By Matthew Rocco
With a Shore Conference Tournament (SCT) championship in tow, St. John Vianney High School has its eyes on more postseason titles to cap an already impressive season.
SCT titles have proven to be rather elusive for St. John Vianney, a dominant force in girls basketball. The Lancers last took the SCT crown in 2005. Since then, the Lancers have numerous other titles to their credit. They have appeared in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (TOC) five times and won the whole thing in 2009. But the SCT was always a bigger hurdle.
The last two go-arounds in the SCT championship came in 2009 and 2011. Both times, the Lancers fell to Neptune High School. The last four seasons, the Lancers were knocked out of the conference tournament in the semifinals.
This year, a 59-48 victory over Manasquan High School put St. John Vianney at the top of the Shore Conference.
“We have a lot of juniors and seniors. For them, they’ve been close a number of times, so to finally see it through, it was really a great accomplishment,” head coach Dawn Karpell said.
Those veterans are a great postseason asset to St. John Vianney.
“I think for our team to come through [the SCT], it’s a very good accomplishment, but it also showed that we had the maturity to overcome anybody that came at us,” Karpell said.
The SCT is possibly the best test for teams looking to do damage in the NJSIAA tournament.
“The Shore Conference is very dominant in terms of how many teams we put through to the states,” Karpell said.
Just take a look back at last year’s TOC finals — a meeting of Shore Conference heavyweights St. Rose High School and Manasquan.
Thus, the SCT champion Lancers entered the NJSIAA tournament as one of the favorites, earning the top seed in Non-Public, South A and a first-round bye.
St. John Vianney breezed through the quarterfinals with an 83-33 win over Donovan Catholic. The Lancers remained in control from the start. They jumped to a 19-10 lead in the first quarter, and they outscored Donovan Catholic by double digits in each of the next three quarters, including a 23-11 advantage in the third.
Everyone contributed to the scoring barrage. Point guard Kelly Campbell was the top scorer for the Lancers with 17 points. Kimi Evans booked 14 points, Zoe Pero had 13 and Gabrielle Caponegro added 12.
St. John Vianney (26-1) moved forward to battle its rival Red Bank Catholic High School, the No. 4 seed, for a ticket to the finals. The winner of the March 7 contest will play No. 2-seed Camden Catholic High School or No. 3-seed Gloucester Catholic High School for the sectional title. The Non-Public, South A finals are scheduled for March 9 at 5 p.m. at Jackson Liberty High School.
Despite all the Lancers have already achieved this season, Karpell is quick to offer a reminder that nothing is written in stone.
“It will be a tough game for us,” Karpell said prior to St. John Vianney’s game against the Caseys (21-6). “Hopefully, everything we’ve done from the regular season to the Shore Conference Tournament has prepared us for the state tournament.”