MANCHESTER - A sense of belonging has been a subtle but prevalent theme that’s shadowed Manchester.

This season, the Hawks have ascended into some rarefied air. From winning the WOBM Christmas Classic to reaching the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time in the program’s history, they validated their standing among the premier teams in the state.

The pressure of a rapid rise into such esteemed company can be a hefty burden to bear. Manchester has experienced no such problem in that regard, neutralizing the load simply by dispersing it in equal shares.

A turnover might best exemplify the Hawks’ all-for-one mentality. Once a ball is stripped, five move in harmonic unison, each in a different capacity, but all with the common goal to finish what was started at the defensive end. The actions symbolic of something far deeper that drives the relatively young cast.

“It allows everyone to reward themselves,” Manchester coach Dave Beauchemin said. “When we get out and run, there are girls that are hustling. They’ll trail the play. They’re looking to fill a window on the opposite side because they know we’ll distribute to each other. That’s a testament to them. You have to feel that within each other. We’re going to share off. We’re at our best when we do that. “

Hunting as a pack on defense and interchanging as scorers, top-seeded Manchester performed at its apex Tuesday night. It established a quick, lethal tone from the perimeter that opened seams for sophomore point guard Kemari Reynolds to attack while lengthy freshman Destiny Adams set the parameters of an aggressive man-to-man defense that surrendered little in return.

The combination produced an overwhelming clinical performance that powered the Hawks past third-seeded Haddonfield, 54-18, for their second straight NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 2 title.

The win vaults Manchester (26-4) into the state semifinal Thursday night at 7 o’clock in Williamstown and a rematch against Central Jersey champion Manasquan, which ended the Hawks’ run a year ago in a 51-34 loss. The Warriors are seeking their fifth straight Group 2 state title.

What Manasquan can anticipate seeing is a Manchester team that’s turned the corner, no longer content handling its business against peers, but intrigued by the idea of exploring how it stacks up against the highest forms of competition. A schedule that included matchups with Franklin, last year’s Tournament of Champions winner, and South Jersey power Mainland was designed to offer samples of what the next level offers.

The Hawks, with two sophomores, a freshman and a junior in the starting five, have established residency among those it sought to join perhaps a little sooner than expected and its youthful cast has plenty of staying power, which it made abundantly clear against Haddonfield.

Sophomore Serenity Anderson, senior Asha Harper and Adams kicked off the contest by drilling consecutive 3-pointers to build a 9-3 lead. In the process, they instantly enticed defenders to matchup higher, thus making room for Reynolds to capitalize upon off the dribble.

“As a point guard, I have to lead the team and be a floor general making smart decisions,” said Reynolds, who, along with Adams, shared game-high honors with 17 points. “I’m really very passionate about having my whole team involved in everything we’re doing out there.”

Mission accomplished. What the balance created was a feeding frenzy. All five starters got a bucket in the first quarter to fuel a defining 15-3 outburst. Yet, the unselfishness wasn’t just reserved to the offensive end.

Adams covered defensive ground with grace and assertiveness, closing out on Haddonfield senior guard Annie Stanton (46 3-pointers) along the arc and sliding into the lane to challenge drives, an active style that reaped six blocks to go with her 11 rebounds. The Hawks hammered the glass in a collective fashion and conceded little in terms of quality looks.

Haddonfield suffered the consequences. After Keegan Douglas sank a triple that tied the game at 3-3, the Bulldogs didn’t produce another field goal until Douglas drove for a layup with 5:54 showing in the third, enduring a span of nearly 15 minutes without a single bucket.

“Our defense overall as a team is very good,” said Adams. “We practice it all the time and it’s the main factor in the game.

“Adding Destiny and her height, we get 10 times more blocks,” added Reynolds. “(Junior forward) Dakota (Adams) and Asha contribute so much. That’s why our defense is top notch.”

In the interim, Manchester was ceaselessly attacking the rim to create opportunities off the bounce. It built a 29-7 lead by intermission, punctuated by a Harper floater in the paint at the buzzer, and expanded the margin to 46-10 by the conclusion of the third, fueled by seven points from Reynolds in the period.  It followed its initial perimeter barrage by sinking 19 of its next 20 baskets on layups, putbacks or jumpers in the paint.

Now, comes the ultimate challenge against Manasquan, the top-ranked team in the state and reigning Shore Conference Tournament champion. Manchester is up for the task.

“Everybody expects us to fold and let them run all over us like they’ve done to other teams,” Reynolds said. “This whole season, we’ve been fighting back hard. We do our best out there. Win or lose, we want to be respectable as a team.”

Harper finished with seven points, six boards and four assists, Anderson added seven points and four boards and Dakota Adams chipped in with six points, four rebounds, plus a block, steal and an assist.

Haddonfield (23-6)          03           04           03           08 --- 18
Manchester (26-4)          15           14           17           08 --- 54

Haddonfield: Mary Kelly 0-0-1-1; Keegan Douglas 1-1-2-7; Annie Stanton 0-1-2-5; Wayden Ay 0-0-2-2; Ashley Campo 0-0-0-0; Sasha Feinstein 0-1-0-3; Sophie Khos 0-0-0-0; Hannah Windus 0-0-0-0. Totals: 1-3-7---18.

Manchester: Cara Johnson 0-0-0-0; Nahkaleigh Hayes-Jones 0-0-0-0; Kemari Reynolds 7-0-3-17; Morgan Brustman 0-0-0-0; Destiny Adams 6-1-2-17; Dakota Adams 3-0-0-6; Victoria LaBrecque 0-0-0-0; Serenity Anderson 2-1-0-7; Asha Harper 2-1-0-7. Totals: 20-3-5---54.

More From Shore Sports Network