By Jimmy Allinder
The secret to winning is not really a secret at all.
A common thread among perennial winners is to take one game at a time, which was the lesson the J.P. Stevens High School girls basketball team learned Feb. 5 when it met Edison High School.
J.P. Stevens is 11-7 with two regular-season games remaining plus whatever happens in the postseason, and there’s a good chance the Hawks will finish with their first winning season in eight years. Perhaps J.P. Stevens’ most significant victory of the campaign was a hard-earned, 46-42 decision over Bishop George Ahr High School (11-7) the day before facing its crosstown rivals.
If there was a chance J.P. Stevens would take Edison (7-9) lightly, that notion was dispelled during the first half when the Eagles raced to a 13-point halftime lead. Fortunately for the Hawks, they heeded a wake-up call from head coach Amy Bonk and mounted a second-half rally to knot the score in regulation time, 35-35. During the overtime session, J.P. Stevens limited Edison to two points and responded by scoring 11 to win, 46-37.
Contests against South Plainfield High School (8-10) and South River High School (17-2) remain on the regular-season schedule and while the Hawks should be favorites in both, they now know no victory is guaranteed. In particular, South River is one of the top small schools in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament and will provide J.P. Stevens with a good test.
The GMC Tournament begins Feb. 13 with preliminary-round games. When the seeding committee gets together the day before, J.P. Stevens hopes to secure a respectable seed.
Seeding teams for the NJSIAA North Jersey Group IV Tournament will be a different story. The Hawks find themselves looking at 10 opponents above them with more power points and winning even one game will be a challenge.
Bishop Ahr (12-7), once ranked among the top teams in the GMC, has suffered losses in three of its last four games but would have earned the respect of the seeding committee if it upset Monroe Township High School (17-1) Feb. 9. Once the GMCs commence, the Trojans have a history of success in the GMCs and hope to rebound in the tournament.
In the boys tournament, Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen (14-3) will likely receive the top seed since all three of its losses have been to non-GMC teams, the latest being a 68-61 setback to Lone Peak High School in Utah Feb 5. The Falcons have already clinched the GMC Red Division title and will look to rebound Feb. 11 when they host Montverde Academy of Florida (22-1).
The J.P. Stevens boys team (10-7) is the only other area team with a winning record and is currently in third place in the GMC White Division.
After clinching its sixth consecutive GMC regular-season crown, the St. Joe’s ice hockey team is looking forward to more success in the postseason.
The conference tournament began Feb. 9 with quarterfinal games and will culminate with the championship game Feb. 20 at Woodbridge Community Center Arena. It will take a monumental upset to prevent St. Joe’s from winning its fifth consecutive title, especially since the Falcons (11-2-3) are peaking.
“Our season was set up so we would face ‘competitive adversity’ all year long,” said head coach Ryan Carter. “We met [quality] teams like Delbarton School, Christian Brothers Academy and defending Pennsylvania state champion, Holy Ghost [Preparatory School Feb. 8]. The goal was to generate an environment when night in and night out we would continue playing at a high competitive level.”
Carter has also been focused on making in-game adjustments that enables all 20 players on the roster to be used the right way.
The lineup is rich in talent and experience, but the coach points to three players who have remained under the radar: goaltender Michael Sabella, defenseman Reece Young and forward Nick Sondej.
“Michael has been solid in goal all year, and we will rely on him heavily during the postseason,” Carter said. “Reece has been steady on the blue line, while Nick has found his scoring touch and continues to play a solid 200-foot game.”
St. Joe’s hopes to make a serious run at a state championship, and Carter believes there is only one way to achieve that goal.
“Compete, compete and compete every game,” he said. “At this time of the season, that is what’s needed most. The team has to want to win the last game of the GMC season and the last game of the state season. That is the mindset we need.”