A NORTH looks nothing like it did a year ago. Gone is divisional winner Colts Neck and Neptune. Enter Middletown South along with Long Branch. This division has many possibilities. In fact two teams just may find themselves in the TOP 20 wirh a few breaks. This is the most underrated division in the Shore Conference and quite possibly the state. A NORTH is a division based on potential. There are potentially no less than 4 Division 1 players in the division and potentially no less than 2 TOP 10 Shore teams in the division. Nobody can really be sure about anything because division has so many question mark players and teams. There is not one impact baby in the division, meaning your dancing with the ones you brought last year.
They are the favorite in the Division because of two things. They have the most talent and one of the best coaches in the state. Next, they have players who seen to have been around forever. This team has more experience than anyone in the A NORTH by a long shot. Three seniors will start and two veterans and possible D1 players will join them. They have virtually everybody back from a season ago. Including a much improved Madison Szabo, a 6-3 post player. South has deadly shooters, ball handling and size. MIDDLETOWN SOUTH has the makings of a dangerous team to anyone in the state. This is a possible TOP 10 in the state if all breaks right for them.
Head Coach- TOM BRENNAN
A North- 1st year in Division
There are no players of impact lost. There entire rotation returns and this should bold well for Coach Brennan’s team getting off to a good start.
EVE PIRE- Over the years the 6’2″ Pire has shown flashes of greatness. She has had double/double games. More importantly, she dedicated herself in the spring and summer to a higher level of AAU basketball. She is highly skilled and plays with a high IQ. Her 18 point, 10 rebound game vs Wall last season was a indication of what she truly can be. This season she will look for that consistency as a senior and if she finds it, Middletown South can become a very difficult team to take out this season. She knows the South system and has experience in big games on big stages. She has a championship ring. She will be gearing up for a big senior year
SAM KEENAN- The 6ft senior has been around forever. She knows what it takes to win state titles and big games. She is another seasoned vet on the South roster with a Championship Ring. She has played varsity all 4 years. She will want to go out with a loud bang and fullfil the promise of being an inpact player, before the injuries slowed her career. There have been big moments along the way. Like double/doubles. multiple double figure scoring games and big plays. Keenan is tough and not afraid to mix it up. She also can step out and shoot. This could be the year she puts it all together, health wise and on the court. If she does, this could be a dream ending to a career for the well liked senior.
MADISON SZABO- No player is more of a wild card that Szabo in this division. Last spring and and summer she willed herself into a impact player. Anytime you turned around she was in the gym training. Her commitment was off the charts. Its also may be why she stepped up her level of competition during the AAU season. She played for the Jersey Shore Elite which also included her teammate Isla Brennan. Her size and ability to move and score give South a real impact post player on both sides of the ball. She has made next level improvements and could be the surprise of the year. She could give South a weapon nobody can match up too
Emily McCarthy– it’s almost impossible to not like. The energy and effort she brings to the table is fun to watch. She became a real bright spot last season, especially when Isla Brennan went down with injuries. She is a tough defender who gets in passing lanes and creates steals and opportunities for teammates. She is a reliable senior, who no question coach Brennan has confidence in. What’s underrated about her is that she can score, she has had double-figure games and is is a reliable, if not big scorer coming off the bench. She is a very important piece to this team.
KAYLA RICHARDSON– She at times has shown, she could be a top player in the Shore Conference. D1 schools are starting to pay real attention to the mega talented junior. More importantly, this could be the year, she steps up her consistency and the timing couldn’t be better. Her versatility and size makes her very valuable to Middletown South. She can not just play all 5 positions, she can defend them as well. Her passing skills help make her teammates better. She has proven she can score averaging just under 10 points a game last year. There is no reason to expect that won’t rise this season. If the shooting Improves, watch out! We will be talking an ALL SHORE type player. Richardson is South’s most talented player. A big year especially on the boards would go a long way to a state TOP RANKING. She has a chance to be very special.
STEPHAINE MAYERHOFER– Three years ago she entered South as a afterthought. Now she just may be there most important player. Last year she was named The Hoop Group most improved player. She also was South’s most consistent and best player last season. Now the question is can the future D1 guard take it to another level? She is programs hardest worker and it could rub off on her teamnates. She also has a knack for stepping up in big games. She had 14 points vs Manchester, 11 vs RBC, 11 and 7 in the state tourney vs Edison and carried South on her back for a half vs SCT/TOC champ Manasquan. If South makes it to a big stage. She will no doubt play the leading role. Everything for South this season, may start right here.
GRACE MEEHAN– She was a pleasant surprise for a freshman last season. She showed real poise and confidence when thrown into the fire. She plays with a high IQ and has already proven she has the ability to knock down three’s. She had seven points versus state champion Manasquan last year. She lives in the gym and works hard in the off season. Nothing would make coach Brennan happier if she builds on her freshman year. She will be counted on to bring shooting and ball handling off the bench.
Caitlin O’Connor – She spent the off season boning up her skills. No question she was on a mission in tbe off season. She has played mostly JV but is hoping for an opportunity this season. Her ability to shoot the ball and her work ethic clearly are assets. That any team can use,
ISLA BRENNAN– The talented guard returns for her final season. She won a state title as a freshman, so winning titles is not new to her. She signed with Philly Science in the fall. This allows the field Hockey Divisional Player of The Year to get locked in for her season. Brennan’s body looks to be in the best shape of her life. It’s clear she is gearing up for a other PLAYER OF THE YEAR divisional award. Dispite field hockey she has made time to get into the gym this fall. She is a deadly three point shooter who can get to the rim and finish. Her ability to play and defend all three guard positions make her indispensable. She is immensely battle-tested and the most experienced player in the entire division. Most importantly she is inury free and that’s bad news for the rest of the division No question she is the leading candidate for DIVISIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR.
If there are any babies at Middletown South it would be virtually impossible to crack this lineup with the seniors and seasoned vets up and down the roster. There is no question, Coach Tom Brennan is going to sink or swim with his talented veterans at every position
Last spring and summer almost every returning MIDDLETOWN SOUTH player got into the gym. This was a first for this program. Next almost every returning upperclassmen played competitive AAU competition, this too was a first. This was all done in effort to get ready for this season. The past two seasons Middletown was caught totally off guard with the step up in competition, by the divisional realignments. This year that will not be the case. The juniors and seniors have seen the best the state has to offer. The summer ended with South looking like a real sleeper crew with big possibilities. They have top notch ball handlers everywhere. Brennan, Richardson and Mayerhofer can all run the offense and score. They have shooters up and down the roster. They have real size in the post. Meaning post players who catch the ball and score or get fouled. Pire, Keenan and Szabo present a challenge for any team at the rim because of their size and length. Moving to A NORTH will also allow this crew to catch their breath early in the season. Having so many two sport players has worked against them, early in the season recently. Not anymore, because now they can get settled in before taking on the mega teams. They can gain real confidence and chemistry before going to battle. It’s never been a talent issue. Expect this team to look nothing like last year early in the season. Middletown South could shock everyone, the pieces are in place and the stars are lined up perfectly.
There is a big elephant in the room, when talking about Middletown South. It’s called competitive nature. This crew in the past has ducked competitive environments. Many players choose to train in low level setting and played low level AAU. They paid dearly for these indiscretions in the past. It’s why last spring and fall was so impressive. It appeared they were adopting the philosophy of other top teams. Play the best and train with the best. But here is the problem, what did they do this fall? Resorted back to their old tricks. Some players went back to low level training, some simply decided not to play or train regularly at all, some trained endlessly with their AAU team and some were busy playing other sports or visiting colleges. The result? Rarely if ever did this team get together as a group, like other elite teams. Why is this important?
Last season was Coach Brennan’s first losing season season since his first year at MIDDLETOWN SOUTH. This is shocking when look at the talent on the roster. But a bigger red flag was this, what are Coach Brennan’s teams known for? No team in New Jersey gets better during the season like a Tom Brennan team… last year to the best of my knowledge was the first time we could not say this.. All this leads to this, will this team have chemistry? And will the players by in 100% to his proven system. But the bigger question Middletown must answer is this. Which team are they, the one we saw so committed in the spring and summer, taking on top level competition or are they the team we saw in the fall. If they want to be a TOP team once again and play Middletown South basketball, that question must be answered quickly.
If anyone thinks Middletown South is going to walk-through this division they are in for a real surprise. While Middletown South is the favorite, make no mistake they will have to earn the A NORTH title. This division is vastly underrated and there are clearly three teams that can decide this division. The contenders will not go away quietly, that I can tell you is a a fact.
Head Coach- Brad Hagensen
A NORTH- 11-2
Marlboro is another Shore conference team sitting under the radar. This team is very talented and they may have the best player in the division. They took a major loss when future star and Division I player Kathy Sanchez got hurt. The junior is currently unavailable. Replacing her will not be easy. There Coach, Brad Hagensen always plays one of the best schedule’s in the state. He won a TOC title at SJV and is master on the sidelines. He can win games from the bench. There is zero question, regarding his ability to get his teams prepared. He is one of the very best PERIOD.
THERESA BESSO- Has battled back from ACL injury. She also is a fighter on the court. She is tough as nails and not afraid to take big shots. She is a deadly three point shooter and reliable ball handler. She has a high IQ and is a total teammate. She is a chemistry player that all teams need. She will make the extra pass or do dirty work. She is a major reason this could be Marlboro’s year. She is a full year removed from the ACL injury, so this year could be even more impressive than last season. She had 15 points against Top 20 TRN last year. She is a consistent scorer and an excellent rebounder. If Marlboro is dreaming of a big year. BESSO will have to play a major part. Her track record speaks for itself…WINNER
SAMANTHA NOCCO- You can count on your hands the number of people who know this senior warrior. She has put together a real nice career to date and few know it. Sam is a rentless rebounder and defender. She is a high energy player who produces. She had 11 games of 8 points or more last season. She also was more than a reliable rebounder all season. She was remarkably effective all season on both sides of the ball. But want should get everyone excited is this. Towards the end of the season she got even better. She had back to back games late in the year of 15 points vs Top 20 Lodi and 14 vs Freehold a team she had only had 6 against early in the season. This is,a player who is growing. Don’t be surprised if she has a All Division type season.
BRIANNA DIAZ- Another piece to a big puzzle. Diaz saw action in every game last season. She also has been around and has seen the wars. She is as reliable as a player can get. She is remarkable that in game in and game out, she scores. She is a player that has brought into the team concept. She is the perefect fit for this program. Anything they ask her to do, she will do it. Diaz is a very nice weapon at Marlboro’s disposal. She may be underappreciated by many but not by the Marlboro fateful.
JESSICA RIEPE– The ” big sister” is a name everyone better learn. She will be one of the leading candidates this year for MOST IMPROVED PLAYER. She is a total gym rat who has changed her body and elevated her game. She can put the ball on the deck, pass, defend and has an elite IQ. But what Marlboro fans will love is the confidence and new found scoring ability. He shooting rang and efficiency has improved dramatically over the past months. She has shown a real competitive nature by getting in the gym vs elite competition. These things will pay big dividends for the “big sister”. Last season she played varsity as a freshman. She showed flashes with double figures games. She was a hard nose rebounder and work horse. They year she will be a force, if things go as expected. She will no question benefit from having unselfish teammates much like herself around her.
SAMMY JAY- She is one of the most underrated baby point guards in the Shore. She is ultra competitive and is winner. She gained a ton of experience last season while getting monster minutes on the floor. She is lighting quick and a defense wiz when guarding the ball. Her ability to push the ball and find teammates makes her valuable any time the ball is in her hands. She averaged 5 points a game last season and 4 assists. Those stats match or are better than just about any other baby point guard in the Shore last season. She is a reliable three point shooter. She could gave a banner season this year and if she does ….MARLBORO COULD BE THE TEAM TO BEAT.
LAURA MOREHEAD– She played in 21 games as a freshman last season. This year she hopes to take another step forward. She had a season high of 8 points vs Lodi. She clearly is a player Marlboro hopes can pick up the slack from losing PLAYER OF YEAR Jess Board to graduation and with Sanchez being out. MOREHEAD has real chance to make her mark this year
ALEXANDRA O’HARE- She has played in a ton of games over the past 2 years. 23 as a freshman and every game last year. She will bring experience and real effort to the table. She is a hard worker who has embraced her role.
GISELE ROMERO –the senior had a monster season last year. There were times, when she was just breath taking. She followed her dream season. With a show stopping Summer. It included turning down a D1 offer to sign at U of Sciences. Her ability to steal the ball and score is 2nd to none. Her toughness and competitive nature is a thing of beauty. Last season she was at at times unstoppable. Last season she averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 assists a game. Those numbers are staggering until you realize, she double her stats in every area from the previous year. She had highs of 26 points, 15 rebounds, 10 steals and 6 assists in games. Romero simply is the best kept secret in the Shore Conference. Divisional PLAYER OF THE YEAR and ALL SHORE are both in her sights.
There are no impact Freshman!
This is a team that will have the benefit of floating under the radar . What many are missing is this is one talented crew top to bottom.. They are also a very experienced group and tight group. Their upperclassmen have been in the wars and their babies have received a lot of experience in a short time. Now throw in the fact that every player returning on this roster has played against high-level elite teams in the state of New Jersey. They will not be intimidated by any level of competition. This is a very unselfish group who will look to move the ball and play their roles. Romero, will do the bulk of the scoring on most nights and everyone else will chip in. This is a true all for one and one for all team. Before this season is over don’t be surprised by there rankings or there success. .
There is some real questions this team will need to answer. Like who is replacing last year’s divisional player of the year, JESS BOARD. There are plenty of players to pick up the scoring and rebounding slack. But Board’s defense, passing and experience are undeniable holes that must be plugged up. Then Kathy Sanchez is a question mark. Who knows when and if she will return. Sanchez, was moving into rare air when she got hurt last year. She was athletic and got unscripted points and rebounds. She was expected to this year’s Robin to Romero’s Batman act. Finally while this is talented highly competitive group. You have to ask this very important question, where is the three point shooting after BESSO?
Last year everyone thought Howell basketball was going to take a giant leap forward. They were coming off a surprise season. They made noise in the SCT and the State Tournament. They were returning a team with experienced seniors and season vets. They had a talented freshman class to boot. Last year was suppose to be a break out season….it wasn’t! First, last fall many of Howell players were nowhere to be found, next chemistry issues doomed them all year. In the end what started out with high hopes just came to a crashing end. Which gets us to this year. Nobody is talking Howell possibilities this year. It could be just what the doctor ordered. In a total reverse this fall, the Howell kids have been in the gym. This year playing in the hoop group fall league, they may have been the biggest surprise and the good news, nobody was paying attention.
This team is made up of duel sport players. In most cases this is the death of teams trying to win championships and building chemistry in the fall. Not the case with Howell this year. Not only did there players show up. No team in the fall league played more like a team and built more REAL chemistry. It was clear this group enjoyed playing with each other. The other thing that was clear, was that this group is made up of warriors. They played extremely hard and physical. They also played to win in the fall league, a brilliant move after last season. Interestingly this team has little experience. Now the question is can they put it together when it counts.
This year’s team will be led by senior guard Jessica OBrien. She is a total warrior who has been in the battles. She flat out is one of the most competitive players in the division and brings a boat load of experience. Last year she averaged 8.4 points a game, while playing top notch defense. Her senior leadership will be needed if anything big is going to happen for Howell. The question is, who can she depend on to back her up? Cailtlin Gresko may be the best athlete on the team. She has size, quickness and speed. She had multiple double figure scoring games last year. She is an excellent offensive rebounder and is a handful in transition. She quietly had a excellent freshman year. Now can she step it up? She gained valuable experience last season. Her fellow freshman from a year ago Mackenzie Bruno also had a solid season appearing in every game. She will most likely step into starting lineup. The question is, how ready for the jump is she? But it just may be the insanely improved Grace Leary who holds the key to the season. Leary saw limited minutes last season. But is a gym rat and has willed herself into a impact player. Her scoring and play making ability may be just what the doctor ordered. But the big question of all is…who is the 5th starter and where is the bench. There is no question that HOWELL is in position to be the ulitimate spoiler in A NORTH. But there will need a few breaks and maintain the chemistry they found this fall.
LONG BRANCH has Shannon Coyle and that alone makes them a threat. They once again surprised everyone by making the State tournament. Last season her team gave everyone fits, inculding this years A North favorite, Middletown South who they lost to by 4 in an all out war. The problem for Long Branch is the talent gap is just to big to over come. But do not be surprised if they catch one of the top teams napping.
MALANAPAN will have a punches chance because of Cassie Deaver. She will be one of the best players and scorers in the division. But the talent gap her team is facing is a bridge too far.
FREEHOLD TWP AND FREEHOLD BOROUGH both hope to be competitive this season, but it will take something special to win the conference. A .500 season would be a reasonable expectation.
This is a tough call because I do not believe anyone in the division can beat Middletown South except Marlboro. But do I believe Marlboro can beat South twice? No I do not, but I do believe Marlboro can slip up to another team in the division. So even if Marlboro splits with South. I don’t see them running the table in the rest of the division. So for that reason I say…A NORTH GOES TO MIDDLETOWN SOUTH
PRE SEASON 2018-19 AWARD WINNERS
PLAYER OF THE YEAR– Gisele Romero- Marlboro
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR– N/A
COACH OF THE YEAR- TOM BRENNAN
A NORTH PRE SEASON, ALL DIVISION
ISLA BRENNAN- Middletown South
CASSIE DEAVER- Manalapan
KAYLA RICHARDSON- Middletown South
STEPHANIE MAYERHOFER- Middletown South
JESSICA O’BRIEN- HOWELL