Did you hear that loud bang. Did you hear something go boom in the night. What you heard last night was not a mentor, but rather a shooting star. That goes by the name of Howell High School. Howell High School has continued its un-probable season with its first win in the SCT since the days of Sara Olson now playing professional basketball in Germany and Kaitlin Smid who now is the asst coach at Wagner.
When Marlboro High School lost to Howell High School, I called and asked a friend, what happened? He said it was the “worst game he had ever seen Marlboro play”. You know what’s funny about that statement. People have been saying that all year, as Howell has continued to defy the odds. Howell had been a laughing stock the past 6 years or so. They won two games last year in the division and 7 total on the year. Well how does the biggest turn around in the shore and maybe the state sound to you. They are currently 15-7 and went 7-4 in conference. There is a reason people are saying we played our worst game of the year against Howell….its because Howell makes them play their worst game of the year. Donovan Catholic found out the hard way last night; in the first round of the SCT…as the little engine that could named…HOWELL SENT THEN PACKING WITH A 44-33 LOST.
I went to see Howell vs. Neptune earlier in the season. They were in a dog fight with one of the Top programs in the state. They surprised me with their team play and defense. They moved the ball with team precision and purpose. They kept Neptune on their toe’s most of the day, and keep Dezzy Allen under control. But they couldn’t get that big basket and because of that couldn’t pull off the biggest upset in the shore. Yesterday when they took on the B South champs and #14 seed Donovan Catholic. Many believe the #19 seed was just their making an appearance. But like they’ve done all year, Howell surprised everyone. They did it by doing what they’ve done all year. By playing defense and shutting down scorers. Donovan Catholic didn’t have Dezzy Allen to save them last night. Howell held Molly Collins and Melissa Buxton to a grand total of a combined 2 points. Howell just put the cherry on top of a great season last night.
Last night Coach Santopietr0 of Howell threw down the Coach of the Year Gauntlet. His team plays a beautiful brand of basketball. He may have you believe, that he and his band of unknowns are just lucky. Nothing could be further from the truth. His kids now expect to win. I spoke to him after his team lost to Neptune. He said were getting better, but have a long way to go…well baby you come a long way. Because one of the best coaching jobs in all of New Jersey is taking place, right in front of our eyes. Until last night, not many have been taking his Howell team serious. But I can assure you, they have gotten the attention of everyone right now. They have won 6 of 7, the lone lost being to Neptune. Many are mixing Howell up with butter, these days….because THEY ARE ON A ROLL. Because next year Coach Santopietr returns his entire team and has a stellar 2012 class coming in…HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN.
Now you may think Howell is made up of a group of kids, who are using hoops as a recreation activity. This has been the image the past few years. There suppose to be the homing weekend them you play. We are all finding out this is not the case. Colts Neck, Marlboro, Donovan Catholic all teams that have in the Top 10 have found out the hard way. But they should know a few things about Howell and their players, before being surprised…so I will help understand how it all went so wrong for them on those nights.
I had a coach ask me if she could sign Rachel Gazzola? I had another coach tell me this fall, they were going to offer Rachel Gazzola. Well both better get moving quick. Gazzola has always been talented. She always seem to just be missing something, that was preventing her from breaking though. She found that something this year. It’s called a work ethic, and this fall she worked like she never worked before. It was this year, Gazzola rolled into NBS, trained at Core Skills, accepted criticism about shot selection and decision making. She also played against some of the best players in New Jersey. It has led to what can only be called a break out season for the 5’10 junior. It has led to raising her scoring average from 6.1 points a game to 13 points a game…doubling her scoring average. She also is averaging 5 reounds a game. Last night she thanked some of the very girls she trains with, in a strange fashion. She lit up Donovan Catholic for 21 points. She has been special all season in the darkness, but last night with the bright lights shinning… she went off.
When I went to the Neptune vs. Howell game, one player caught my eye the most. Lauren Kocsis is a compete unknow. She is that kid nobody talks about until you see her play. Because I was shocked seeing a kid battle Dezzy Allen and not backing down for one second. I was shocked to see a player as cool as a cumber. I saw a player knock down shots and make plays with and without the ball. I saw a player that should be so much more well known and recognized. But like all the Howell players, she is working under the radar and delivering the goods. She is averaging just under 10 points a game and 6 plus rebounds. She also just happens to be warrior, who plays with 100% passion. She’s had double/doubles this year. She has had 20 point scoring games. But her stat line does not tell her story. The best thing she does is …WIN! She is only a junior and is just beginning to blow up.
I’ve know Perri Clifton, we have a history on and off the court. You see her brother is a hockey player. I have been to Yankee stadium to watch a hockey games with her. I also know her from NBS. I also don’t call or reach out to people to attend NBS. But she was one of the kids I truly believed in and I used to ask her to attend with her best friend. They I lost track of Perri, because she tore her ACL and disappeared. No training just rehab. She has come back from lost toys island this year. She brought her special shooting skills. She also brought back with her that beautiful basketball IQ. She has seen top competition and the best of the best play in the gym. She has laced them up against the best, Perri also got lost as they say in the sauce. But she is back and she has caught our eye again, and is part of another comeback, right at Howell High School. Perri is not done by a long shot, she is just a junior and is a prime example of what never giving up means.
My daughter used to train a little blonde headed kid. I would say to her, “whose that”. I never could learn her name because I am the worst with names. She was so athletic, quick and tough. I told her dad, she is going to be a stud one day. Then my daughter took the asst coach job at Colgate. I did not see this little blonde headed kid around any more. I knew my coaching style was not her cup of tea. But I always wondered what happen to this talented player. Then when watching the Neptune vs Howell game, I went to the scorers table at half time. I said “who is the little blonde kid” Nobody knew who I was talking about. So waited at the scorers table until the teams came back out. I pointed to the little blonde as she walked on the floor. Her name was Jessica O’Brien and it was the same kid my daughter use to train. Now she was bigger, stronger and better. She was all over the place against Neptune. She showed her shooting talents off, and her toughness which is off the charts. She is only a sophomore and is going to one day make some coaches day at the next level. She is a relentless defender and most have no Idea who she is…she is a model of consistency …8-12 points every night..4-9 dimes every night and 4-6 rebounds every night. She way be unknown but her game isn’t to her coaches and teammates. They know exactly what to expect.
Liz Capestro is that kid that can get lost. She is that kid when you do something special as a group could lost on a team that is lost. It’s bad enough the team doesn’t get love. It’s a double whammy for Capestro. Now that Howell is breaking into the spotlight, you could easily forget about this junior. You could forget she has had double figure scoring games and gives all of herself to the team. It’s easy to pass over a player who plays first for her teammates. She is the one that does the dirty work. She is the kid who gets you 7 points and 5 rebounds in the biggest game of the year. Liz Capestro is the unknown of unknowns at Howell. She is the kid, who knows winning is bigger than anything else. No Capestro and their is no dream season. There is no great turnaround and their is no SCT win for the first time in a very long time. Liz Capestro helped Howell get its respect back and now the junior is getting a little respect herself.
Riley Behnken, Alexis Post, Shareace Howard are just names on a roster to most. They are those kids who grind and accept roles. These the kids who name will never appear in a paper. They are the kids whose parents come to the games not knowing if there kid will get in the game or not. These are the kids who don’t know if they will even get a shot during the game. Rely Behnken has been a major part to the team. Sometimes with a bucket or a steal. She has been the 6th man and more for Howell. What all these three have in common is this…just like their teammates they are virtually unknowns to the shore basketball world.
Howell’s next game will be against SJV a real super power. They will show up and do their best. There are two things about this game that will stand out. First, just the fact that Howell is in this game is amazing . The other thing about this game, regardless of the out come. Nothing can take away form the Howell’s amazing season…this is a season that will forever be known as THE UNKNOWN, UNEXPECTED TURN AROUND SEASON.
BALL HANDLING SHOOTING TOMORROW…5.30 PM-6.30PM
PRESIDENT DAY CLINIC MONDAY….9AM-2PM