Team to beat: Middletown South
Team to watch: Marlboro
Sleeper: Long Branch

In predicted order of finish

Middletown South

Head coach: Tom Brennan, 23rd season (376-177)
‘17-’18 Record: 12-13
Potential starting 5: Isla Brennan (Sr. G 5-7); Eve Pirie (Sr. F/C 6-0); Samantha Keenan (Sr. F 5-9); Stephanie Mayerhofer (Jr. G 5-6); Kayla Richardson (Jr. G/F 5-9).
Key reserves: Emily McCarthy (Sr. G 5-6); Madison Szabo (Sr. C 6-2); Sadyann Fahey (Jr. G 5-7); Caitlin O’Connor (Jr. G 5-6); Emily Russo (Jr. G 5-5); Grace Meehan (So. G 5-7); Lara Brennan (Fr. G 5-5); Peyton Kenney (Fr. G 5-6); Bella Orlando (Fr. G 5-8); Beth Rankin (Fr. G 5-5); Renee Walls (Fr. G/F 5-8).
Strengths: Experience, depth, desire.

Player to watch: Isla Brennan

Watch her decision making and it's apparent she is a coach's kid. High basketball IQ from soaking in the wisdom of her dad, Middletown South head coach Tom Brennan, the playmaker is fearless attacking the rim, alert to the open shooters and a compass to follow. Heading to Philadelphia to attend the University of the Sciences, Brennan clicked for 11 points, seven boards and three assists as a junior.

Ready to atone: A 12-13 mark last season snapped a string of 13 consecutive winning seasons fashioned by Middletown South, a stretch in which it boasted an aggregate record of 263-77. The year ended with a 49-45 loss against Colts Neck in the Central Jersey, Group 4 quarterfinals.

Seasoned nucleus: Brennan, Eve Pirie (5.3 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), Samantha Keenan (4.9 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), Stephanie Mayerhofer (8.5 ppg. 3.0 spg., 48 3-pointers) and Kayla Richardson (9.5 ppg., 3.0 apg.) form a veteran foundation that you can anticipate is going to be chomping at the bit to make amends for how things unfolded a year ago.

Depth: Anyone that needs a breather can exit knowing the replacement is suitable to fill the role. The Eagles welcome back 6-2 senior center Madison Szabo, who missed a good chunk of her junior year due to injury, as well as healthy Sadyann Fahey, a 5-7 shooting guard whose stroke on the perimeter will be counted upon. And, don't forget about 5-6 senior guard Emily McCarthy or gritty 5-7 sophomore shooting guard Grace Meehan. To repeat: Middletown South is deep, talented and able to interchange talent into pivotal assignments.

Change of address: The Eagles land in A North deep and battle-tested from the rigors of last year’s residency in the B North, which included run-ins against Tournament of Champions winner Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic. This is a  cast primed to make it presence felt in pursuit of a division crown. Mark Middletown South as the favorite in A North.


Gisella Romeo (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Gisella Romeo (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

Head coach: Brad Hagensen, 7th season (116-50), fifth at Marlboro
‘17-’18 Record: 18-9
Potential starting 5: Sammy Jay (So. G 5-5); Sam Nocco (Jr. G 5-3); Gisella Romeo (Sr. G 5-7); Brianna Diaz (Jr. C 5-10); Theresa Besso (Sr. F 5-8).
Key reserves: Jessica Riepe (So. F 5-8); Laura Morehead (So. G 5-9); Danielle Schlesinger (Fr. G 5-8); Alexandra O’Hare (Jr. F 5-8); Samantha Slofkiss (Fr. C 5-11).
Strengths: Depth, preparedness, experienced backcourt.

Player to watch: Gisella Romeo

Committed to the University of the Sciences, the 5-7 playmaker is elusive off the dribble and determined to finish her drives. Romeo backed her 13.2 points per game by being an intuitive distributor and hounding defender who turns her steals in buckets in transition.

Running the show: Marlboro has a pair of prominent producers in the backcourt. Besides Romeo, sophomore Sammy Jay quietly blossomed into a reliable guard with an affinity for making the heady pass (3.9 apg.). Both have a knack for penetrating seams and making things happen once inside the heart of a defense.

Stretching a defense: Samantha Nocco drilled 38 triples as a sophomore, carving out a niche as a perimeter specialist.

Park on the arc: The Mustangs have a number of options willing to fire away from distance. Nocco, Romeo, Jay and senior forward Theresa Besso (20 3-pointers, 4.7 ppg.) are all comfortable shooting the jumper.


Long Branch

Head coach: Shannon Coyle, 7th season (50-85)
‘17-’18 Record: 11-13
Potential starting 5: Sol Margaret Navarro (Sr. G 5-8); Anyssa Fields (Jr. G/F 6-0); Madison Grayson (Jr. G 5-10); Alanna Lynch (Jr. G 5-7); Jada Rogers (So. G 5-6).
Key reserves:
Strengths: Nimble, length in backcourt and wings, balanced scoring.

Player to watch: Anyssa Fields

The junior swing is the top returning point producer (9.8 ppg.) and has no shortage of ways to unleash her scoring touch. Give her space outside and Fields will gladly accept the invitation to drain a three (24 as a sophomore). If she is defended tight, Fields can put it on the floor and carve a path to the rim. She is also a relentless worker on the glass, daunting defender and unselfish.

New residence: The Green Wave slides into the A North after a respectable showing in the rugged B North. It countered a 5-7 start last season by putting together a 6-2 stretch to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament as well as Central Jersey, Group 4.

Changing its fortune: The point differential separating Long Branch (44.5 ppg.) and its opponents (45.4 ppg.) gives insight into just how close it was to a more attractive overall record. It suffered six losses decided by nine points or less, including a pair of one-point setbacks against Bishop Ahr (39-38) and Middletown North (47-46). Head coach Shannon Coyle puts a lot of stock on defense.

Primed to compete: Despite the graduation of Angelique Gathers, the team’s top scorer a year ago, and Keidy Mar Laureano, an imposing figure on the glass, the Green Wave is amply stocked to make some noise in A North. Fields, 5-8 senior guard Sol Margaret Navarro and 5-10 junior guard Madison Grayson are proven commodities who comprise a formidable backcourt.


Freehold Township

Head coach: Mike Stoia, 6th season (63-69)
‘17-’18 Record: 10-17
Potential starting 5: Emily Tran (So. PG 5-5); Tanya Elsbree (So. SG 5-5); Lindsay Lloyd (So. SF 5-6); Kaylie Elsbree (So. PF 5-7); Hannah Orloff (So. C 6-2).
Key reserves: Courtney Campbell (So. PF 5-10); Maddie Garze (So. C 5-10); Donatella Catuogno (So. 5-6 C); Sarah Fenton (Jr. SF 5-9); Brooke Levin (Jr. PF 5-9).
Strengths: Balancing the floor; selfless distribution.

Player to watch: Hannah Orloff

Orloff gave a strong hint of her vast potential and interior fortitude as a freshman. She was a consistent finisher around the rim (7.6 ppg.) and force under the glass (7.6 rpg.). Orloff registered three double-doubles, ripping down 22 rebounds in a win over neighboring Freehold Boro and ending the ‘17-’18 season with 22 points and nine boards in a 76-42 loss to Marlboro in the first round of the Central Jersey, Group 4 tournament.

Something’s missing: Yeah...seniors. But, don’t mistake youth for rawness. Township could open against Howell on Friday with five sophomores matching up at the opening tip. All have varsity experience under their belts, rebound and each possesses a certain quality to promote halfcourt versatility.

Promise: Head coach Mike Stoia is excited about what the future holds for the Patriots, who are expected to carry at least eight sophomores on varsity. That's not to suggest it can make a run this winter but what it learns along the way should transcend over the next couple years to come.

Flipping the margin: Last winter, Freehold Township lost seven contests decided by six points or fewer. The defense conceded a 44.4 points per game while the offense scored a 40.6 rate. If it can switch those numbers in its favor, it can compete in this division.



Head coach: Joe Santopietro, 4th season (33-33)
‘17-’18 Record: 10-10
Potential starting 5: Jessica O’Brien (Sr. G 5-7); Alexis Post (Sr. G 5-5); Caitlin Gresko (So. F/C 5-10); Mackenzie Bruno (So. G/F 5-9); Grace Leary (So. G 5-5).
Key reserves: Alyssa Azcarraga (Sr. G 5-5); Liela Clarke (Sr. G 5-6).
Strengths: Playing time available; chemistry.

Player to watch: Jessica O’Brien

About to embark on her fourth season starting in the Rebels’ backcourt, O’Brien (8.4 ppg.) will be a beacon on the ball, groomed to lead the way. A combination of endless hustle and shrewd court awareness are individual traits hoped to be transferable to an impressionable ensemble.

Restocking: The departure of four senior starters will leave the Rebels somewhat untested, yet, the hearty competition for highly-desirable roles should go a long way toward sharpening Howell in time for Opening Night. What this team lacks in notable height should be offset by a collection of ball handlers capable of balancing the court through equally dispersing the scoring load. 

Added workload: The responsibilities Mackenzie Bruno, Caitlin Gresko, Alexis Post and Grace Leary, all who saw time coming off the bench last winter, will increase significantly, but the action they logged as reserves bodes well in regard to the quick development of this team. Gresko and Bruno represent the interior height in the paint, yet those around them are more than capable of sneaking underneath to lend hands on the boards. All hands on the glass will be a prevailing point of emphasis.

Dee-Fense: Howell puts a great deal of emphasis on defense and its hounding style surrendered 42.6 points a contest last winter. It must continue to deliver staunch resistance and pester opposing playmakers in search of creating turnovers and opportunities to run the floor. How quickly it can develop chemistry will be essential to challenging in the A North.



Head coach: Jenna Anderson, 3rd season (6-32)
‘17-’18 Record: 4-18
Potential starting 5: Cassidy Deaver (Sr. G 5-7); Alana Grinberg (Jr. C 6-0); Lauryn Thomas (Jr. G 5-4); Lauren Bruno (Jr. G 5-3); Kerry Downing (Sr. F 5-8).
Key reserves: Jordyn Ferraro (Jr. G 5-6); Isabella Aiello (Jr. F 5-8); Katie Sullivan (Jr. G 5-6); Christina Falletta (Jr. G 5-5).
Strengths: Quickness, diversity

Player to watch: Cassidy Deaver

The Braves have to also elevate their offense (41.5 ppg.) and Deaver seeks to point them in the right direction. The slick guard is the team’s top returning scorer (11.1 ppg.) and has a knack for making a splash from the perimeter, where she canned 32 triples as a junior, including six en route to a season-high 23 points in a 48-41 victory against Freehold Boro.  Better get a hand in the face of this streak shooter.

Utilizing assets: A respectable collection of speed, athleticism and tireless work rate should help the Braves make some strides. All three characteristics must be implemented first and foremost on the defensive end, where Manalapan yielded 48.7 points an outing.

Inside out: In order to develop room for halfcourt sets to succeed, ample space has to be created for the backcourt contingent to explore the outside or pierce off the dribble. , Manalapan will look to establish some low-post presence by utilizing 6-0 junior Alana Grinburg in the pivot, who can reap some benefits on the opposite block when guards access the lane. Elusive 5-4 point guard Lauryn Thomas will be a key facilitator in the operation, eager to incorporate Lauren Bruno and Kerry Downing.


Freehold Boro

Head coach: Jenn Brzucki, 13th season (145-134)
‘17-’18 record: 4-15
Potential starting 5: Patricia Masdonati (Sr. G); Beth Grossman (Sr. F); Gianna Praet (So. G); Emily Cavallaro (Jr. G); Samantha Abbate (Jr. F).
Key reserves: Michelle Hon (So. G); Christina DelQuaglio (So. G); Amy Potochar (Fr. G); Maddie Bideaux (Fr. G).
Strengths: Room for growth, mystery.

Player to watch: All of them

The Colonials lost two of its top scorers - Sydney Przygoda and Emme Leung - to graduation - meaning there is opportunity for someone to seize the offensive reins.

Developing situation: While the Colonials may take time to find and define themselves, they can make strides on defense. Over their first six games a year ago, opponents scored a modest 41.5 points a contest. If it can rekindled some of that defensive fire, strides can be made.



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