Colts Neck High School was the setting on Dec. 7 for a scrimmage between two teams in transition: the Colts Neck and Middletown High School South girls’ basketball squads.
Colts Neck is looking to get a spark from new head coach Steve Jannarone.
Jannarone, who had been coaching on the boys’ team for 19 years, took over for Jeanene Healy, who had left the program to be the head coach at Donovan Catholic High School in Toms River.
Jannarone is taking over a team that finished 13-12 last year and lost in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 tournament to East Brunswick High School, 53-45.
Jannarone, along with senior guard/forward Cara Volpe and senior forward Lauren Feaster, want this year to be a special one and will work hard in order to achieve their goals.
“[We] just [need to] get better every day,” Jannarone said. “I’m new to the program, but it has a long-standing tradition. It’s just a matter of getting better every day so the seniors can leave a legacy that they deserve.”
“This is my last year,” Volpe said. “I just want to leave with a bang.”
“I expect all of us to work together,” Feaster said. “It’s kind of a new team, so we can just feel it all out and do what we can to win as a team.”
Practice will be the biggest measuring stick for the Cougars and taking it seriously will be key in achieving their goals.
“We have to get a little bit better practice habits,” Jannarone said. “I thought today was nice, and we had really good effort. I think that as long was we practice hard and play hard every day, everything else will fall into line.”
“The practices are the most important,” Volpe said. “We just need to work hard and bring that energy every day.”
The Cougars start their season on Dec. 15 when they travel to Howell High School at 3:45 p.m.
Middletown South, under head coach Tom Brennan, has a team that is looking to advance even farther in the state tournament. It comes off an 18-9 season last year and a loss in the Central Jersey, Group 4 semifinals to South Brunswick High School, 48-45.
The Eagles are going to have some new faces on the team with multiple players coming off injuries.
“There’s a bunch of kids coming back from injury,” Brennan said. “But even though we’re going to have to shake off some of the rust, these are really good players. They’ve all been playing varsity basketball — some of them since they were freshmen — so the expectations are high. We’re not meeting them right now, and I’m not quite sure why that is. They certainly know what they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re having a hard time getting in sync. We have to defend and we have to rebound and in two scrimmages, we haven’t done either one of those things. So, that’s where we’re at now.”
Brennan believes the team needs to command the paint more as well.
“We have to control the ball,” the coach said. “Right now, the ball is controlling us. We’re giving up penetration in the paint way more than acceptable. So, if we can figure that out and hold opponents to one shot, then we’ll win. It’s not a complicated game.”
Brennan will have a veteran team with plenty of talent, including senior Gabby Cook and juniors Samantha Keenan, Isla Brennan, Emily McCarthy and Grace McDonnell. But what has Brennan really excited is his sophomore class, which is seven deep and includes Sadie Fahey, Brenna McCormack, Haley Nicholas, Caitlin O’Connor and Emily Russo.
“There’s two sophomores that will have big years for us,” Brennan said. “Both of them are already showing signs that they’re ready to take over a lot of the offensive responsibility. I think they like to be challenged defensively as well. They’re Kayla Richardson and Stephanie Mayerhofer. We’re really excited about them.”
Richardson plays all five positions for the team and has high expectations.
“I expect us to do really well,” she said. “I expect us to go really far and win a state championship.”
Richardson believes playing well as a team will be key to the Eagles’ success.
“With some people coming back from injuries and bringing in some freshmen, our chemistry isn’t where it needs to be right now,” she said. “But I think with a couple more practices and games, it’ll get there. But we just need to play and practice hard every day and continue to encourage each other every day, and we’ll be fine.”
The Eagles start their season on Dec. 15 when they play as the host to Long Branch High School at 5:15 p.m.