Once upon a time, there was a talented underclassmen at St. John Vianney blessed with exceptional athletic genes, enthusiastic energy and intellect off the charts, all rolled into a 6-0 frame bursting with endless promise.

Sound like someone to get excited about? You bet.

Coach Dawn Karpell recognized a high ceiling of potential. Teammates did, too. The catch was getting Brelynn Bellamy to reach deep to extract the trust within herself in order to uncover the view. In her first two seasons in Holmdel, it took a village to break the shell that housed Bellamy’s confidence.

No one quibbled with her effort on defense and sung her praises for the hard screens  and quick-thinking passes that spoke to her unselfishness. Bellamy was admired for her willingness to do the small things with an impact on the bigger picture.

The project was encouraging her to drill deeper and unearth resources yet to be tapped. To become a more active participant in the offensive end beyond her physical sacrifice, to be less deferring and pose a scoring threat. A pure release on a jumper tough to defend at its apex, coupled with all she could accomplish on the blocks and attacking the rim were incentives to push for greater scoring performance, all points she, too, wanted to achieve.

“I wasn’t satisfied with how I played my freshman and sophomore year,” said Bellamy, now a junior. “I talked about it with my parents and coaches. This is supposed to be the year. I have to step up. Every person on this team is so good. Everyone has their role and, at some point, has to step into a big spot, including myself.”

Gradually, a more rounded Bellamy has emerged. She remains loyal to her defensive roots, an imposing obstacle who covers ground in long, imposing strides to tower above ballhandlers engulfed in the Vianney press. But, to gain a better appreciation of how far she’s come, the Lancers made it clear right from the outset on Saturday.

Bellamy backed a defender to the baseline, grabbed an entry lob from junior point guard Sarah Karpell and deposited a layup, all in an effort fashion, producing the initial points that sparked top-seeded St. John Vianney to a rousing 70-36 victory over eight-seeded Donovan Catholic in the quarterfinal round of the Shore Conference Tournament at RWJBArnabas Health Arena in Toms River.

Up next for St. John Vianney (23-1) is a semifinal date with fourth-seeded St. Rose on Tuesday back in Toms River. It marks the third straight year the two sides’ paths have intersected in the SCT. In 2016, Vianney earned a 59-53 victory in the semifinals en route to their 13th title while St. Rose returned the favor a year later with a 56-31 triumph in the title game.

This time around, Vianney rates the slight favorite, playing with optimum efficiency at both ends of the court and armed with an empowered Bellamy adding to a rich allotment of assets.

“Bre is not overcome by offensive stats,” noted Karpell. “She knows about all the other parts of the game that translate into winning. She can guard one through five. She does a lot of the dirty work, too. She is our screen setter who gets shooters open looks. This year, she understands how much her length is like a huge asset. She starting to use that to her advantage.”

It should come as no surprise that defense is the backbone of Bellamy’s game. She has established herself as one of the Shore’s premier defenders on the soccer pitch. But, it also runs in her blood, traced back to her father, Jay, a standout defensive back at Matawan, Rutgers and, over the course of seven season in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints.

Yet, for someone which such a distinguished defensive background, her dad has been among the voices willing Bellamy to elevate her offensive stock.

“All my life, I focused on defense. I love it with high energy,” Bellamy said. “But, I know it’s not enough. At some point, you have to raise your offensive game. I had talks with my father. He always tells me I need to play with more confidence. Now, when I get squared to the basket, I realize there are so many options available.”

This winter has marked the dawn of a new age for Bellamy. After averaging less than a point per game as a freshman in limited action and 4.2 as a sophomore, she is scoring at a 10.1 clip…and only getting more productive.

Over the last nine games, she has produced a 13.5 rate, marked by a career-high 21 on Feb. 5 in a win over Marlboro. On Saturday, she needed just seven to make her presence felt, offset by defensive influence that played a hand in forcing Donovan Catholic into 28 turnovers and ending the Griffins’ 18-game win streak.

The Lancers took control of the contest immediately, racing to a 7-0 lead. In the process, Sarah Karpell established the balance of the offense, finding senior forward Sarah Furch and junior swing Sajada Bonner for buckets to get them into a groove.

Bonner, who supplied eight of her 13 points in the first half to help fuel a 43-14 showing, and senior guard Madison Doring, who also finished with 13, headlined a deep mix of scorers. Nine players chipped in to the equation with Karpell netting nine, Furch and freshman Christina Whitehead supplying seven and junior Rahmena Henderson and freshman Katie Hill scoring six apiece.

Senior guards Alyssa Hirschy and Molly Collins netted six apiece for Donovan Catholic.

Donovan Catholic (20-4)                04           10           13           09 --- 36
St. John Vianney (23-1)                 26           17           16           11 --- 70

Donovan Catholic: Victoria Gelosi 1-0-1-3; Molly Collins 0-2-0-6; Paige Slaven 0-0-3-3; Nalah Tinsley 2-0-0-4; MaryJo Kelly 0-0-0-0; Alyssa Hirschy 1-0-4-6; Olivia Parlow 1-0-0-2; Melissa Buxton 0-1-0-3; Jordyn Keating 0-1-0-3; Alexandra Gelosi 0-0-0-0; Layla Laws 1-0-0-2; Jayda Kearney 2-0-0-4. Totals: 8-4-8-36.

St. John Vianney: Emma Bruen 0-0-0-0; Casey Klatt 0-0-0-0; Natalya Spinks 1-0-0-2; Rahmena Henderson 3-0-0-6; Sarah Karpell 3-1-0-9; Madison Doring 3-1-4-13; Sajada Bonner 4-0-5-13; Katie Hill 2-0-2-6; Maria Tedesco 0-0-0-0; Brelynn Bellamy 2-1-0-7; Sarah Furch 3-0-1-7; Christina Whitehead 0-1-4-7. Totals: 21-4-16-70.

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