Monroe guards showing firepower early in girls’ hoop season


When they aren’t playing girls’ basketball for Monroe Township High School, Madison Carey, Nina Branchizio and Brielle Fitzpatrick like to go to Buffalo Wild Wings together.

The three guards and friends all order the same thing at the restaurant: mild, boneless honey barbecue wings.

“I can’t handle too much heat,” Branchizio said, as her teammates laughed.

“Oh, I can’t go hot either,” Carey added, still chuckling.

The trio may have a heat limit at Buffalo Wild Wings, but they definitely do not have one on the basketball court.

On Dec. 20 against Allentown High School, the Falcons’ guard trio thrilled their home crowd with steals, run outs, finger rolls and three pointers.

Monroe trailed by nine, 10 and 10, respectively, at different points in the first half. But once Carey, Branchizio and Fitzpatrick got hot, the Falcons went on a 26-5 surge, took a double digit lead and cruised to a 60-45 victory.

Carey (18), Fitzpatrick (16) and Branchizio (15) combined for 49 of Monroe Township’s 60 points, drilling seven three pointers.

Perhaps most importantly for two juniors (Carey and Fitzpatrick) and a sophomore (Branchizio), though, the trio came of age as varsity basketball players. About halfway through the game, they recognized that they could slash through Allentown’s 3-2 zone defense.

Once Carey, Branchizio and Fitzpatrick started driving, they either made layups or kicked the ball out to open shooters.

“We worked together,” Fitzpatrick said.

“It was really good team chemistry,” Branchizio added.

Monroe coach Leigh Vogtman inserted her guards into the rotation last year, as underclassmen. As expected, they took their lumps, leading Monroe to just eight victories.

But that experience is looking valuable so far this winter. The Falcons are 2-1 and have won two straight games. They beat South Brunswick High School, 55-49, on Dec. 18.

Carey dropped 21 points in that victory, including three threes and eight free throws. Branchizio nailed two treys and Fitzpatrick added nine points.

“Nina is doing a real nice job as our point guard. Madison had a real nice year as our shooting guard last year. Brielle is a point guard and shooting guard who is probably our most improved player,” Vogtman said. “Pretty much everybody is back from last year.”

Led by her talented backcourt, and with so much experience across the roster, Vogtman thinks the Falcons have a lot of potential. The team is at its best when Carey, Branchizio and Fitzpatrick are tipping passes, forcing turnovers, racing out in transition, taking the ball to the hole and making threes.

In other words, exactly what they were doing versus Allentown on Dec. 20.

“So far, so good. We are still a work in progress. We have our moments when we look really good, but we also have moments where there are a lot of things we need to work on,” Vogtman said. “When we look good, we are being scrappy and quick.”

The guards and their teammates will have another chance to entertain their home fans on Dec. 27 against Princeton High School. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.

After that, Monroe Township will try to position itself for a postseason run as 2019 begins.

Last year, the Falcons lost in the first round of both the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament (71-32 to Bishop George Ahr High School) and the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 4 sectional tournament (53-38 to Montgomery High School).

“This year it looks more solid than it has in the past,” Vogtman said.