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TOMS RIVER - The motion offense implemented by Manasquan coach Lisa Kukoda is designed for far deeper causes than the buckets that materialize out of the various sets.

Be it a curl cut through the lane, a flash to the hoop off a feed or the well-orchestrated execution of a pick and roll, all emanate from a pass. And, the emphasis Kukoda has placed on the Warriors selflessly distributing the basketball is poignantly developing perhaps the most important intangible she seeks to cultivate. 

An impenetrable bond.

“They are an unselfish group that knows everyone can put the ball in the basket,” Kukoda said. “They look for each other, they swing and make the extra pass, they drive and kick. To incorporate that into what we are doing is huge for this group. They are all threats and know they are all going to have an opportunity. We’re starting to build that chemistry where they are finding each other in the right moment and they are maturing as a group.” 

Sophomores Georgia Heine, Brooke Hollawell and Dorothy Loffredo had the good fortune of logging extensive minutes last winter and sharing the court with ‘19 graduates and All-Shore selections Faith Masonius and Lola Mullaney. They quietly observed not only the two polished skills but soaked in their poise and passion for the game. As the foundation for a Manasquan team that might lack the star power the program has been accustomed to for the past decade, the trio is making a point that this ensemble is nonetheless committed to upholding high standards and is a formidable collection not to sleep on.

Hollawell flipped in 15 points in an assortment of manners, Heine offered positives at both ends and Loffredo displayed her awareness with sharp deliveries out of the high post in aiding the fourth-seeded Warriors to a convincing 51-36 decision over fifth-seeded Middletown South on Friday in the quarterfinals of the WOBM Christmas Classic at the RWJ Barnabas Health Arena.

Manasquan (3-0) will meet a familiar foe in Manchester, the two-time defending tournament champion, in the semifinals on Sunday. The two have clashed in each of the previous three years, but far further down the road. Manasquan upended Manchester in the Group 2 semifinals in ‘17 and ‘18 en route to the state title and the Hawks returned the favor last year on their way to hoisting their first state championship.

Clinging to a 29-25 lead at the half, Manasquan broke the game wide open in the third, courtesy of a defense that limited Middletown South (2-1) to four points and strategic action with the basketball that ultimate increased the gap to 41-29. 

Hollawell, Heine and Loffredo were in the thick of the offense production, along with junior guard Maci Black, a welcomed return who missed her sophomore year due to injury. Of the five buckets Manasquan converted in the stanza, four were accompanied by an assist and were delivered by four different resources. Loffredo sparked the showing with a layup off a Black dish and repaid the favor on the ensuing possession, hitting Black on a cut to the rim to make it 33-25.
Heine used her lengthy, athletic 6-0 frame to drive into the lane for a finish and Black converted a steal into a feed to Hollawell on the break before conducting another theft she took the distance to widen the gap to 41-28 with 1:17 showing. 

“It’s a lot of heart and hustle,” Loffredo, who ended with eight points, five assists and four rebounds, said of the keys to the Warriors’ success. “You win as a team, you lose as a team and you do what you can to help your team. It’s not about your stat line but what you can do to help your teammates get good looks. Making a past that leads to a bucket is just as rewarding as scoring. We are rewarding each other for doing the right thing. Coach has us running some nice motion offenses that get us open. When we run it and cut at full speed, we get a lot of open shots.” 

Brooke Hollawell of Manasquan (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Brooke Hollawell of Manasquan (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Loffredo, Heine and Hollawell incorporated a lot of the finer qualities they saw from Masonius and Mullaney into their own games. Loffredo’s instinctual passing reminiscent of Masonius, Hollawell’s balance between a long-range jumper and timely drive part of the mysterious balance Mullaney was noted for and Heine, with her size, a hybrid of the two, quick and productive when she steers to the rim.
“Their leadership helped us grow as players,” Hollawell said. “If the two of them weren’t a part of our team, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did last year. Even the small stuff...passing, finding someone that’s open, learning to score in different ways...I learned a lot from the two of them. We’ve only had three games and our chemistry has already grown so much. We’re learning to find each other and communicate better.”

“With all us getting a lot of playing time last year, it gave us experience for the pace of the game,” added Heine, who compiled nine points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists. “It helps us to lead this team and work with everyone else. I feel we all work well together when we move the ball and hit the extra pass to get good shots.”

As much as the tight-knit environment has aided the offense, it’s working rather well at the other end of the court. Manasquan conceded just 11 points to a good Middletown South squad in the second half, disrupting its flow by interjecting into passing lanes, controlling the glass and challenging every shot. 

“We’re starting to build that chemistry where they quickly maturing as a group,” praised Kukoda. “It’s all about them executing and gaining confidence in each other.”

So far, so good.

Stephanie Mayerhofer (42) and Kayla RIchardson (12) of Middletown South (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Stephanie Mayerhofer (42) and Kayla RIchardson (12) of Middletown South (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

Senior guard Stephanie Mayerhofer stroked four 3-pointers in the first half and deposited 14 of her game-high 16 points in the first half for Middletown South. Senior swing Kayla Richardson added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Eagles.

Follow Gregg Lerner on Twitter @gregglerner. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.

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