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Lancers defeat Immaculate Heart Academy to claim Non-Public A state title

STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
The Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball team celebrates winning the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship on March 12 in Toms River. SJV defeated Immaculate Heart 74-36 to win its first state championship since 2016.

During a current three-year run of almost perfect basketball by the Saint John Vianney High School, Holmdel, girls basketball team, there have been two elements missing from the Lancers’ ledger: winning a state championship and winning the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

The Lancers checked off one of those boxes on March 12 at the RWJBarnabas Health Arena in Toms River as they roared to a 74-36 victory over Immaculate Heart Academy of Bergen County to win the NJSIAA Non-Public A state tournament title and advance to the Tournament of Champions which will begin on March 16.

“I was excited to see them go out and put together that type of decisive victory,” Coach Dawn Karpell said. “For them to go out that way shows how good of a team they are.”

The Lancers began the Non-Public A championship game with a 15-0 run and led 22-2 at the end of the first quarter.

The Lancers continued to dominate the contest in the second quarter and led 31-5 with 3:42 to play.

The senior connection of Ashley O’Connor and Megan Cahalan capped the second quarter when O’Connor dished a perfect bounce pass under the hoop to Cahalan, who banked home a layup for a 38-9 lead at halftime.

For Cahalan, a Middletown resident, playing in a state tournament final and winning state championships were one of many reasons she chose to attend Saint John Vianney.

The Lancers did not have a chance to play in a state tournament in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Cahalan was happy to finally have the chance to play for a state championship with her teammates.

“Nobody on the team has played in a state championship, so to come here and win is an amazing feeling,” Cahalan said. “We all wanted to prove we are the state champions. We haven’t been able to defend that for the last two years. I’m just really happy that we are happy to get a (state championship).”

Saint John Vianney (30-1) notched its 29th victory by double digits. The 2021-22 Lancers won the program’s first state championship since 2016 and the school’s 17th state crown.

Senior Madison St. Rose led the way against Immaculate Heart Academy with 18 points and she contributed six rebounds.

In the Lancers’ 69-50 victory over Paul VI High School of Haddonfield in the South Jersey Non-Public A state sectional tournament championship game, St. Rose led all scorers with 27 points.

St. Rose, who will continue her career at Princeton University, is averaging more than 21 points per game this season. She has pulled down 152 rebounds.

“I wanted to make sure this memory would last forever,” St. Rose said after the Lancers’ victory over Immaculate Heart Academy. “Just playing on this stage is all I can ask for. To finally win the state championship is something I will never forget.”

Junior Zoe Brooks scored 16 points in the victory over Immaculate Heart Academy.

Brooks, who transferred from Trenton Catholic Preparatory Academy of Hamilton Township before the 2021-22 season, has played as well as Karpell and the Lancers could ask for this season and especially during the postseason.

Brooks is averaging just under 18 points per game and leads the team in assists and steals.

During the state tournament, Brooks has averaged more than 19 points per game. Against Paul VI in the state sectional tournament championship game, her stat line showed 21 points, six rebounds and eight assists.

“It’s indescribable,” Brooks said about winning a state championship. “We have had a lot of fun this season. I was confident from the beginning of the season that we had a strong team and that we could do big things.”

Cahalan scored eight points against Immaculate Heart Academy. Sophomore Julia Karpell and juniors Mikaela Hubbard and Ashley Sofilkanich each scored six points in the victory.

The Lancers are 72-2 over the last three seasons and are on a 62-game winning streak against New Jersey opponents.

With their victory in the Non-Public A state tournament, the Lancers will advance to the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, which features all of the state sectional champions.

Karpell knows reaching this level means a lot to her seniors: St. Rose, Cahalan, O’Connor and Paige Knutsen.

“I am excited for this senior group that they got the opportunity to see this through,” the coach said. “They are a really special group of players. They have made this one of the best teams in school history.”

Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball player Madison St. Rose knocks in a layup between two Immaculate Heart defenders during the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game on March 12 in Toms River. St. Rose scored a game-high 18 points to help SJV defeat Immaculate Heart 74-36.
Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball players Paige Knutsen, Madison St. Rose, Megan Cahalan and Ashley O'Connor celebrate helping the Lancers win the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship on March 12 in Toms River.
Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball player Ashley O'Connor goes up for a layup during the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game on March 12 in Toms River. SJV defeated Immaculate Heart 74-36 to win its first state championship since 2016.
Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball player Julia Karpell is guarded by Immaculate Heart's Selena Cieszko at the top of the key during the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game on March 12 in Toms River. SJV won 74-36.
Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball player Ashley O'Connor grabs the loose ball and dishes a pass out to teammate Bre Delaney for a three-pointer during the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game on March 12 in Toms River. SJV defeated Immaculate Heart 74-36.
Saint John Vianney High School girls basketball players Ashley Sofilkanich and Megan Cahalan celebrate helping the Lancers defeat Immaculate Heart 74-36 to win the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship on March 12 in Toms River.
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