Enter your number to get our free mobile app

CLASS A NORTH PREVIEW

Defending champion: Marlboro

Team to beat: Marlboro
Team to watch: Middletown South
Sleeper: Freehold Twp.
Pre-Season Player of the Year: Kayla Richardson, Middletown South

Pre-Season All-Division

Sammy Jay, Marlboro
Anyssa Fields, Long Branch
Kayla Richardson, Middletown South
Hannah Orloff, Freehold Twp.
Caitlin Gresko, Howell

MARLBORO MUSTANGS

Head coach: Brad Hagensen, 8th season (139-58) 6th at Marlboro
‘18-’19 Record: 23-8 (11-1 in A North), A North champion.
Potential starting 5: Sammy Jay (Jr. G 5-5); Samantha Nocco (Sr. G 5-5); Jessica Riepe (Jr. F 5-8); Dani Schlesinger (So. G 5-9); Katherine Sanchez (Sr. C/F 5-10).
Key reserves: Laura Morehead (Jr. G/F 5-9); Brianna Diaz (Sr. C 5-10); Samantha Slofkiss (So. C 6-0); Alexandra O’Hare (Sr. G 5-9); Erica DiSimone (Fr. G 5-7).
Key losses: Gisella Romeo, Theresa Besso.
Strengths: Conditioning, range, diversity, speed, competitors.
College commitments: Alexandra O'Hare, (Sacred Heart for soccer); Brianna Diaz, (Sacred Heart for track).

Player to watch: Sammy Jay

Sammy Jay of Marlboro (Photo by Paula Lopez)

An elusive playmaker capable of piercing through a defense off the bounce, the 5-5 senior pushes a great deal of the buttons that engineer The System, a breakneck style predicated on pressure defense and limitless shots from beyond the arc. Besides maneuvering the ball in the halfcourt to find viable options, Jay will also be a notable participant in the shooting gallery (48 3-pointers). But, defend her too close and she’ll seize the chance at the blow by to the tin.

Beware of…: Jessica Riepe

Consider this fair warning: Riepe has a case for most underrated player in the Shore Conference. Amid the carousel of perimeter shooters that fuel the offense, Riepe subtly bloomed into a premier 3-point specialist, knocking down 61 last winter, including 36 over the final 14 games. Don’t let her heat up. She drilled six triples and scored a season-high 20 in a 66-59 decision over Howell that sealed the A North title last winter.

By the numbers: 340

That’s how many threes the Mustangs sank a year ago. The key that unlocks the volatility of the System hinges largely on the rate of deep jumpers hoisted from beyond the arc. Sam Nocco (40 3-pointers), Dani Schlesinger (47) and Laura Morehead (48) contributed substantially to the whopping sum.  

Welcomed returns

The Mustangs have two - one to the floor and the other on the bench. After missing her entire junior year due to injury, 5-10 senior Katherine Sanchez is back in the mix. Defenses that extend too far to contest the traffic along the arc are inviting Sanchez to inflict damage in the paint.

Coach Brad Hagensen reunites with Nick Russo, who hops aboard as an assistant. Their roles were reversed in the mid-’90s when Russo was the head coach and Hagensen a young protege who formed the braintrust for the St. John Vianney dynasty along with Bill Bulman.

MIDDLETOWN SOUTH EAGLES

Head coach: Tom Brennan, 24th season (411-191)
‘18-’19 Record: 24-6 (10-2 in A North), Central Jersey, Group 4 champion.
Potential starting 5: Kayla Richardson (Sr. G/F 5-10); Stephanie Mayerhofer (Sr. G 5-6); Caitlin O’Connor (Sr. G 5-6); Grace Meehan (Jr. G 5-6); Renee Wells (So. G/F 5-7).
Key reserves: Sadie Fahey (Sr. G 5-7); Emily Russo (Sr. G 5-4); Abygail Doherty (Fr. G 5-5); Lara Brennan (So. F 5-5); Beth Rankin (So. G 5-5); Lauren Winant (So. G 5-9); Lauren Winant (So. G 5-9); Peyton Kenney (So. F 5-6); Isabella Orlando (So. F 5-9).
Key losses: Isla Brennan, Eve Pirie, Samantha Keenan, Emily McCarthy, Madison Szabo.

College commitments: Kayla Richardson (LaSalle); Stephanie Mayerhofer (Bryant).
Strengths: Depth of shooters, 3-point presence, defense, senior nucleus, balance.

Player to watch: Kayla Richardson

Kayla Richarson of Middletown South (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Rugged, unflinching and offensively versatile, Richarson (13.6 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 3.0 apg.) is the epitome of a matchup nightmare and a Swiss Army knife for the Eagles who does it all. When she takes a defender into the paint, her physical dominance becomes an instant asset to offset the balance struck through an exterior finesse applied to a jumper from distance (19 3-pointers). She is nothing short of a force on the glass, underappreciated for her passing and shrewdly applies her experience in an exemplary manner. 

Beware of…: Stephanie Mayerhofer  

The talented 5-6 senior guard has limitless borders when it comes to pulling the trigger on a jumper that was responsible for 42 3-pointers a year ago. She buried five en route to a season-high 21 points in a 65-51 victory over Howell last winter and can expect company along the arc considering Caitlin O’Connor, Grace Meehan and Renee Wells will be encouraged to test their perimeter touch.

By the numbers: 6 and 1 

The future is now for the Eagles. Six sophomores and a freshman give the perception Middletown South could be a work in progress, a point Tom Brennan wouldn’t debate. Yet, no one is more modest than the veteran head coach, a master at integrating inexperienced underclassmen into the program while maintaining its high standards.  

Two Ds in Middletown South

Fitting when you consider that the Eagles might make defense twice as much a priority as their contemporaries. Last season, they surrendered just 39.7 points an outing. If South ventures close to duplicating that microscopic output from opponents, the offense can operate with a bit more confidence understanding it doesn’t have to hang gaudy numbers to achieve desired outcomes.

HOWELL REBELS

Head coach: Joe Santopietro, 5th season (48-44)
‘18-’19 Record: 15-11 (7-5 in A North)
Potential starting 5: Grace Leary (Jr. G 5-7); Caitlin Gresko (Jr. F/C 5-10); Mackenzie Bruno (Jr. G/F 5-9); Cassandra Conte (Jr. G 5-6); Mackenzi Greene (So. G 5-7).
Key reserves: Alyson Marzo (Sr. G 5-6); Kerry Destefano (Fr. G 5-3); Nola McGrath (Jr. C 5-10); Samantha Greenberg (Sr. C 5-9).
Key losses: Jessica O'Brien, Alexis Post.
Strengths: Experienced starting nucleus, balance, perimeter punch.

Player to watch: Caitlin Gresko

Gresko is a reliable interior target the Rebels seek out in the halfcourt. The second leading scorer for Howell a year ago (12.2 ppg.), she backs her offensive output by asserting herself on the glass, stepping into passing lanes and maintaining an exemplary level of hustle.  

Beware of…: Junior impact 

The starting five could house four juniors in its residence. Gresko and Mackenzie Bruno (6.0 ppg.) will get after it on the boards and Grace Leary (11.2 ppg., 42 3-pointers) logged extensive minutes as a sophomore, priming her for a meatier role considering the loss of Jessica O’Brien and Alexis Post to graduation. Cassandra Conte and sophomore Mackenzi Greene will assume assignements in the backcourt. 

By the numbers: 50 

It was the magic number a year ago in terms of documenting success. With potent offensive squads like Marlboro and Middletown South popping up twice on the schedule, Howell will stress minimizing point allowance. A year ago, it gave up 49.1 an outing and was a telling 13-2 when yielding 50 or fewer.  

FREEHOLD TWP. PATRIOTS

Head coach: Mike Stoia, 7th season (78-79)
‘18-’19 Record: 15-11 (7-5 in A North)
Potential starting 5: Hannah Orloff (Jr. C/F 6-2); Kaylie Elsbree (Jr. G/F 5-9); Tanya Elsbree (Jr. G 5-7); Lindsay Lloyd (Jr. G/F 5-8); Emily Tran (Jr. G 5-7).
Key reserves: Maddie Garze (Jr. F 5-10); Courtney Campbell (Jr. F 6-0); Sarah Fenton (Sr. G/F 5-9); Brooke Levin (Sr. G 5-9).
Key losses: None.

Strengths: Experience, balance, frontcourt size, backcourt composure.

Player to watch: Hannah Orloff

Hannah Orloff of Freehold Twp.

Named to honorable mention for All-Shore as a sophomore, Orloff (15.7 ppg., 12.0 rpg.) is a double-double machine who posted 16 as a sophomore. She laid out the blueprint for her ascent by opening the ‘18-’19 campaign with eight consecutive double-doubles, marked by 28 points and 15 boards in a 72-53 decision over Middletown North. She keeps possessions alive on the offensive glass and stamps plenty of one-and-dones on the opposite end with her length, grip and intimidating presence altering shots. 

Beware of…: Junior associates

The Patriots could open the season with a starting five comprised solely from its collection from the Class of ‘21. Twins Kaylie (10.1 ppg., 6.8 rpg.) and Tanya Elsbree (10.3 ppg., 5.7 rpg., 1.8 apg.) are smooth backcourt operators while Emily Tran (2.9 ppg., 2.6 rpg., 2.1 apg.) has a keen sense for distribution. Lindsay Lloyd (3.3 ppg., 4.3 rpg., 2.3 apg.) is an invaluable and unsung jack of all trades. Even better for Township: all got plenty of playing time last winter and have formed a bond along with Orloff. This teams returns virtually intact from a year ago.

By the numbers: 1

The Patriots lived on the edge when it came to the scoreboard. Township prides itself on stingy defense, which limited opponents to 44.6 points a game last winter. Don’t expect the passion on that end of the floor to waver. Where the Patriots hope to see an uptick is on offense, improving on the 45.6 average from a year ago. With its starting five back intact and familiar with each component’s strength, a rise in production seems highly likely but, even more importantly, necessary.

More in reserve

Coach Mike Stoia can go to his bench without any reservations. Juniors Maddie Garze (3.8 ppg., 3.1 rpg.) and Courtney Campbell add size to a frontcourt that gives the Patriots the option of playing big while 5-9 seniors Sarah Fenton and Brooke Levin bring additional size to the equation as formidable guards. 

LONG BRANCH GREEN WAVE

Head coach: Shannon Coyle, 8th season (59-96)
‘18-’19 Record: 9-11 (5-7 in A North)
Potential starting 5:
Key reserves:
Strengths: 

Player to watch:

Beware of: 

By the numbers: 

MANALAPAN BRAVES

Head coach: Lanie Andrews, 1st season
‘18-’19 Record: 6-17 (2-10 in A North)
Potential starting 5: Lauryn Thomas (Sr. G 5-6); Carlyn Deaver (So. G 5-5); Jordyn Ferraro (Sr. G/F 5-6); Alana Grinberg (Sr. F 5-11): Dara Grinberg (Fr. C 6-0).
Key reserves: Christina Falletta (Sr. G/F 5-7); Courtney Butash (So. G 5-5); Bella Aiello (Sr. F 5-8); Lauren Bruno (Sr. G 5-6).
Key losses: Cassidy Deaver; Lauren Bruno; Kerry Downing.

Strengths: Quick, athletic, sensible ball movement, assertive.

Player to watch: Lauryn Thomas

Thomas exhibited signs of developing into an offensive threat over the second half of her junior year. In the final 14 games, she clicked for 10.8 points an outing, marked by a season-high 20 in a 50-41 loss to Long Branch. 

Beware of...Carlyn Deaver

As a freshman, Deaver showed flashes of brilliance and balances in how it was achieved. She can stroke the long-range jumper, evidenced by the four triples she drained en route to a season-high 23 points in a 58-35 decision against Bordentown, but cut up a defense by driving inside, a point made when she delivered 18 to spur the Braves past CSI/McCown (NY), 43-23.  

By the numbers: 40.1

That’s what the offense averaged during its 6-17 showing a year ago. The Braves must build on scoring and are fully capable of making upward strides by spacing the floor to create room for Thomas to penetrate and shooters to have clean looks from the arc.

Under new management: First-year coach Lanie Andrews inherits a roster that has some promising potential to be excited about. Senior Alana Grinberg cleans the glass and her 6-0 freshman sister Dara is anticipated to spend substantial minutes working alongside her sibling in that regard. Senior swing Jordyn Ferraro offers touch along the arc, adding to a nucleus eager to make a climb in the divisional ranks. She complemented 13 points with nine boards and five steals to fuel the Braves past Freehold Boro, 44-41. 

Build off the finish: Manalapan countered a nine-game losing skid with three triumphs over its last five games to cap last season.

FREEHOLD BORO COLONIALS

Head coach: Jenn Brzucki, 14th season (149-152)
‘18-’19 Record: 4-18 (0-12 in A North)
Potential starting 5: Emily Cavallaro (Sr. G 5-8); Samantha Abbate (Sr. F 5-9); Michelle Hon (Jr. G 5-5); Abigail Cowles (Jr.  5-10); Maddie Bideaux (So. G 5-7).
Key reserves: Christina DelQuaglio (Jr. G 5-7); Gianna Praet (Jr. G 5-6); Amy Potochar (So. F 5-9); Jessica Praet (Sr. F 5-7); Sheila Steinmacher (Sr. F); Alexandra Ranaudo (So. G/F).
Key losses: Beth Grossman, Patricia Masdonati.

Strengths: Chemistry, depth, experience.

Player to watch: Samantha Abbate

Abbate (7.2 ppg.) is one of six returning Colonials who saw substantial playing time as an underclassman and the group is anxious to change its fortunes. Abbate has the ability to lead that cause as both a finisher in the paint and rugged rebounder. 

Beware of…: A Chip on the Shoulder

Freehold Boro endured the growing pains of being young in the A North a year ago, but there is a silver lining. A good portion of this year’s cast got a taste of the stiff competition in the league. They know what to expect, developed a chemistry along the way and built an ensemble that endured its share of lumps and is due to give some back.

By the numbers: 5-9

At that height, Samantha Abbate stands tallest amid a Colonials’ roster short on towering stature but long on mid-range size that might play to their advantage. This has the potential to be an irritating bunch to defend as well as fend off. Freehold showed some defensive teeth last winter, conceding 47.7 points a game by getting under opponents to cause disruption. Emily Cavallaro, Maddie Bideaux and Christina DelQuaglio can pick the pocket of an unsuspecting ballhandler. Where the Boro must improve is on offense (31.2 ppg.) and it can address that issue by making everyone on the floor a threat to shoot.

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