Middlesex looks to go deep in Region XIX tourney

By Warren Rappleyea

Middlesex County College’s women’s basketball team has won 23 of its 26 games this winter and is poised to make a run in the upcoming National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region XIX Tournament.

One of the keys to the Lady Colts’ success is a roster that includes three players from St. Mary of the Assumption High School in Elizabeth and four players from the recently shuttered Cardinal McCarrick High School in South Amboy.

“Having so many girls who have played together before has been a big plus,” Middlesex coach Michel Powell said. “They’re comfortable with each other and they’re familiar with what each other is going to do on the floor.”

The Lady Colts also feature a decidedly local roster. Sayreville’s Lauryn Materowski, a 5-foot-10 sophomore forward who graduated from Cardinal McCarrick, averages nearly nine points a game and is a presence under the hoop. Materowski is expected to play at the Stevens Institute of Technology next season.

Also coming out of Cardinal McCarrick are versatile Brittany Clayton, the first player off the Lady Colts’ bench, and guard Caitlin Norek, both of South Amboy, as well as reserve point guard Madison McNally, who hails from Piscataway.

Other local players include 6-foot-1 freshman forward Lena Buccigrossi. The East Brunswick resident and Mother Seton Regional High School graduate averages more than 10 points and leads the Lady Colts in rebounding — averaging nine caroms per game.

Freshman Kaitlyn Johnsen, an Old Bridge graduate who also plays softball for Middlesex, has been impressive, averaging nine points per game. Sophomore guard Marisa Daniels, an Edison High School graduate, provides valuable minutes off the bench.

Forward Kayiane Kirby-Jones is a Carteret High School graduate, and guard Cherelle Needham, graduated from New Brunswick. Both are freshmen.

Middlesex’s leading scorer in Ziykara Hicks, a freshman standout from Elizabeth. The St. Mary’s graduate averages 27 points — the fourth-highest average among junior college players nationwide. She recently scored 31 points to help the Lady Colts turn a 12-point deficit into an 82-73 victory over Brookdale Community College, while also helping her team remain undefeated at home this season.

Another St. Mary’s graduate, freshman Zsade Byrd, is averaging about 16 points. The Hillside resident is ranked 24th in scoring nationwide. Freshman forward Nazjae Imes of Newark rounds out the St. Mary’s contingent.

“We have a good mixture of players,” said Powell, now in her 10th season with the Lady Colts. “We like to play run-and-gun, but we can also play a half-court game when we need to. Being able to switch styles keeps other teams off balance.”
With two regular-season games to go, Middlesex has already clinched the Garden State Athletic Conference title. The Region XIX tournament is set to begin Feb. 22, and Powell expects that her team will receive the first or second seed. Middlesex made its way to the finals last year.

“We have a good group of young women,” Powell said. “I’m very proud of what they have accomplished on the basketball court. I’m even more proud about how they are handling themselves in the classroom. That’s most important.”