TOMS RIVER - The Manchester girls basketball team won its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship last season with a core of players that will be in place for each of the next two years - reason enough to be excited about entering the 2017-18 season and the 2017 WOBM Christmas Classic with a sense of optimism not seen around the program at any point in its history.

As it turns out, not only did the Hawks win their first championship with a team loaded with underclassmen; they did it before unleashing their greatest weapon upon the rest of Ocean County and the Shore Conference.

That weapon is 6-foot-3 freshman Destiny Adams and in the first seven games of her high school career, she has sparked Manchester to a 7-0 start by averaging 19.6 points, eight rebounds and 2.6 steals per night for a team with only two seniors on the roster.

Manchester freshman Destiny Adams. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Manchester freshman Destiny Adams. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"I think I've surprised myself a little bit because I didn't know how much I could do right away," Adams said. "I was just trying to make the starting lineup and help take the team to higher levels than they have been before."

"With Destiny, we know she's a game-changer," said junior Dakota Adams, Destiny's older sister. "When we're down, we get the ball to Destiny. She just brings positivity."

Adams's latest performance was perhaps the best of her seven game start. In Saturday's WOBM Christmas Classic championship against host team and defending tournament champion Toms River North, Adams led her team to its first ever WOBM championship by putting up 28 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

"She can be one of the best," Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin said of Adams. "The skillset she has at her size and length is just special. It's fun to coach. It's fun to see how much she is willing to absorb and wants to improve. She's only going to continue grow and her game is going to expand."

Her effort on Saturday not only won Manchester the WOBM crown but it also earned Adams the Tournament MVP as a freshman. In the four WOBM games, she averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds and bounced back from a six-point game in a semifinal win over Middletown South on Friday with her best game of the tournament.

"Sometimes it's easy to forget she's 14 years old," Beauchemin said. "She has such a versatile game, she defends so many positions, we use her whole offensive skillset and she's adapted to everything we've thrown at her. Last night, we played so well as a group and I know she wanted to play a little bit better, but there's no better way to bounce back than the way she did tonight."

The MVP performance by Adams on Saturday went far beyond the box score. In putting up an efficient 28 points, she showed off her range with a pair of three-pointers, her ball-handling with a collection of moves to slip into the paint, her defensive prowess in guarding multiple positions and her passing ability with a cross-court bullet to set up a fast-break layup.

While Adams's talent and potential is exciting in its own right, the impact she has on her teammates has been the best part of her arrival according to Beauchemin. As a freshman last year, Kemari Reynolds led the team in scoring, but with the arrival of Adams, she has been able to fill the role of a true point guard.

"It's been great to see her allow Kemari to showcase some of her other skills," Beauchemin said. "She was a tremendous scorer for us last year and she can still do that, but she is absolutely running the offense to a T right now."

Meanwhile, sophomores Serenity Anderson and Nahlaleigh Hayes-Jones have seen more open opportunities to score while Dakota Adams and senior Asha Harper are freed up to work the offensive glass and operate on the inside.

"What I'm really proud of with her and even with Kemari and the group coming in last year - we don't try to force-feed any of them," Beauchemin said. "They score within what we want to do in the system. (Adams) scored 28 points tonight and nothing was forced."

Manchester stormed out to an 18-7 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to a 12-point first quarter by Adams. The Hawks led by 19 points early in the fourth quarter before Toms River North got to within eight just past the midway point of the fourth quarter.

Reynolds finished with 10 points, four assists and two steals while Anderson pitched in seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Reynolds, Anderson and Dakota Adams picked up the sack on Friday when Destiny Adams struggled for the first time, with the trio combining for 33 points and the elder Adams ripping down 14 rebounds.

Junior Jenna Paul led Toms River North with 13 points while junior Brielle Bisogno and senior Amanda Johnson each added 10 in defeat.

"There was no way we were going to let North win back-to-back championships," Dakota Adams said. "I just thought it would be really cool to take them on in their gym and win this tournament."

Saturday signaled a potential changing of the guard in Ocean County and a sign for a potential changing of the guard among Shore Conference public school programs sometime over the next couple of years. In recent years, programs like Marlboro, Colts Neck, Neptune, Point Pleasant Boro and Manasquan have risen from relative mediocrity to make runs deep into the Shore Conference Tournament and to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and, in the case of four of those five, have since fallen off of that pedestal.

"We want to be the best Manchester has ever had," Destiny Adams said. "We think we  can do that with the group we have for the next two or three years."

Since starting last year 3-3, Manchester is 28-3, including the 7-0 start this year. The three losses last year were to Middletown South in the Shore Conference Tournament, to Holmdel by one point in a state tournament tune-up game, and to state power Manasquan in the Group II semifinals.

"Last year's run was special, but the team was so young and we still are," Beauchemin said. "We were honored to get the one seed here, but we also knew there were some experienced teams that were here that we still had to get through. We had to find ourselves, so we wanted to use this tournament for that, as well as just to get to the final for the first time in school history."

With the youngest Adams now joining the sophomore core on a team light on seniors, Manchester has the makings of a team that could bid for Shore Conference supremacy sooner rather than later - which would give Ocean County some bragging rights in a conference that has been dominated by its neighbor to the north.

"It meant a lot to the program to win this tournament," Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin said. "This tournament is right in the heart of Ocean County and we had to beat the home team on their court to win it. We know how good Shore Conference basketball is and to have an All-Ocean-County final with two schools that are so close is great for basketball down here.

"It's exciting to be a part of this right now. There is a real buzz around the school and when you see the talent that's on the floor and how young these girls are, you realize what the ceiling is and you can't help but be excited for the future."

More From Shore Sports Network