TOMS RIVER – The indelible fingerprints of Paige Slaven may have been smudged all over an explosive second-quarter outburst by Donovan Catholic but it was the trail of DNA the junior guard left at the opposite end of the court that best defined what’s at the root of the redesigned Griffins.

The sweat spilled within a ceaselessly hounding man-to-man look not only revealed a stronger commitment to defense by Donovan Catholic as a whole but offered Slaven the canvas to apply some of subtle brushstrokes to a masterpiece of resistance. Given the chance to accelerate in transition hatched from the turnovers generated, a favorable rhythm was struck and a tone unmistakably set.

Slaven was the primary orchestrator, complementing her unlimited hustle with artful finesse, be it through a graceful drive to the rim or heady pass. Her actions and rate of activity an infectious source of the energy Donovan Catholic relied upon Friday night in storming past B South foe Jackson Liberty in an emphatic 41-18 fashion.

Donovan Catholic (9-2, 5-1) magnified all the underlying elements responsible for its current run of seven straight wins. It induced turnovers, battled to control the boards, interfered in passing lanes, denied entry to the paint and unselfishly shared the basketball to keep everyone invested in the offensive outcome.

“It’s a great feeling when your point guard wants to play as hard as everyone else on the floor,” said Jordyn Keating, Slaven’s sophomore partner in the backcourt. “We all feed off her energy. If she wants to go 100 miles per hour, then we’re all going 100 mile per hour, too. It works out for us getting fast break after fast break. Our team is more defensive than we were last year and we pride ourselves on that and the chemistry built through it.”

That unified bond amongst the Griffins became rather apparent within the first three minutes of the second quarter. Deadlocked at 4-4 after an uneventful opening quarter, Donovan Catholic responded with a run of 10 consecutive points that, by its conclusion, made it clear a good portion of whatever is accomplished on offense will be predicated on what’s invested into denying on the other side of the floor.

The charge began fittingly, with Slaven transforming a steal into a layup. She found senior forward Nalah Tinsley in a position to expose a lane off the dribble for an interior bucket and set up freshman guard Olivia Conroy for a layup before converting through penetration of her own. Junior forward Jayda Kearney capped the blistering sequence of events with a bucket off a turnover and, suddenly, Donovan Catholic was the owner of a 14-4 lead it never relinquished. The byproduct of simply working two ends of the floor with equal proficiency.

As to which side of the court Slaven provides more value, Donovan Catholic head coach Glenn Jansen didn’t hesitate with an answer.

“To me its defense,” Jansen said of Slaven, who is averaging 13.6 points per game over the last six contests. “Three out of the last four games, she had guarded the best player and held them to minimal points. She’s getting a tough assignment. I don’t always like to put my point guard on the toughest player because I’d like her to have her legs, but she has risen to the challenge and done everything we asked and more. She is on fire right now.”

“By playing man to man, it shows our athleticism,” said Slaven, who finished with a game-high 12 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists and a steal “We knew we wouldn’t score like we did last year so we had to get better on defense.”

That improvement can be verified by Jackson Liberty. The Lions (8-5, 2-4), who've already surpassed last year's win total of six, entered on their own hot streak, riding a four-game winning tear in which they averaged 49 points per outing. That type of output was never considered an option from the Donovan Catholic perspective considering it’s conceding just 33.8.

“We’re playing man to man all 32 minutes,” said Donovan Catholic coach Glenn Jansen, whose team, true to his words, never opted out of the scheme in the halfcourt. “We can temper it down a little bit depending on the circumstances of the game but that enthusiasm within it is what we work on every day in practice. It’s not something you can add water to before the game. It’s developed.”

Jayda Kearney of Donovan Catholic (Photo by Gregg Lerner)
Jayda Kearney of Donovan Catholic (Photo by Gregg Lerner)

Much like the Griffins themselves. Tinsley, who had eight rebounds and four steals, is the solitary senior in the starting lineup, flanked by Kearney (six points, seven rebounds) in the frontcourt with the support of Keating (10 points), Slaven and 6-0 junior swing Karolina Jarusevicute. And, there’s maturing depth waiting to get involved.

Junior Olivia Parlow and freshman Olivia Conroy hopped off the bench to combine for nine points and each sank a 3-pointer in the final moments of the third, with Conroy’s acrobatic buzzer beater that punctuated 13-0 effort in the stanza that widened the margin to 31-8. The exploits balanced by 10:35 stretch that spanned from the end of the first half into final period in which Donovan Catholic held the Lions scoreless.

Sophomore forward Ashleigh Tavaska scored all of her team-high six points for Jackson Liberty in the first half. Senior guard Amber McGee had four points and senior center Logan Sigmon gave four points and six boards off the bench for the Lions.

Jackson Liberty (8-5, 2-4)              04           04           00           10 --- 18
Donovan Catholic (9-2, 5-1)           04           14           13           10 --- 41

Jackson Liberty: Maura Carney 1-0-0-2; Hailey McGee 0-0-0-0; Kayla Nelson 0-0-0-0; Ashleigh Tavaska 2-0-2-6; Amber McGee 2-0-0-4; Jessica Cannestro 0-0-0-0; Amira Brown 0-0-0-0; Amaya Moore 0-0-0-0; Kayla Ryan 1-0-0-2; Logan Sigmon 2-0-0-4; Anessa Brown 0-0-0-0.

Donovan Catholic: Victoria Gelosi 0-0-0-0; Paige Slaven 5-0-2-12; Nalah Tinsley 1-0-0-2; Jordyn Keating 5-0-0-10; Alex Gelosi 0-0-0-0; Madelyn Panuska 1-0-0-2; Isabella Kenmure 0-0-0-0; Katie Polo 0-0-0-0; Olivia Parlow 0-1-1-4; Karolina Jarusevicute 0-0-0-0; Olivia Conroy 1-1-0-5; Jayda Kearney 3-0-0-6; Mackenzie Kopf 0-0-0-0.

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