St. John Vianney (NJ) Rolls Past Red Bank Catholic in Shore Conference Championship Game
HOLMDEL – In a season without the usual proving grounds – no traditional Shore Conference Tournament and no NJSIAA state playoffs – it would have been easy for St. John Vianney to wonder what could have been.
This is, after all, a team loaded with talent that began the season No. 1 in New Jersey and featured in at least one national ranking. In literally any other time when a global pandemic was not restricting life as we knew it, the Lady Lancers would have the chance to add to their already considerable championship history.
Have those unfortunate facts been swirling somewhere in their heads? Probably. It’s understandable. But from head coach Dawn Karpell right down to the last player on the bench, it never steered them off course. Instead, this group attacked the season with purpose, taking on all comers and seeking out the toughest challenges. It wasn’t that SJV had something to prove, but rather a statement to hammer home.
Saturday provided the exclamation point.
A relentless defense spearheaded by senior guard Katie Hill and a tremendous offensive showing by junior guard Madison St. Rose powered the Lancers to their most emphatic victory of the season, a 61-34 wipeout of No. 2 Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Championship Pod final. St. Rose scored a game-high 20 points while adding 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks while Hill locked down RBC junior standout Justine Pissott and held the University of Tennessee commit to just eight points.
The second and third quarters were when SJV took over the game and overpowered the Caseys on both ends of the court. The Lancers held RBC without a field goal from the final minute of the first quarter to the 6:27 mark of the fourth quarter. In those middle quarters, St. John Vianney outscored Red Bank Catholic 35-7 and by the early fourth quarter had opened a lead that grew as large as 33 points.
In a season of statement wins, Saturday’s victory was as emphatic as they get.
“It’s a great way to end my season and my high school career,” Hill said. “Given the circumstances of this year I think we did a great job to play all the best teams we could, get the wins and I think we left our legacy today.”
“It’s super special,” St. Rose said. ‘Even though we didn’t get that (Tournament of Champions) feeling this whole season felt like a T.O.C. We overcame so many great teams and went undefeated. We proved ourselves.”
When the two teams met on Feb. 20, RBC was without Pissott because of COVID-19 protocols and the Lancers rolled to a 63-32 victory. The rematch figured to be closer with the 6-foot-5 Pissott and her versatile offensive game back in the fold. If anything, however, that fact motivated St. John Vianney to show the first meeting was just a preview of what was to come, even with RBC at full strength.
“It was definitely added motivation because the last time we didn’t play them at full strength – Justine was out, Ally was in foul trouble – we wanted to come back today and prove it again,” Hill said.
Hill, especially, was looking forward to Saturday’s matchup. The task was hers to guard Pissott and prevent the Caseys’ linchpin from getting going, and she was merciless in that role.
“She may have sacrificed some things on the offensive end today but Madison took care of that mismatch, offensively, which allowed Katie to lock in to what we need her to do,” Karpell said. “She didn’t want to come out because she didn’t want to let her score. She embraced it and that’s what winners do.”
“I was face-guarding her and we wanted to stop her from doing as much as we could,” Hill said. “We did a great job limiting her touches, which helped us get that big lead.”
“Our kids were so locked in, defensively, that I felt bad for RBC,” Karpell said. We were just that locked in. We knew what they wanted to do and we took it away.”
At the other end, St. Rose was doing what she usually does: score seemingly at will. She had eight points in the first quarter and seven in the third quarter, staying patient against an RBC defense that was better than the final score may suggest.
“She makes it look effortless and that’s what’s so special about Maddie,” Karpell said. “Her ability to score at all three levels; she has a mismatch and she can dive into the post and has an array of post moves, her mid-range game, she can step out and hit the three and in the open court she’s lights-out.”
Hill and St. Rose were great on Saturday just as they’ve been all season, but what makes the Lancers the juggernaut they are is their depth. Hill was the star, defensively, but it was a collective lockdown. And on the offensive end, Ashley O’Connor, Emma Bruen, Megan Cahalan and Janie Bachmann made big shots when they were called upon.
“That’s the part of our program that’s important, the depth and that they develop each year,” Karpell said. “Ashley and Emma hardly played as freshmen but they come in here as juniors and seniors and they know their role and they do what it takes to win.”
Of St. John Vianney’s 14 games, eight came against teams ranked in the NJ Advance Media state Top 20. Without the state playoffs to officially win a state title, Karpell made her squad available to any and all who would be willing to take them on. Within the always-loaded Shore Conference, SJV beat Rumson-Fair Haven twice by an average of 23.5 points, beat Manasquan by 17 points in the Shore Conference semifinals and beat RBC, the No. 2 team in the Shore and No. 5 team in the state, twice by an average of 29 points. The Lancers beat the No. 2 team in New Jersey, Trenton Catholic, 62-55 on Feb. 26. They also own wins over No. 4 Paul VI and No. 6 Saddle River Day.
“We just tried to take advantage of whatever we could, schedule-wise, to put the team in the most competitive situations we could,” Karpell said. “We went two years without losing to a New Jersey team. It’s really unfortunate for the state and the girls basketball community that they didn’t get to see this team perform on the big stage because they’re that special of a group. But the opportunities we had we made the most of and we punctuated it today.”
St. John Vianney will finish No. 1 in the state again, a feat even this titanic program has never before accomplished. And even without the standard hardware as proof, this group could be the best St. John Vianney team ever.
“They’re in the conversation,” Karpell said. “It’s a great debate but it’s like your kids. How can you pick your favorite kid? It’s a really special group. (This season) has an asterisk on it but it’s still really, really special. Hopefully they’ll remember that.
No. 1 St. John Vianney 61, No. 2 Red Bank Catholic 34
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