MARLBORO – The Marlboro High School girls basketball team’s 2021 season came to an abrupt end on Feb. 25 when the program was forced to shut down due to COVID-19 protocols.
According to Coach Brad Hagensen, members of the team were in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus and had to stop playing for two weeks, ending what was an abbreviated campaign.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season,” Hagensen told the News Transcript on Feb. 26. “The kids were really looking forward to playing the rest of our games in the regular season and competing in a postseason tournament. I really feel for our kids. They have worked so hard this season and I’m proud of the way they played.”
Marlboro ended the season with an 8-1 record. The players’ focus in 2021 was to continue to build on the success they enjoyed in 2018-19 and 2019-20 (combined 45-14 record).
The Mustangs earned the top seed in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament in 2020 (the postseason was cancelled by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic) and reached the state sectional tournament championship game in 2019.
This year, although there would be no state tournament as the pandemic continued, the players looked at every game as being important and wanted to show everyone their team was among the top squads in the Shore Conference.
“Every game was important and every day was meaningful,” Hagensen said. “We told the girls to get better every day and they did that.”
Marlboro won its first eight games. During the first seven games, the Mustangs outscored their opponents 400-223 and won five games by 10 or more points.
Marlboro faced a challenge on Feb. 20 when the Mustangs played Saddle River Day School, which was considered to be one of the best teams in New Jersey.
The Mustangs rose to the challenge and posted a 68-64 win as sophomore Erica DiSimone scored 26 points and senior Sammy Jay scored 23 points.
“It’s a testament to all the hard work the girls put in every day they can be on the court,” Hagensen said of the team’s success. “The credit goes to all to them. They are a great group of kids.”
Jay and fellow senior starters Jessica Riepe and Laura Morehead were outstanding leaders, the coach said.
Jay, who was a four-year varsity player, tallied 882 career points. She scored 16 points in Marlboro’s only loss of the season on Feb. 24 against Middletown South.
Sammy Jay glides in for 2 and brings the Mustangs within two with to 4:21 play. Middletown South up 32-30. Jay has 14 points. CC: @central_jersey @MHSscoreupdates @MarlboroHSinNJ #NJHoops 🏀 pic.twitter.com/UeZj0Au6RA
— Steven Bassin (@SBassin_Sports) February 25, 2021
Riepe, who was Marlboro’s leading scorer in 2019-20, hit 23 three-point field goals in seven games in 2021 after connecting on 97 three-pointers as a junior. Riepe finished her career with 798 points and 193 three-point field goals.
The Mustangs connected on 59 three-point field goals in nine games in 2021.
“Our seniors have been tremendous as far as leadership,” Hagensen said. “They have really carried us on and off the court with their leadership.”
When he broke the news to his players that the season was over, Hagensen said he told his seniors not to let the way the campaign ended affect how they look back on their high school careers.
Hagensen said Jay, Riepe and Morehead are outstanding individuals who had a great run during their time in high school.
“They were a big part in helping to make our program very competitive. They were great role models for the younger players,” the coach said.
Junior Dani Schlesinger finished as Marlboro’s leading scorer in 2021 with 117 points in nine games (13 ppg.). Jay was second with 107 points.