TOMS RIVER - Dennis Adams is no different than any other principal. He wants what’s best for his Manchester students and implores them to dream big and chase hard.

In order to sell it, it’s best to have lived it. Once upon a time, Adams was quite the baller for the Hawks, a mighty 6-7 force who played above the rim and surpassed 1,600 points before moving on to Muhlenberg. He banged around the Atlantic Basketball Association for a few years and played a bit overseas before settling down back in his hometown. He raised a family, sunk his roots even deeper into the fertile soil and, five years ago, rose to a new position, one he never foresaw as an administrator at his alma mater.

“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he ever envisioned occupying his current role. “It’s a dream to come home. I love Manchester. This has been really special. Anything is possible as long as you believe in yourself and work hard.”

The chance to touch lives with such poignant messages that resonate was an ideal calling to pursue. And, he happens to boast two particular ambassadors who embody his mission state, not to mention a striking resemblance to its source. Dakota and Destiny Adams share some of their father’s finest qualities, exemplary leaders on the court who find their actions carry the most weight.

They’ve shared more than a few memories in their two seasons together, helping Manchester to steadily ascend into reaches of the girls basketball world that it had never before broached. The journey added another emphatic chapter Tuesday night as the third-seeded Hawks made their Tournament of Champions debut a masterpiece of detailed art work, cruising past sixth-seeded Mainland, 74-44, in the quarterfinal round of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions at RWJBarnabas Health Arena.

Senior guard Leilani Correa personified the precision of the Hawks (32-2), shooting 11 of 16 from the field en route to a game-high 24 points. Destiny Adams was nearly as sharp, knocking down 7 of 13 shots on course to 16 points while Dakota Adams offered 11 points, five assists and three steals. Manchester set the terms from the outset, employing their blistering pace in building a 27-9 lead after one quarter and stretching the gap to 45-17 by intermission.

Leilani Correa of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Leilani Correa of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Correa accounted for 11 points in the opening salvo while Destiny Adams netted 10 as the Hawks fashioned their lead on superior speed in the open floor, which yielded 18 points through the fast break, 26 points created off turnovers, 40 deposited in the paint and a scorching 31 of 53 showing from the field, including 10 of 25 behind the arc.

Destiny Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Destiny Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

By the time Dakota Adams dropped a shot pull-up in the lane off a baseline feed from junior guard Serenity Adams 35 seconds into the second quarter, all five Manchester starters had supplied a bucket.

Junior point guard Kemari Reynolds accounted for eight points and three assists, Anderson and Correa each cleared six boards and Destiny Adams collected five rebounds as well as five blocked shots as the Hawks instituted their directives in a ceaseless manner.

The victory extended the Hawks’ win streak to 24 and earned them a rematch with second-seeded Saddle River Day on Thursday back in Toms River for a highly-anticipated semifinal showdown at 5:30. Manchester bowed to the Rebels, 61-52, on Jan. 4 at the New Year’s Resolution in Paterson. Two days later, they fell to national power Bishop McNamara (Md.), 68-53, at the Blue Star Invitational and haven’t lost since.

Fueling the tear has been the steadfast belief in each other, a chemistry responsible for its first Shore Conference Tournament title, a third straight South Jersey, Group 2 title and the Group 2 state championship, another first in the program’s history.

No one wants the magical ride to end now, especially a pair of sisters soaking in every memory made together. Last year, Dakota was a not just a teammate but a basketball counselor for Destiny during her freshman year. Now a senior, she’s observed with pride as her 6-3 sophomore sibling has emerged as one of the best New Jersey has to offer.

Dakota Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Dakota Adams of Manchester (Photo by Paula Lopez)

“I have thought about it,” a sentimental Dakota, who is heading to Bridgeport, said of the time spent with her sister in blue and gold winding down. “I try to put a positive spin on it. I’ll be able come back to watch her games but, I will miss playing with her. I wanted my senior year to be big going out and I’m thankful to share it with her.”

“I’ve been playing with her since I was in fourth grade and she was in sixth,” added Destiny. “To have her on my team, she motivated me to be the best I could be. She made my transition into high school a lot easier and easy for me to be myself.”

Kylee Watson, a 6-4 junior, topped Mainland (28-4) with 22 points and 16 rebounds.

Mainland (28-4)              09           08           06           21 --- 44
Manchester (32-2)          27           18           20           09 --- 74

Mainland: Taylor Dalzell 0-1-2-5; Madi Hafetz 0-1-0-3; Claudia Mairone 0-3-0-9; Kylee Watson 8-1-3-22; Camryn Dirkes 1-1-0-5; Lauren Toner 0-0-0-0; Jillian Gatley 0-0-0-0; Lila Schoen 0-0-0-0; Kaitlyn Boggs 0-0-0-0.

Manchester: Kemari Reynolds 1-2-08; Leilani Correa 9-2-0-24; Dakota Adams 3-1-2-0-11; Destiny Adams 5-2-0-16; Serenity Anderson 0-1-0-3; Myah Hourigan 0-0-0-0; Amayah Bray 1-0-0-2; Nahkaleigh Hayes-Jones 2-1-0-7; Morgan Brustman 0-1-0-3; Victoria Labrecque 0-0-0-0; Emily Barron 0-0-0-0.

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