did her part to carry the team past Neptune in the previous round, scoring 19 points to go with 12 rebounds in a 65-59 win over the Scarlet Fliers.
Most of the players on this year’s Vianney team waited behind last year’s standout senior class in order to play, but their wait to win a Shore Conference Tournament might not be as long as it was for that influential class of 2016.
“They had such an impact on the whole program,” Bonner said of last year’s senior class. “Them winning helped us. They always come back and check on us and that’s what helped the most. Our seniors this year and our seniors from last year, they’ve helped us become the team we are now.”
This season has been a proving ground for most of the players on the team but the Lancers’ lone returning senior sees the stretch run as a chance to prove the overall strength of a program she has helped return to the top of the Shore Conference.
"Coming into the season, we kind of liked being underdogs for once," Evans said. "People didn't really expect a lot from us. We lost so many seniors from last year that people thought, 'Oh, SJV, they're going to be down and easy to beat.'
"I think we've done a good job overall in letting people know we're still here and we still want a championship."
St. Rose (23-3, 14-0 in Class B Central)
Head Coach: Joe Whalen, fifth season
Prior SCT Final Appearances: 6
SCT Championships: 3 (1986, 1993, 2012)
Road to the Final: Defeated No. 12 Marlboro 72-30, No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven 74-60, No. 1 Manasquan 68-59 in overtime.
Key Bench Players
Joe Whalen took over a St. Rose program before the 2012-13 season that had talent, but lacked experience after graduating most of its 2012 Shore Conference Tournament championship roster. It did not take long for the Purple Roses to again reach the Shore Conference Tournament final under Whalen’s guidance, but the same team kept spoiling St. Rose’s chance to win another championship: Manasquan.
After losing to Manasquan in both the 2014 and 15 SCT finals, the 2015 NJSIAA Tournament of Champions final and in a regular-season, overtime thriller on Feb. 11 of this year, St. Rose finally vanquished their local rival in a tournament setting by beating the Warriors, 68-59, in overtime in Monday’s SCT semifinal round. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for St. Rose against Manasquan in tournament games – a streak that also included a loss in the 2012 T of C after beating the Warriors in the SCT final less than three weeks earlier.
"We were tired of losing to them," Whalen said after Monday’s win over the Warriors. "I'm tired of shaking their hands and saying, 'Congratulations.' It's nice to see the shoe on the other foot."
Now that the Purple Roses have chased the Manasquan blues away, they are one victory away from capturing the program’s second SCT title in the last five years and first under Whalen. In order to get it, they will have to defeat defending champion St. John Vianney on Saturday at Monmouth University. The Lancers beat the Purple Roses, 59-54, in last year’s SCT semifinals en route to their first title in 11 years and 13th overall.
Senior starters Ellyn Stoll and Jen Louro have known nothing but winning since joining the program in 2013-14, but would like to add at least one more postseason title to the list of team achievements during their careers. Over the last four years, St. Rose has racked up a record of 109-14 with four unbeaten seasons in B Central, appearances in two Shore Conference finals, two NJSIAA Non-Public B championships and one T of C final appearance.
Stoll and Louro make up 40 percent of St. Rose’s balanced, versatile starting lineup. The other three players in the group are juniors Mikayla Markham, Lucy Thomas and Elizabeth Marsicano. Markham, the team’s point guard who is committed to play at Columbia, and the 6-1, St. Joseph’s recruit Marsicano have been impact players since their freshman seasons in 2014-15 and Thomas – a Monmouth University commit – transferred in from Ocean Township prior to last year.
All five starters are averaging 7.9 points per game or better, with Thomas leading the way at 13.1 to go with 10 rebounds per game. Markham checks in with 10.8 points and five assists, Louro is putting up 10 points and seven rebounds per night, Stoll sits at 9.4 points and four assists, and Marsicano is averaging 7.9 points and 8.4 rebounds.
The Feb. 11 loss to Manasquan in overtime is the lone loss St. Rose has suffered against N.J. competition, but the close call against the No. 1 seed in the SCT was not enough to earn St. Rose a top-four seed in the field. The Purple Rose were anchored with the No. 5 seed in the tournament, but it did little to deter them from reaching the final for the fourth time in six years.
"(The seeding) was a slap in the face. No doubt," St. Rose coach Joe Whalen said. "You're six seconds away from beating the number one seed and then you drop to five? But listen, we haven't gotten respect all year and that's okay. We don't play for your respect, we play for our own."
After a lackluster start to its round-of-16 game against 12th-seeded Marlboro, St. Rose outscored the Mustangs 47-9 in the second half to win 72-30. The fast finish carried over to the quarterfinals against No. 4 Rumson-Fair Haven, which St. Rose jumped on, 10-0, and put away in the second quarter with a 13-2 run.
Monday’s win over Manasquan nearly got away from St. Rose, just as the loss on Feb. 11 did. The Warriors tied the game on a three-point play by Stella Clark with 1:08 left and had the ball with a chance to win and 4.9 seconds left. St. Rose, however, held firm and got big shots from Thomas and Markham in overtime to put the game away.
"Getting the fifth seed was not ideal, but to us, it doesn't really matter," Stoll said. "We just know that we have to show people that we're not a fifth seed. I think it definitely was a motivator for us and it gave us a bit of an edge."
After riding the high of knocking off the No. 1 seed, staring down the defending champs – even though Vianney graduated five of its top six players from a year ago – will keep St. Rose focused on finishing the job on Saturday night.
"We were (in the final) two years ago and we just want to make the most of our opportunity this time," Markham said. "It's a really competitive tournament. This could be a T of C final, so it'll be exciting."