Eagles believe they have talent to contend for state sectional crown

Middletown High School South girls basketball player Lauren Winant tries to drive past Marlboro's Lia Villa to the hoop during a game played on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Marlboro defeated Middletown South 60-41.

There has been a lot of winning going on during the 2021-22 season for the Middletown South High School girls basketball team.

The Eagles’ 10-2 start includes a 10-game win streak that has Coach Tom Brennan and his players believing they have what it takes to win a second state sectional tournament title in four years.

“We think we are a championship team,” Brennan said. “One of the characteristics of a championship team is winning 10 in a row. We did that. We have to pick up the pieces (following a Jan. 28 loss to Marlboro) and try to get on another roll.”

The key to the team’s success this season has been on the defensive end of the court. The Eagles are holding opponents to an average of 38.75 points per game and are 9-2 when their opponent scores fewer than 50 points.

“We can defend,” Brennan said. “That has been our advantage. We have been saying all year that we are not a pretty basketball team from an offensive standpoint. We need to generate some offense from our defense.”

This season’s scoring represents a very different style of play from the team Brennan coached to a state sectional tournament title in 2018-19.

The coach would say the 2018-19 team was very much in rhythm offensively, while this season’s squad needs to generate more offense from its defense to contend for a sectional crown.

The six seniors on the 2021-22 team – Bella Orlando, Lara Brennan, Beth Rankin, Lauren Winant, Renee Wells and Kylie Dressler – were freshmen when the Eagles last won a state sectional tournament title and were not key players in the championship victory.

Brennan said those six seniors “believe every night they have a shot to win, so why not think about winning a sectional final?”

Orlando is having a strong season, averaging more than 10 points per game with 27 three-point field goals.

Wells has been a force playing on the block. She is averaging nine points per game and leads the Eagles in total rebounds.

Alongside Rankin in the backcourt, Middletown South has received strong production from sophomore Cassidy Brown in her first full season in the starting lineup. Brown is averaging 8.6 points per game and leads the team in assists and steals.

The Eagles’ 10-game win streak came to an end against Marlboro High School on Jan. 28 in Marlboro. Middletown South saw its Shore Conference A North Division rival jump out to an 11-0 lead en route to a 60-41 victory. Orlando led all scorers with 14 points.

Following the loss, Brennan’s message to his players was to keep moving forward and to focus on overcoming that bump in the road. The Eagles will host Long Branch on Jan. 31.