Dawn Karpell, the girls basketball coach at Saint John Vianney High School, Holmdel, has seen a lot of greatness during her 16 years at the helm of the Lancers.
In Karpell’s mind, what her 2021-22 squad achieved surpassed all that came before.
The veteran coach watched the Lancers march to one of the best seasons in New Jersey history. The season ended with the Lancers lifting the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions trophy to cap a 32-1 campaign.
The 2021-22 season was the perfect final chapter to a three-year stretch of dominance that saw the Lancers work to overcome the obstacles a worldwide pandemic placed in front of them during most of that time.
“This was the most rewarding season for me,” Karpell said in an interview that put the wraps on the campaign. “This group had to go through a pause and overcome things that were out of their control. This was the most satisfying season. It was a great way to cap off the last three years.”
During the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons, the Lancers were a combined 74-2. Saint John Vianney’s only losses were against teams from outside New Jersey.
This season, every one of the Lancers’ victories was by 16 or more points.
The Lancers concluded the season with a dominating performance in the Tournament of Champions championship game against Rutgers Preparatory School of Somerset on March 20.
Saint John Vianney roared to a 72-52 victory over the Argonauts at Jersey Mike’s Arena on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway to win its record eighth Tournament of Champions trophy.
“This is the most dominating team I have been a part of,” said Karpell. “Our depth was huge in helping us defeat the best teams out there.”
Contributions to the Lancers’ championship season were made by all of the players on the roster, led by senior Madison St. Rose, who capped her scholastic career with a winter to remember. St. Rose averaged 21.6 points per game and led the team with 163 rebounds and 114 steals.
St. Rose excelled in big games. She scored 21 points against Rutgers Prep to help the Lancers win their first Tournament of Champions title since 2016.
During the Non-Public A state championship game against Immaculate Heart Academy of Bergen County the week before the Tournament of Champions, St. Rose scored 18 points and collected six rebounds to lead Saint John Vianney to its 17th state title.
St. Rose delivered a 27-point performance against Paul VI High School of Haddonfield in the South Jersey Non-Public A state sectional tournament championship game.
“Her skill set on the court and her versatility make her a special player,” Karpell said of St. Rose. “She is a really good kid and a great teammate. There are not many weaknesses to her game.”
St. Rose, a native of Old Bridge who will continue her basketball career and her education at Princeton University, completed her career at Saint John Vianney with 1,747 points in 101 games played (17.2 points per game).
A significant addition to the lineup during the 2021-22 season was junior Zoe Brooks, who transferred to Saint John Vianney from Trenton Catholic Preparatory Academy of Hamilton Township.
Brooks was outstanding as the team’s point guard. She averaged more than 18 points per game and led the Lancers in assists (118) and steals (121).
Brooks scored a season-high 27 points in the Tournament of Champions semifinal against Sparta High School and averaged just under 20 points per game during state tournament contests.
“Zoe is super talented,” Karpell said. “She lets the game come to her.”
A big part of the Lancers’ success was the way Brooks integrated herself into the team, according to the coach, who said, “She allowed us to really grow as a team. She is a fun teammate to be around and everyone on the team grew to love her.”
Junior Janie Bachmann and seniors Ashley O’Connor and Megan Cahalan rounded out the starting five.
O’Connor and Cahalan epitomized the makeup it takes to play at Saint John Vianney in the eyes of Karpell, who was happy to see both players end their scholastic careers by helping the Lancers win the Tournament of Champions.
O’Connor dished out 107 assists and played great defense, while Cahalan scored 7.3 points per game and led the team in blocked shots (26).
“They both totally bought into everything we are about here,” Karpell said. “They are unselfish players. They came here because they wanted to become good basketball players, play on good team and win a championship.”
Bachmann scored nine points against Rutgers Prep in the Tournament of Champions title game.
Sophomore Julia Karpell and juniors Mikaela Hubbard, Bre Delaney and Ashley Sofilkanich were all key contributors off the bench.
Karpell was a sharp-shooter from the outside as she delivered 38 three-point field goals, three of which came during her 11-point performance in the Tournament of Champions final.
Hubbard scored six points in the Tournament of Champions final and in the Non-Public A state championship game against Immaculate Heart Academy.
“Our bench made some key contributions in the Tournament of Champions final,” Karpell said. “They all came in and did their part to help us win.”
Winning the Tournament of Champions was the final piece to ultimate glory for the Lancers. The players missed out on that title in 2020 and 2021 and were finally able to obtain it in 2022.
It had been a long wait, but the Lancers finally got to have the storybook ending they had always wanted. This group of players made the 2021-22 season one that will always be remembered in the rich history of Saint John Vianney girls basketball.
“This group made every day in the gym this year fun. They are a great group of kids. They loved being around each other. This was a great season,” Karpell said.