The Saint John Vianney High School girls’ basketball team was a bit of a mystery going into the 2019-2020 season.
The Lancers featured a bunch of young talented players on their roster, led by sophomore Madison St. Rose and junior Katie Hill.
But questions still surrounded this storied program about how good the current team could be with four starters from last year’s squad gone due to graduation.
Through all the doubt, Saint John Vianney has risen to being the No. 1 ranked team in Central Jersey and in the state with its perfect 14-0 start to the season.
Being No. 1 is nothing new to Saint John Vianney. The program has won seven Tournament of Champions state titles, the most in the history of girl’s basketball in New Jersey.
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association launched its first Tournament of Champions in 1989.
Saint John Vianney made a major statement in front of a packed house at Holmdel High School, while participating in the Coaches Choice USA Select Shore Conference Showcase tournament on Jan. 26.
The Lancers knocked down 12 three-pointers and scored a season-high 92 points in a 92-52 victory over Albertus Magnus High School of New York.
That dominating victory over the school from Bardonia, N.Y., was an indication that Saint John Vianney, while young, is still a team to be reckoned with in the Shore Conference as well as in New Jersey.
“We have a lot of talent on our team,” said Saint John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell. “A lot of our players didn’t have the opportunity to see a lot of time over the last few years and have been dying to get out on the court and compete. They’re a very competitive group and they play hard when they’re out on the court.
St. Rose collected her 13th game in double figures in the victory for the Lancers, scoring a game-high 26 points.
The sophomore showed off her entire arsenal in the first half, making strong drives to the basket for layups, displaying her nifty mid-range jumper and showing off her range from behind the arc to score 18 first-half points.
She pulled up from downtown as time was expiring in the first half and knocked home her only three-pointer of the contest before the buzzer to give Saint John Vianney a 46-25 lead going into halftime.
“We have a lot of heart on our team and everyone works really hard because they want to help the team win,” St. Rose said. “We push each other in practice every day. We wanted to prove that we can still be No. 1 in the state.”
St. Rose is averaging a team-high 16.8 points a game this season. She also leads the team in rebounds, assists and steals.
Even though she is only a sophomore, St. Rose has done a great job being a leader this season, making a difference on and off the court for the Lancers.
Hill, the team’s second leading scorer this season, sank three three-pointers and scored 14 points in the victory over Albertus Magnus.
The junior is averaging just under 11 points a game this season for the Lancers.
Classmate Christina Whitehead was on fire from behind the arc in the contest against Albertus Magnus, drilling home three of her four three-pointers in the second quarter and finished with 17 points in the victory.
Whitehead leads the team with 17 three-pointers made so far this season, topping her mark of 14 triples as a sophomore.
“We all pass the ball really well,” Whitehead said. “We have great chemistry. We keep proving ourselves each game. I’m really excited to see what we can do for the rest of the season.”
Junior Emma Bruen has also been a threat from behind the arc this winter for the Lancers. She has registered 14 three-pointers.
Sophomores Megan Cahalan and Ashley O’Connor have been great additions to the starting lineup for Saint John Vianney this season.
Cahalan has been a force down in the paint, leading the team in block shots and is averaging over seven points a contest. In the victory over Albertus Magnus, Cahalan scored 12 points to give the Lancers four players in double figures.
O’Connor has provided great length and athleticism for St. John Vianney out on the wing, and is a key piece to the team’s full-court pressure defense.
The Lancers feed off their defense, holding their opponents to under 50 points in 13 out of their 14 contests. No New Jersey team has scored over 40 points in a game against Saint John Vianney this season.
Teams are only averaging 28.3 points a contest against the Lancers. Saint John Vianney rolled to a 76-14 victory over Matawan on Jan. 28 to improve its perfect mark on the season to 15-0.
“This team is 100 percent a defensive unit,” Karpell said. “Our team plays with a lot of defensive intensity. Our bench is very deep and those kids are learning how to compete at a high level.”
Taking the entire state by storm with its great start to the season, the Lancers aren’t satisfied and are striving to achieve more success this season.
Coming up short in the Non-Public, South A tournament the last three seasons, Karpell and her squad want to finish things off the right way this year and bring another state title back home to the school in Holmdel.
Saint John Vianney won its seventh and last Tournament of Champions state title in 2016. The Lancers were also the Non-Public A state champion that winter.
“The most important ranking is in March and that’s the one we’re focused on,” Karpell said.
Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports