With each step farther and farther out into uncharted waters of the Shore Conference Tournament, the Manchester girls basketball team looked more and more at home.

The Hawks had never even been to the SCT semifinals prior to this season and a first ever championship meant having to beat the top two seeds in the tournament - No. 2 St. Rose and No. 1 St. John Vianney - in consecutive rounds.

As it turned out, Manchester did not beat the two powerhouse programs: the Hawks handled them.

Manchester defeated both St. Rose and St. John Vianney in convincing fashion last week to capture the program's first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship and earn Jersey Mike's Team of the Week honors.

On Tuesday, Manchester worn down a deeper St. Rose squad over the course of the game on the way to a 62-45 win. After the Purple Roses jumped out to a 13-10 lead after the first quarter, the Hawks methodically picked them apart over the final 24 minutes, outscoring them 52-32.

Senior Leilani Correa took over the game in the first half and never let up, scoring 30 points to go with 12 rebounds, six assists and nine steals.

Manchester's ascension to the upper echelon of the Shore Conference - and, in turn, the state - was already in the works with the return of its core players junior Kemari Reynolds, sophomore Destiny Adams and senior Dakota Adams. The addition Correa - a West Virginia signee and transfer from Rutgers Prep - pushed the Hawks over the top.

Destiny Adams and junior Serenity Anderson added 11 points each in support of Correa, with Adams also blocking four shots on the defensive end.

In Saturday's championship game vs. St. John Vianney, Manchester got off to a lukewarm start before engaging the Lancers in a back-and-forth contest for three quarters. The Hawks took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter and blew the game open with a 23-9 run to close out a 58-42 win and a first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship.

Destiny Adams took home team MVP honors in that game for posting 19 points and 10 rebounds - one of four Manchester plays to record a double-double. Dakota Adams added 12 points, 12 rebounds and four assists while Correa scored 14 points and grabbed 11 boards. Reynolds also chipped in nine points and four assists in Manchester's championship-clinching performance.

The Hawks have already turned their attention to winning the program's third straight NJSIAA South Jersey Group II championship - a title Manchester had never won before 2016-17, when Dakota Adams was a sophomore and both Reynolds and Anderson were freshmen.

The goal this year, though, is even bigger. The Hawks will look to get over the hump by beating five-time-defending Group II champion Manasquan - that is, if both the Hawks and Warriors win their respective sections - on the way to a first ever Group II championship and subsequent Tournament of Champions appearance.

Given the strength of the Shore Conference in the T of C Era, Manchester immediately thrust itself into the small group of teams with legitimate hopes to win New Jersey's ultimate prize in high school basketball.

 

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