By Tim Morris
Having made the program’s first trip to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals in seven years, the Colts Neck High School girls basketball team heads into the state playoffs in a positive frame of mind.
The Cougars are 17-7 overall and have won six of their last seven games. Their only loss came against the state’s top-ranked team, St. John Vianney High School, in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
Colts Neck is rapidly making this season one to remember because of contributions across the board. It’s taken a true team effort to get the Cougars where they are.
“I’m so proud of these girls and how hard they work and their desire to get better every week,” Cougars head coach Glenn Jansen said. “We try to play at a fast pace and keep everyone involved in the offense. When things are going well, we can have three, sometimes four, [players] in double figures.”
Jansen explained that the beauty of this team is that the Cougars have so many players who can contribute in different ways. That gives Jansen a number of different options to use each game.
Senior Erica Brown is the heart and soul of the team and has taken the leadership mantle. She leads the team in scoring (14.2 points per game) and rebounds (8.1) and offers intangibles.
Freshman guard Lola Mullaney has been a solid No. 2 scorer all year for the Cougars. She’s averaging double figures in scoring (12.6) and stretches defenses with her long-range shooting (team-high 51 3-pointers).
Cara Volpe is Colts Neck’s force in the blocks. She has proved to be a viable option in the paint with 8.5 points per game and has post-up skills. Volpe averages more than seven rebounds and has 34 blocked shots on the season.
Sam Roth is a true guard who is the team’s offensive conductor. Her 76 assists lead the team.
Amanda Hunt and Jaime Prestigiacomo alternate as the fifth starter depending on matchups. Both are very good shooters, and Prestigiacomo has 3-point range.
Colts Neck gets a lot of mileage and help from its non-starters.
“Our bench has made a difference in close games, getting contributions specifically from [Alana] Janiello, [Lexie] Iglesia and Lauren Feaster,” Jansen said.
Colts Neck, which won the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV title in 2014, is the No. 5 seed in that section this year. The Cougars began their bid for a second title in three years at home March 1, hosting No. 12-seed Montgomery High School (8-16).
“Central Jersey, [Group IV is], for us, going to be a war,” Jansen said. “[There are] lots of tough teams, and we will be on the road for most the tournament.”
East Brunswick High School (19-3) and Monroe Township High School (22-2), last year’s finalist, are the top two seeds. All first-round games are March 1.
Marlboro relying on tough schedule
The last two Central Jersey, Group IV champions have come from the Freehold Regional High School District. Colts Neck won in 2014 and Marlboro High School was victorious last year, defeating Monroe in overtime of a grueling final.
This year finds the defending champions as the No. 8 seed and the Mustangs (13-10) were at home March 1 against the No. 9 seed, Middletown High School North (16-7) — a team the Mustangs have beaten twice in Shore Conference A North Division play this winter.
Mustangs head coach Brad Hagensen had his team playing a very rugged non-division schedule against some of the best teams in the state to prepare for this time of the year. He’s looking for that to pay off this week.
Like Colts Neck, the Mustangs have a balanced offense that doesn’t rely on just one scorer, although senior center Tatum Evans is the catalyst. Marlboro runs its offense through her. She can pass to the open shooter if she is doubled or put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. She has useful post-up moves in the paint. The senior is averaging 13.7 points and six rebounds.
Jessica Broad has been all over the stat sheet, averaging 10 points and a team-high seven rebounds. She is second in assists (40) and first in steals (41) and blocks (13).
Molly Weiss, the Mustangs’ play-setter and top 3-point shooter (44), and Jessica Iacobellis (9.9 points per game) keep the offense balanced. Marlboro has five players who have scored more than 125 points this season, as Gisella Romeo is the fifth with 126.
If Marlboro is to make a run at back-to-back titles, it will all begin on the defensive end.
Freehold Township High School (6-17) is the No. 13 seed and travels to No. 4-seed Hunterdon Central Regional High School (17-7) in its tournament opener. The Patriots have one of the best point guards in their division in Harlie Kneler. She has scored 11 points per game this year while playing the point.
Sarah Hughes has been the team’s second scoring option.
The sectional quarterfinals are March 3, the semifinals are March 5 and the finals are March 7. All games are played on the home court of the highest-seeded team.