By Jimmy Allinder
It was 2008 and 2007, respectively, that the J.P. Stevens High School boys and girls basketball teams last finished with winning seasons.
This year, however, the boys completed a 15-9 mark while the girls managed to squeeze out a 12-11 record despite losing their last four contests.
Bobby Jones, head coach of the boys since 2009, spoke about why his team finally achieved the elusive record.
“If you want to point to one specific reason why we’ve been able to turn around the program, it’s their dedication to the weight room,” Jones said. “As a result, we were much more effective setting up and breaking screens, taking charges and ripping the ball out of opponents’ hands.”
Jones said another important factor was the senior leadership.
“We had five seniors who started and understood the commitment it took to win consistently,” Jones said.
The seniors included Mike Lionikis (14 points per game), Alex Corrigan (12.8 points per game), Javon Blacknall (four assists per game), Shivan Patel and Mike Katims. The boys season came to an end March 1 when the team lost to highly ranked Linden High School, 67-41, in the NJSIAA North Jersey II, Group IV sectional.
Jones said the junior varsity finished 11-7 and the freshmen ended at 8-8, signaling continued stability for a program that once was a consistent loser.
A three-game stretch the first week of February proved to be pivotal for the girls being able to win enough games to compensate for the late-season slump.
It began with a 46-42 upset Feb. 2 over Bishop George Ahr High School, then a 46-37 victory against Edison High School Feb. 5, which was highlighted by a 30-point fourth quarter that enabled the Hawks to overcome a double-digit deficit.That was followed by a 45-37 triumph over South Plainfield High School Feb. 9.
The season ended with a defeat to Union High School, 53-48, March 1 in the North Jersey II, Group IV tournament.
It has been a difficult season for the Metuchen High School boys basketball team, but what Edgar Middle School accomplished this season heralds good things for the future.
The boys, coached by Ed Albanese, who is also mentor for the high school boys soccer team, finished with a 14-1 record and captured the Greater Middlesex Conference Middle School championship with a victory over Carteret Middle School.
The girls middle school team, coached by Emily Mertz, also ended with an outstanding 12-1 record.
“Both the boys and girls have produced stellar teams over the last decade, but these two definitely rank among the best in Edgar School’s history,” Albanese said.
The season’s outstanding achievements not only take place on the court. Both teams participated in a season-long fundraising project that benefited the National Foundation for Cancer Research. Bins were set up where food was donated and snacks and beverages were sold at home games. In addition, players from both teams wore pink ribbons to publicize the cause. Beth McLaughlin, a middle school teacher, helped the coaches organize these activities.
When the Non-Public, A South boys sectional bracket was announced, many eyed a potential semifinals game between top-seeded Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen and fourth-seeded Notre Dame High School.That matchup came to fruition March 8.
The Falcons and Fighting Irish are coached by Dave and Bob Turco, respectively, and the brothers are among the most respected at their craft in the state.
This wasn’t the first time the Turco brothers went up against each other as coaches of their current teams. Two years ago, when St. Joe’s won the Tournament of Champions title, the Falcons hosted Notre Dame in a semifinals game and won handily, 101-75.
If St. Joe’s won again, it moved on to the finals March 9, where it met the winner of second-seeded Christian Brothers Academy and third-seeded St. Augustine Preparatory School at Jackson Liberty High School.
Of the area wrestlers who traveled to Atlantic City March 4-6 for the state wrestling tournament finals, one returned with a medal.
Edison’s junior 132-pounder, Robert Cleary, scored a 3-0 decision over Somerville High School’s Evan Drill to capture seventh place. Cleary’s victory avenged a 3-2 defeat to Drill in the Region 5 tournament the previous week.