Warriors hope experience leads to bounce-back hoops season next winter

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By Wayne Witkowski

New Egypt High School’s girls’ basketball team will look to bounce back into its winning ways next season with only two players graduating from this year’s team that won five games.

“We’re moving forward, nowhere to go but up,” coach Katie Panacek said after her first season. “It’s hard to stay positive when you’re losing, but these girls battled. [There were] some schools we should have beat that we lost to. I see glimmers, but we need more consistency.”

Responding better to pressure with a team that is so young and inexperienced is the first step, said Panacek, who will have her team in an offseason workout program set up by conditioning expert Jay Corby, who at one time coached a New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group I boys’ basketball powerhouse program at the school. The girls’ team also will play in a summer basketball league in Neptune.

“This all will improve with team experience,” Panacek said.

Graduating from this year’s team is guard Rebecca Lombardo, a tenacious defender who covered the best opposing player, and post player Amanda Weaver, who pulled down four rebounds a game. Alexis Erwin, another senior, missed the season with a broken collarbone.

Sophomore shooting guard Madeleine Sonday will return as an experienced starter, and two players will return for their third season as starters: Holly Wezel, a sophomore who showed maturity and court savvy at the point guard spot while averaging nine points, and Pam Weber, a 5-foot-8 post player who led the team in scoring and rebounding coming off a knee injury with double-figure averages in each of those categories. She’ll be the only returning senior next season.

Weber’s older sister, Faith, emerged as arguably the best post player in Group I last year and one of the best in the state with more than 1,000 career points and 1,000 rebounds before embarking on a college softball career at George Washington University. She sparked New Egypt to a third straight Burlington County Scholastic League Independent Division title, and her departure was felt deeply with this team, as Panacek builds for the future with a lot of quick players.

“What we lack in height we gain in sped,” said Panacek, who singled out freshman guard Hannah Lombardo in that respect. “We run the ball and move the ball up the floor quickly with passes, and these players are multi-sport athletes.”

Another Weber sibling, Sarah, showed tremendous promise as a freshman.

“I see a lot of glimpses of Faith in her,” Panacek said. “She has a ton of potential — a formidable force with scoring and rebounding. Her post moves have improved. She will see more minutes [next season].”

Panacek felt her team showed strong signs of progress in a 47-43 overtime victory Feb. 15 over Shore Conference A South Division team Brick Township High School, which is a Group IV school. Trailing most of the game, New Egypt mounted a 15-7 rally in the fourth quarter and a 6-2 burst in overtime, as Sam Weber recorded 15 points and a season-high 21 rebounds. Wetzel added 14 points, and Sonday scored 10. In that game, Sonday continued to show her knack of finding openings in opposing defenses to create her scoring opportunities.