PISCATAWAY -- After missing out on a trip to last year’s Group II Final, the Manasquan girls basketball team is back on top of the mountain thanks to a dominant defensive effort while defeating Madison, 47-26, Saturday in the Group II championship at Jersey Mike's Arena. 

The state title is the the 10th all time for the program, eighth since 2012 and seventh since Lisa Kukoda took over as head coach ahead of the 2012-13 season.

"It's a testament to the winning culture of the community," Kukoda told Shore Sports Network. "The town has such a great basketball tradition and so many talented kids who want to be a part of it and want to contribute to the winning culture. We have had great players, but we have had really great people and when you have that combination, really good things are going to happen."

Photo by Matt Manley
Photo by Matt Manley

The Warriors set the tone early, forcing Madison to turn the ball over five times in the first quarter and holding them to two points. Manasquan would finish with seven steals in the game and force 16 turnovers. 

“We are very well-coached defensively,” said Makenna Karlson. “We pride ourselves on defense and we trust each other. Knowing someone has your back on it helps because you can get a little aggressive.”

Karlson had the task of covering Madison’s leading scorer Charlotte Tuhy who averaged 24 points per game entering the championship game. Karlson, who is always matched-up against the opposing teams top scorers, held Tuhy to 9 points.

“Makenna is probably the best defender that has come through Manasquan,” Hope Masonius said. “You do not want to have her on you from my experience and she is the best defender I have ever played with and ever played against. There are so many times Makenna has held the best player to under ten points and we would not be where we are without her.”

Manasquan senior McKenna Karlson shots through the reach of Red Bank Catholic junior Christina Liggio. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Manasquan senior McKenna Karlson shots through the reach of Red Bank Catholic junior Christina Liggio. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)

"I love that kid," Kukoda said of Karlson. "She takes such pride in her defensive matchup. She knows she is going to get it and she is all-in on it. It’s a pride thing for her: 'I’m going to limit what a skilled offensive player is going to have to do. It’s my job to limit that.' She has stepped up time and time again and held serious offensive threats to minimal points.

Karlson was not the only one who took the defense to the next level in the final game of the season. Senior Katie Collins had a block party, finishing with six blocks with two of them double-handed. Junior Jordyn Hollawell was able to cause problems for the Dodgers offense, leading the team with three steals and disrupting their flow on offense. 

Manasquan started the game sluggish on the offensive end. After building a 9-2 lead in the first quarter they only led 15-7 at halftime. The Warriors came out of halftime attacking the basket and scored 19 points in the third quarter. 

Masonious, who has had a knack of scoring when the team needed a basket this postseason,  scored 12 of her game-high 18 points in the second half to help grow the lead.

“The big games when we needed those big baskets, I know I had my whole team behind me,” Masonius said. “Being able to share this with these girls means so much to me. It has been such a good season and so many people always doubted us so being able to show them that we are Manasquan Girls Basketball and we always come out and play to the end.”

Junior Shea Donnelly made an impact once again coming off the bench in the championship game, something she has been doing since the start of the state tournament. She knocked down two 3-pointers to finish with six points and grabbed three rebounds against Madison. In the sectional semifinal round against Rumson, she scored a career-high 16 points and grabbed six rebounds. In the Group II semifinal, Donnelly scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and forced several turnovers against Middle Township.

“This point of the season we just had one goal and I just wanted to do whatever Coach (Kukoda) needed and my team needed,” Donnelly said. “ I wanted this win for this group, especially these seniors that put so much effort in for the last four years. I could not ask for better teammates, they (the seniors) are always there for us on and off the court.”

The four seniors for Manasquan will leave the school with two Group II titles out of the last three seasons. The Warriors defeated Jefferson, 65-36, in the 2022 season. In that season, Manasquan had a strong senior class that passed the torch to Collins, Masonius, Karlson and Carlie Lapinski. On Saturday, those three pass the torch to Olivia Shaughnessy, Donnelly and Hollawell.

"They all had big moments," Kukoda said of the seniors. "Carlie came in and gave us some big minutes. She had a putback that was a big momentum play at the time. Obviously, Katie was huge for us defensively and making some big shots and Hope has been such a leader for us and always steps up in the big moment. Those two have been so important to who we are for the last four years and the whole senior group has been so special, so to see them go out like this, I couldn't be happier for them."


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