By Wayne Witkowski
Ryan Weise has been one of the big three contributors to Allentown High School’s girls basketball team after it secured its third straight 20-win season and made another run for the Colonial Valley Conference Freedom Division title, finishing just a game out of the top spot.
But next season, the sophomore will take on an even larger role with seniors Kali Hartshorn and Bianca Santos graduating.
“Kali and Bianca have been a huge part of this team for the past four years. I’ll miss them a lot,” Weise said.
Hartshorn led the team in assists and Santos was a big rebounder. Both averaged around 13 points a game behind Weise’s 14-point average.
“Bianca would post up and get the rebounds and points, and [I’ll miss] Kali for handling the ball, bringing the ball up and getting shots for her and all of us,” Weise said.
There also was senior Hope Narozniak, who was a vital part of the team until going down at mid-season with an injury that shelved her for the rest of the campaign, and the intangibles of senior Camille Flim, who also had some solid scoring efforts in key games.
“Camille brought energy to the team,” Weise said. “When somebody was down, she’d pick them up.”
Allentown ended a 21-7 season with a 57-52 loss to Hopewell Valley Central High School — a team it split two regular-season games with. Santos sent that game into overtime with a layup but missed free throws late in regulation and in overtime, which haunted the Redbirds as Hopewell Valley had a 14-5 edge in the extra session.
Hartshorn finished her high school career with a team-high 19 points, and Weise followed with 13.
Allentown has had 78 wins over the past four seasons and 64 in the past three.
“They’re hard to replace. They left us with a great tradition,” said coach Linda Weise, Ryan’s mom who has coached the team for 11 seasons. “When I came in, I first tried to build a basketball tradition here, and these four seniors have done that. People did not look at Allentown as a good [girls] basketball school until now.”
In fairness, former Allentown multi-sport star Dana Sensi helped usher in that upswing before embarking on a college career at Rider University for softball right before the four seniors arrived. Sensi enters her senior softball season at Rider coming after a junior year in which she was a unanimous First Team All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference selection as an infielder after starting all 47 games and compiling a .380 average with 13 home runs (second in the conference) and tied for the conference lead in doubles with 12.
With no seniors of note returning to Allentown’s girls basketball team next season, the team’s fate rests largely on the shoulders of Ryan Weise, as well as junior Sarina Campanella and sophomore forwards Katie White, who came up with big games in the latter part of the season, and Hadley Borkowski.
“We need them next year for rebounds, boxing out and layups,” Ryan Weise said of White and Borkowski.
Weise and Borkowski were teammates on Millstone Middle School’s Mid-Monmouth championship team when they played there.
“Her role will change next year to more of a leadership role,” Allentown’s coach said of Ryan Weise. “She’s always been a competitor. She’ll lead us, along with Sarina.”
And the younger Weise showed a deft touch from deep, with 64 3-point baskets that rated among the county leaders for the second straight season and which added a dimension to the Redbirds’ attack. But coach Weise also hailed her daughter as an unselfish player, best indicated in the number of steals that led the team along with her share of assists.
“She always looked to find an open person to find a way to win,” the coach said.
“There’s always room for improvement, especially on the offensive end,” Ryan Weise said of fine-tuning her game for next season. “I focused on my defense during the season, and the offense came from the defense.”
Ryan Weise also faced the challenge of playing for her mother, which is regarded by many fans and experts as one of the hardest things for players to do. But the younger Weise was used to playing for her mom and said it didn’t take long for her to adjust playing on the faster high-school level. She has started since her third game of her freshman season.
“At first, I was definitely nervous,” Ryan Weise said. “I knew I had a big role. I had to make the most of the season, especially stepping into my role as the coach’s daughter, which means nothing’s easy. After a few games, I got over the nerves and stepped into it.”
Both Linda and Ryan Weise admit it was tough in the beginning when some Allentown fans were skeptical of their coach giving her daughter such an expanded role from the start of her high school career, and coach Weise deflected questions about it in the early stages of her daughter’s freshman season until her solid play began to satisfy some critics.
“She expects a lot from me,” Ryan Weise said. “There is some pressure — always some pressure in everything. I try to be the best I can be.”
She’ll start practice next week as a player returning to the Jersey Cardinals AAU girls basketball team coached by Long Branch High School head coach Shannon Coyle.
“She’s the best coach ever,” Ryan Weise said, adding after a coy pause, “after my mom.”
“[Coyle] always brings positive energy. She knows how to pick you up. She never gives up, even if we’re down by a lot.”
The Cardinals draw players from a wide range of schools that include Rutgers Preparatory School, Ramapo High School, Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, Voorhees High School and Bridgewater-Raritan High School.
“We should be even better than last year,” Ryan Weise said of the team that last season played in showcases in Chicago, Washington D.C., Virginia and Florida, where it reached the semifinals.