Saint John Vianney hoopsters out to prove No. 1 state ranking


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The Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball team got over the hump during the 2019-20 season when the Lancers rolled past St. Rose High School in the finals of the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A Tournament to win its first state sectional championship in four years.

Riding a 28-1 record and standing unbeaten against any school they had played in New Jersey, the Lancers were primed to add more gold to the trophy case at the Holmdel school with a Non-Public A state title and a Tournament of Champions crown.

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Unfortunately, those opportunities never came about because on the day after the Lancers won the state sectional title the New Jersey high school sports world came to a close for the remainder of the school year because of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Lancers were happy with what they accomplished: winning a state sectional title and a Shore Conference championship.

“The way we were able to gel and come together as a team last season was really fun,” Coach Dawn Karpell said. “It’s always fun for a coach to see a younger group come together like that and hit their stride when playoff time comes. The fact that we were recognized as No. 1 in the state was very gratifying to the kids. ”

With all five starters returning, led by junior Madison St. Rose of Old Bridge, Saint John Vianney is once again considered to be New Jersey’s best team.

The 2021 state tournament has been cancelled by the pandemic, so the Lancers are looking to make the most of the opportunities they will have on the court this winter.

The schedule includes games against top-ranked opponents like Trenton Catholic Academy, Saddle River Day School and Red Bank Catholic High School. The Lancers will then try to win the Top 8 postseason event the Shore Conference will hold at the end of the season.

“We are going to be grateful for anything we can get,” Karpell said. “Those games leading up to the eight-team playoff pod at the end of the season are exciting games for our kids. If we can get to the playoff pod and everyone is healthy and we can play in it, that will be fantastic.”

Coming off a sophomore campaign during which she averaged 18.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game, St. Rose has been on fire to begin the 2021 season. The Princeton University commit scored 96 points through four games, including 25 points in a 70-43 victory over Holmdel High School on Feb. 10.

In the Lancers’ first game against Holmdel on Feb. 8, St. Rose scored a season-high 28 points to lead her team to victory over the Hornets.

Having the opportunity to compete during her junior season means a lot to St. Rose, who is grateful to be back on the court alongside her teammates.

“I would rather have a shortened season and 15 games than not have a junior season,” St. Rose said. “Throughout the break, I really tried to enhance my game by focusing on my weaknesses. I want to show the work I put in from practicing during COVID-19 on the court this season.”

Leading the charge alongside St. Rose is another three-year starter, senior Katie Hill. The Colts Neck resident will head to the University of Richmond to continue her basketball career. Hill said she is excited to play her final season for the Lancers.

“It’s just good to have the opportunity with all the circumstances going on this year to play again,” Hill said. “I came to SJV because it’s such a great program and the team plays together so well. Just the opportunity to win as many games as we can and leave a little bit of a legacy behind would be awesome.”

Junior Ashley O’Connor is another Colts Neck resident on the squad who is back in the starting lineup for a second straight season.

Middletown residents Emma Bruen and Megan Cahalan complete the returning starting five. Bruen and Sianna Bradley are seniors.

Karpell has been very impressed with Bruen’s development over the last four years and is happy all of her senior players will get a chance to have a final season on the court.

“Her game has grown so much because of the work she has put in,” Karpell said of Bruen.

Sophomores Mikaela Hubbard, Ashley Sofilkanich, Bre Delaney and Janie Bachmann will be key underclassmen coming off the bench.

Karpell’s daughter, Julia, a freshman, will provide quality minutes in the backcourt.

After rolling to a 4-0 start with a pair of victories against Holmdel and Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, the Lancers will face their toughest test of the season thus far when they take on Saddle River Day School on Feb. 13.

Karpell said her players are excited about the opportunities they will have to compete against some of the top teams in the state this season.

As unpredictable as this season may be because of COVID-19, Karpell is trying her best to make sure her players have a positive experience and make the most of their opportunities on the court.

“I just want to turn this season into an exciting and positive one for the kids,” Karpell said. “Continue to keep them focused on what we are trying to do and be happy with the opportunities we are given. Whatever memories we can share together this year will be something they will always remember.”

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