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Huland El, Virginia dance into second round

PISCATAWAY _ The goal is to "keep the ball bouncing, make things shake," said Randolph native Aliyah Huland El when discussing Virginia's desire to extend its season as long as possible.

Huland El, a senior guard, and the 10th-seeded Cavaliers triumphed in their first-round NCAA game, defeating No. 7 California, 68-62, on Friday, March 16 at 5 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.

Virginia (19-13) is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 so Huland El and her teammates, including fellow Jerseyans Jocelyn Willoughby and Lauren Moses, are eager to make an impact.

"Honestly, we've worked so hard for this, especially the seniors," said Huland El, who scored the 1,000th point of her collegiate career on Feb. 1 versus Louisville. "To say we're going dancing... To make history... The dream has come to fruition. We'll do our best to make things happen."

The team, Huland El said, had a plan from the start of the season and that was to gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

"We hope to win a few games," she said. "We're going to keep fighting. We were in shock at first but we are ready."

Huland El, one of three Virginia players in double figures with 12 in the NCAA opener, has come up with some big offensive performances of late, one of them a 19-point showing against Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament. In the ACC quarterfinals, she scored 13 points against Notre Dame. Also notable were the 21 points Huland El had in win over Georgia Tech in late January. She is averaging 10.1 points and has started 27-of-32 games.

When Virginia visited Rutgers early in the season, Huland El, who aspires to be a pediatrician, was thrilled to be in her home state and to play before family and friends. However, in a span of 1:07 in the first quarter, Huland El was charged with two fouls and was removed from the game. She saw several more stints on the hardwood but 3:37 into the third quarter, Huland El was whistled for her third foul. She ended with four points and four rebounds.

"I'm usually not in foul trouble," Huland El said after the Dec. 4 game at RU. "My team needs me on the floor. I'm disappointed in my thought process. I'm more disciplined than what I showed. I shortchanged the team in the long run. Still, being here is nice. It's good to be home. I'm on home turf, I guess. A lot of my Jersey family came to the game."

While at Virginia, Huland El learned much, mainly about "stretching myself as an individual and dealing with and overcoming adversity, whether it involved school, basketball or was people related."

Her goal was to start as a freshman but her role was being the sixth or seventh player. Huland El adapted and made the best of it, bringing energy.

"I quickly found out starting isn't everything," Huland El said. "What makes a difference is who's in at the end and who makes an impression throughout the game."

Huland El, the all-time leading scorer in girls high school basketball in Morris County with 2,286 points, hopes to play overseas when her collegiate career comes to a close. She'll have to wait until June or July to find out if teams have an interest.

"I'll play if there's a good, viable financially sound option," she said. "It would be a great experience. I'd love to keep playing."


Mustangs' "great season" comes to an end

MONTVILLE _ A first-ever appearance in the sectional semifinals. Wins over Chatham, Morris Catholic, High Point, Jefferson, West Morris, Morris Knolls and Dayton. A school-record 22 victories.

In a week or two, Montville, saddened by a season-ending 54-42 loss to Old Tappan in North Jersey Section 1, Group III, no doubt, will look back and realize all that it has accomplished. The banner in the gym may not tell tales of titles - yet - but, one day in the near future, it most likely will.

"It's been a great season," Mustangs sophomore guard Emma Wax said. "We did so much. We had a fantastic senior class. I'm upset it's over."

Wax, whose 19 points led second-seeded Montville versus third-seeded Old Tappan, indicated why she and her teammates extended their season so far and toppled some highly regarded teams along the way.

"We love each other and bonded well," she said. "We picked each other up. There was a lot of positivity."

All of those elements were evident in the Mustangs' finale along with determination and the desire to fight until the last second. Montville (22-5) fell behind 15-7 in the first quarter but came within four, 26-22, at halftime as Wax and Amanda Gorski scored five points apiece.

The Mustangs trailed 38-30 at the end of three periods and cut the deficit to five, 40-35, midway through the fourth quarter. After that, Montville's shots did not fall. Old Tappan went 14 for 14 at the free throw line over the last three minutes. Montville got its last two baskets, both layups, over the final 31.1 seconds.

"I felt like we were in it the whole game," Mustangs coach Derek Lynn said. "My girls kept battling. My coaching staff never felt we were out of it because of the heart they showed throughout. We started out slowly and got back into it. We did that against Ramapo, too. We found our way through things early on and eventually found a flaw on offense."

Lynn noted that "the bench was really into the game" and that brought more energy into the nearly packed gym as did the enthusiastic student cheering section. The show of support by the fans certainly was another indicator of Montville's success.

Coming into the game, the Mustangs knew they'd have to take charge on the defensive boards to control Old Tappan, a team that relies heavily on second opportunities. However, Old Tappan, which had three players score in double figures, still got a good number of putbacks. Noelle Gonzalez topped the visitors with 16 points.

"There were a few loose balls. Some tipped passes," Lynn said. "Old Tappan is tough, physical and creates opportunities."

Five Montville seniors will graduate, including Jordan Strickland and Amanda Gorski. Gorski finished with 14 points and Strickland dropped in a layup with seven seconds remaining to complete the Mustangs' scoring.

"We lost by 12 but it doesn't show how hard we fought," Wax said. "We always give our best. We beat teams that we've never beaten this season. That means we can only keep getting better."

Morris Knolls loses heartbreaker

DENVILLE _ After falling behind 15-8 in the first quarter of its North Jersey Section 1, Group IV quarterfinal versus Ridgewood, Morris Knolls used exceptional man-to-man defense to limit the Maroons to four points over the next 16 minutes.

The top-notch defensive effort enabled the Golden Eagles to gain a three-point edge going into the closing quarter. It was so exceptional that the Morris Knolls scorekeeper put a heart around the zero in the scorebook that represented Ridgewood's points in the third period. The Maroons, no doubt, were upset after missing six free throws.

Suddenly, that slim lead disappeared. With 15.3 seconds left, junior forward Chloe Lennon made a close-range field goal to put fifth-seeded Ridgewood in control 33-32 and, soon after, the visitors reveled in a 35-32 victory over the No. 4 Golden Eagles.

"Ridgewood made a few shots in the fourth quarter that didn't drop in the second and third," Morris Knolls coach Rob Moore said. "It was a bounce here. A bounce there. We made some shots. We missed some shots. Our girls played hard. They played well. Our seniors led. They did all I asked them to do."

The Golden Eagles (16-10) seemed stunned and rightfully so because the momentum had shifted so markedly to their side. Outscored 16-10 in the fourth quarter, Morris Knolls last led 32-31 when Catt Reyes fired in an eight-foot jumper with 36.5 seconds remaining.

"There were little mistakes that shouldn't have happened," said Reyes, one of Morris Knolls' four seniors.

"We played our hearts out," another senior, Christi Conroy, said. "We couldn't ask for a better way to finish."

Morris Knolls, whose top scorer was Vanessa Elliott with 12 points, made it evident that it didnt want its season to end. The Golden Eagles hustled. They rebounded. A shot at 3.3 seconds did not fall.

For Lennon, nicknamed "Happy Feet" for moving her feet too much when they need to be stationary, the game-winning putback meant a lot. She may be shaking the endearing yet sometimes costly habit.

"The nickname's just a joke," Lennon said. "I've been working on my footwork. I channeled it when I needed to."

Maroons coach Karen Keyes was pleased that Lennon remained calm when the opportunity to score at a critical time arose. Keyes also praised her team for recovering from the struggles it experienced in the second and third quarters.

"We just went cold, especially in the third quarter," Keyes said. "When it came to crunch time, we were able to score down the stretch. Our motto is 'Trust in each other' and we did that. We adapted and were able to score."

For Morris Knolls, the loss, of course, stung.

Carli Van Riper, a senior, no doubt, will have the memory of the Golden Eagles holding Ridgewood scoreless in the third quarter. She'll also remember the camaraderie Morris Knolls had throughout a season in which it endured despite several injuries.

"There was a lot of energy," Van Riper said of the third quarter.

Elliott, the fourth senior, has much to take away from her high school basketball career.

"I'll remember how hard we played for each other, no matter what the result," Elliott said. "We all contributed. We got through some setbacks. I couldn't ask for more."

Conroy finished with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Emily Mitarotonda added six points. Brielle Sharry topped the Maroons with 11 points, including eight in the first quarter. Sharry had three 3-pointers.

Ridgewood moves on and will meet West Orange, which ousted top-seeded Morristown, in a sectional semifinal.


Defense, steals propel Villa Walsh

MORRISTOWN _ Stifling defense that produces steals has been Villa Walsh's mainstay this season.

The Vikings, of course, continued with that formula for success, using man-to-man full-court pressure to rattle 10th-seeded St. Mary of Rutherford en route to a 70-23 victory in its Non-Public North B state tournament first-round game on Tuesday, Feb. 27.

"Our defense is the biggest part of our game," said junior forward Mary Cate McGlone, whose 14 point and 6 steals paced Villa Walsh. "We work hard on running different defenses. We switch in and out of them and follow up on the other end as well."

Villa Walsh, seeded seventh, had a season-high 29 steals to go along with a season-high amount of points. The Vikings (14-11) went up 22-9 in the first quarter led by McGlone and Kate Gehringer, who had eight points apiece. The lead was gained despite some opening-round jitters.

"The girls were a bit nervous out of the chute," Villa Walsh coach Van Johnson said. "We were missing easy shots. Once we settled down, everything went well."

And, the defense wasn't all that was impressive. In addition to McGlone, Caroline Dolan and Gehringer reached double figures, scoring 12 and 10 points, respectively. Mary Walsh added seven. Walsh and Michelle Zychowski had five steals apiece for the Vikings (14-11). The junior varsity players entered the game in the fourth period and put up 19 points which pleased Johnson.

McGlone and Johnson both felt that the second period, in which Villa Walsh outscored St. Mary 17-2 was critical and enabled it to open a wide gap going into halftime.

"We came out strong in the second quarter," McGlone said. "Sometimes, the first quarter is a rough patch for us. In the second quarter, we began to play really well and went all out for the whole game."

The Vikings, slated to meet the No. 2 seed, Hudson Catholic, in the quarterfinals on Thursday, March 1 at 5:30 p.m., swiped pass after pass and interrupted the flow of the Gaels' offense.

"We work really hard for them," McGlone said of the steals. "We use a lot of trap defenses and that helps."

The game brought second-year coach St. Mary coach Jamie LoBue back to a familiar place. LoBue, a graduate of West Morris High School, where she played basketball, served as a junior varsity and assistant coach at Villa Walsh for six years.

"It was a little weird," said McGlone of LoBue being on the other side. "It was weird hearning her yelling on the sideline. It takes you back."

St. Mary (8-16) was paced by Jensen Kraft's 15 points and four rebounds.

Villa Walsh is 5-2 over its last seven games. Its two losses in that span were to Pope John by two points and Mount St. Mary by seven.

Hudson Catholic will pose a major challenge but the Vikings are certain they will be prepared.

"We're facing a very good team," Johnson said. "My hope is we execute as well as we did against St. Mary."

McGlone is thinking upset. She noted that the sophomores have been making significant contributions in recent games.

"We have some pretty big wins," McGlone said. "This team is like a family. We have good chemistry. There's a sense of community. Hudson Catholic will be tough but our team never gives up, even if we're down by 15 or 20."


Chatham topples Colonials for MCT title

RANDOLPH _ Shortly after the final buzzer sounded signaling the end of the Morris County Tournament final and sending Chatham into a frenzied celebration, coach Joe Gaba's cell phone received a deluge of text messages.

Among those checking in immediately and sending congratulatory texts were former players Amanda Berntsen, Grace Conroy, Cassie Falone, Caitlyn Kuntz, Kelsey and Kendall Davies and Liz Ford. Several of them had experienced the thrill of playing in MCT title games when the Cougars were runners-up from 2010-2012.

On Feb. 23, 2018 - a date long to be remembered in Chatham High School sports history - the Cougars, fueled by Veronica Kelly's 13 points, left the County College of Morris gymnasium as proud champions following a 40-31 victory over top-seeded Morristown.

Finally, the Cougars, perenially contenders in the conference, county and state, were holding and showing off the championship plaque that represented their first MCT crown. And, if one looked closely, they'd see the fingerprints of the players who came before them on the plaque. Clearly, they were a part of this, too.

"Coach Gaba and Chatham have been chasing this for 20-something years," said Kelly, named the tournament MVP. "It's crazy. Just insane. It hasn't set in yet. I know I feel excited. I'm happy. Really happy. We knew we could do it."

Reasons for the elation are many. Third-seeded Chatham (18-7) suffered losses to Morristown this season by 10 and five points, respectively, in NJAC-United Division matchups this season. Kelly and the other seniors had never beaten the Colonials, who claimed the MCT title in 2017. Last year, the Colonials triumphed three times by double digits.

The Cougars held few leads over Morristown in the past and never late in a game. They either fell behind early or were even at halftime before the Colonials took charge. So, there a little anxiety at halftime at CCM when Chatham was up by only one, 16-15, yet it had the mindset required to prevail. The Cougars benefited from clashing with Rumson-Fair Haven, University, Hunterdon Central, Oak Knoll, Bayonne, Montville, West Morris Morris Catholic and Jefferson.

"What they did to win this championship... We were prepared," Gaba said. "The schedule in the conference and the counties was tough. We were tested each and every night. I can't say enough about these girls. Morristown is so aggressive. They take you out of your offense. I knew it would be a dogfight and it was. It came down to execution and we were a little better."

Both teams had to cope with an injury or illness to a starting player. Morristown certainly missed Kate Kolb, who amassed 34 points and asserted herself inside in the previous two MCT games. Kolb was not herself due to a sprained ankle and saw limited action, scoring only three points. The Cougars did not have a full-strength Hannah Kelly, who was getting over an illness. Tess Ford, a freshman, started in her place. The younger Kelly did play and contributed five points.

The championship, along with this entire season, has been savored by Chatham senior Chloe Blanc, who sat out much of last season after knee surgery.

The main objective versus Morristown was "to take the game minute by minute," according to Kelly.

"We couldn't let them get a big lead," Kelly said. "We had to win more minutes than them. We couldn't play for 32 minutes and try to win all of them. That was unrealistic."

"We have not played from the front against them," Gaba noted. "We had to get a little separation, maybe six points or so, and we had to put pressure on them and defend the other end of the floor."

Chatham, the lone Morris County team to defeat Morristown this season, didn't open a huge gap in the third period. Two minutes and 34 seconds after halftime, Kelly fired in the second of her three 3-pointers, connecting from the right side, to put the Cougars on top, 23-18. Up 25-22, Chatham closed out the third quarter with a field goal by Maddie Hartnett at 54.3 seconds and went ahead by five again.

Twice in the frenzied fourth quarter, the Cougars led by seven. Nicole Ferrara netted a 3-pointer 56 seconds into the closing period to bring Morristown within four, 29-25. From there, Chatham commenced a nine-point run, highlighted by Kelly's five points, and took command, 38-25, with 47.3 seconds remaining. The Cougars made 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter, including 6 of 6 over the last 1:26.

"It feels great that we were able to beat Morristown," said Camryn Davies, one of three Chatham seniors. "Everyone was involved. We were super pumped up. We didn't turn the ball over as much as we did in the other games. We played four of us against six defenders to get ready for Morristown's ball pressure. On defense, we didn't give up easy looks. We were together. We played as one."

Morristown, which received 11 points from Elizabeth Strambi, simply did not put forth its best effort.

"Chatham was the better team tonight," Colonials coach Jim Pisciotto said. "We picked a bad day to have an off game. I am proud of our girls for all they accomplished this year. We took our best shot and won the conference. When you are No. 1, you only have one place to go. Our girls were poised and executed all year. I'm very proud of my team." 


Taylor Langan, Jefferson

Danielle Mills, Morris Catholic

Kate Kolb, Morristown

Elizabeth Strambi, Morristown

Michaela Ford, Chatham

Veronica Kelly, Chatham - MVP 


Pittas impressed by marathon experience

NEW YORK _ As a first-time participant in the New York City Marathon, Despina Pittas considered every millisecond a highlight.

Pittas, a wraparound clinician at Boonton High School, reeled off moment after memorable moment. The start of the marathon in Staten Island... Crossing the Verrazano Bridge... The bands in Brooklyn... Her family members and strangers hugging her and friends cheering her on in Queens... The struggles she endured over the last 2.2 miles...

"It was all so amazing," said Pittas, who completed the 26.2-mile race in 5:50.47 on Nov. 5, 2017. "It's tough to pick out one thing. Maybe Brooklyn, with all of the bands on the corners, was the best part. It was like a big party. It was definitely the most festive part of the marathon."

Pittas decided to run the "unforgettable race" after witnessing her cousin, Vicki Grapsas, do it three years ago.

"I loved the whole atmosphere," Pittas said. "The fact that my cousin could run more than 26 miles impressed me. It was so inspiring. I thought 'Can I do it?' I wanted to try."

So, Pittas, no stranger to 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons, began preparing for the NYC Marathon in May of 2016, just two months after the birth of her daughter, Elli. Not long after, she suffered a stress fracture to her tibia and suspended training until Sept. 1. Pittas had two months to prepare but her orthopedist advised her that "it wasn't time for 20 miles."

Pittas, disappointed, set her sights on 2017. She entered the lottery and gained one of the coveted spots. She trained on the streets of Morristown and ran on Patriots Path. Pittas often ran 18 miles from Morristown to Chatham and back.

Prior to half marathons in Brooklyn, New York City and Asbury Park, she considered herself "a runner, not a racer," yet made herself into one. Pittas thought back to the years after college when she returned to running to cope with the stress of teaching at Jamesburg Prison, a maximum security facility.

"I ran because it felt good," she recalled. "It was for fun. A friend influenced me to do a half marathon and that's when I fell in love with racing. I loved everything about it."

While growing up in Randolph, Pittas, a talented athlete, ran for St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church Youth Organization. She also competed in basketball, softball and swimming for the church organization or recreation programs. Pittas was a sprinter for the Randolph High School track team. Her father, James, taught her mental toughness.

That mental toughness enabled her to persevere during the NYC Marathon last fall. Pittas did not hit "the wall" at the 20th mile. The 24th mile was the toughest. It was there that Pittas, who would like to run the Marine Corps Marathon, began to feel intense pain but she kept her legs going.

"I considered walking but I didn't do it," said Pittas, a resident of Morristown. "I came to run. Finishing is one of my greatest accomplishments. It was an amazing feeling."

For three days after the marathon, Pittas' entire body ached.

"I could barely get up the stairs. It was tough to move," Pittas said. "The mental part trumped the physical. Pain really is weakness leaving your body. Fortunately, I had that toughness."

It'll be Chatham-Morristown in final

RANDOLPH _ Hannah Kelly and Chloe Blanc had done their stints for Chatham, trying their best to contain Morris Catholic's Danielle Mills.

Mills, the not-so-easy-to-contain junior guard/forward, boosted her game in the third quarter in an attempt to erase the Crusaders' four-point halftime deficit. She was succeeding and becoming more and more exuberant with each basket. Displaying her usual aggressiveness and determination, Mills drove to the hoop then fired in a 3-pointer. She drew a foul and sank both free throws with 3:40 remaining in the third to bring Morris Catholic even, 24-24.

It was then that Cougars coach Joe Gaba called on Michaela Ford to deter Mills, their main focus, in the Morris County Girls Basketball Tournament semifinal On Friday, Feb. 16 at County College of Morris.

Ford, several inches shorter than Mills at 5 foot 5 and certainly not as physical, met the task. Ford's defense was exceptional as she denied Mills the rest of the way and helped third-seeded Chatham gain a 43-32 win over No. 2 Morris Catholic. Top-seeded and defending champion Morristown, buoyed by an 11-point run in the third quarter, defeated fifth-seeded Jefferson, 45-30, in the other MCT semifinal.

"We locked down on defense, especially in the fourth quarter," Ford said. "We were determined to win. I didn't mind guarding (Mills). Defense is my favorite thing. No matter who it is, I can guard them."

Ford compared guarding Mills to matching up with Mendham's Joey Meyers. She considers Meyers "a big guard." The Cougars (17-6) went up against Mendham twice recently. Meyers sat out one game with an injury but she was on the court on Tuesday and Ford was assigned to her.

"I've been working on my defense," she said. "I've been concentrating on my footwork. I knew I might have to guard (Mills) at some point in this game so I was ready. I got up on her. The goal is to get her to dribble the ball."

Also beneficial was the time Ford put in with assistant coach Lindsay Atchison, the former Chatham High School standout and King's College player. Atchison, now an assistant coach, is 6 feet tall and offered advice about how to halt talented offensive players.

"Coach Atchison has been helping me, especially with footwork," Ford said. "I learned about fronting the post and what to do when the ball is on different parts of the floor."

Gaba praised all of the girls who had to contend with Mills, who finished with a team-high 13 points for Morris Catholic (22-2).

"The two things were wanted to do were stop them offensively and force our will on them and execute," Gaba said. "Morris Catholic was well scouted. We could not allow Danielle Mills to go out and do what she does. She's strong and dynamic. We saw things on film and felt we could expose them. Everyone was so unselfish tonight. It was a total team effort."

The Cougars, according to Gaba, certainly lived up to this season's theme which is "Good, better, best."

In a 34-second span early in the third quarter, Chatham received 3-pointers from Hannah Kelly and Camryn Davies and pulled in front, 24-16. The Crusaders countered with an eight-point run in which Mills scored seven points. Her two foul shots tied the score, 24-24. The Cougars' Veronica Kelly snapped that deadlock before Feyi Idera dropped in a layup for knot it again, 26-26, with 2:28 remaining in the third period. Morris Catholic went on top, 28-26, with 1:52 left on another Idera basket.

Chatham, which will appear in its first MCT final since 2012, had the last four points of the quarter to secure a 30-28 advantage. The Cougars opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play by Veronica Kelly and stretched their unanswered run to seven. Emma Duerr (12 points) got Morris Catholic within three, 33-30, before Chatham, whose high scorer was Veronica Kelly with 14, commenced an eight-point burst. That run, which featured points from four different players, sealed the victory.

Next, the Cougars headed to their team room to dance. First on the playlist was "Together," a song from "High School Musical."

"We were all going crazy," Ford said. "We've been anticipating this all week, all season. We blasted the music. Winning tonight is special. It's an amazing feeling."

Morristown (18-2) was powered by Elizabeth Strambi and Kate Kolb, who had 17 and 16 points, respectively. Tara O'Neill added eight.

The Colonials, who netted seven 3-pointers, four by Strambi, and Jefferson (17-5) engaged in a close battle. Morristown led 22-13 at halftime but the Falcons bounded back and closed within one, 22-21, with 3:42 left in the third quarter. Jefferson's eight-point skein was keyed by Taylor Langan's four points and Nicole Lemieux's 3-pointer. However, the Colonials strung together 11 unanswered points within the last 3:02 of the period to go up, 33-21. O'Neill nailed two 3s and sank a free throw during that stretch and Kolb, who struggled earlier on, had four points.

"It came down to us, to me, making shots," Kolb said. "I couldn't catch the ball for a little bit. The guards gave me great passes. They were right where they needed to be but..."

Jefferson, paced by Langan's 13 points, could get no closer than nine in the closing quarter and did not score over the final 2:36. Morristown ensured the win by converting 6-of-9 free throws.

Colonials coach Jim Pisciotto expressed relief about being able to overcome Jefferson's 2-3 zone defense.

"That is not a traditional zone," Pisciotto said. "It's a half-court trap more than anything else. It's tough to move the ball. They have five guards and so many passing lanes. Our girls showed a lot of poise. We got the early lead then you look up and it's one point. We got something going to change the tempo. We've seen many defenses lately. It's tough to get a rhythm so we looked a little clunky but that's OK."


Crimson notch second straight crown

MORRISTOWN _ A three-goal lead didn't put Morristown-Beard at ease in the NJSIAA Girls Ice Hockey Prep Championship game.

It sounds comfortable, especially because the Crimson built their advantage, scoring a goal in each period, and held it into the closing stanza. Still, Morristown-Beard, a bit sluggish at the start, worried when Princeton Day School avoided being shut out by receiving a goal from Gia Massari 7:15 into the closing period.

Forty-nine seconds later, the Crimson, courtesy of Keegan Heher's goal, were up by three again and feeling much better. And, by game's end on Tuesday, Feb. 13, Morristown-Beard's players were exuberant, reveling in their 4-1 victory over PDS that enabled them to notch back-to-back prep crowns.

"We came out nervous today. We were a little flat," said Heher, who also had an assist. "We rallied together and began to connect. We backchecked and battled on the boards. We did all of the things that lead to a win."

Heher's tension-reducing goal came off a pass from Ally Detre. Heher, a senior center, was stationed in the slot and Detre put the puck on her stick. Heher shot and the puck went off the left post and eluded Princeton Day goalie Jillian Wexler (31 saves).

"I heard the ding of the post and turned to celebrate," Heher said. "They had just scored so it was an important goal. We got the momentum back."

Morristown-Beard did not take the Panthers lightly in spite of the fact that the visitors' roster is laden with underclassmen. The Crimson knew they'd have to be consistent throughout to retain the title. Last winter, Morristown-Beard prevailed 2-1 over a much more experienced team.

Grace Urbano gave the Crimson a 1-0 lead when she converted 1:17 into the opening period. Urbano, whose defense was stellar as well, was set up by Emily Kitchin and Leslie Phillips. Kitchin extended the advantage to 2-0 by scoring 4:03 into the second period off a pass from Heher. The third goal came off the stick of Detre 5:52 into the third period. Jenna Kurz initiated the scoring sequence by picking up a loose puck and hitting it off the boards. Detre took control and stickhandled around a Princeton Day defender before flipping the ball over Wexler's right shoulder.

Everything and everyone was in sync by then. The Panthers' goal jarred Morristown-Beard but they maintained a high level of play.

"We stuck with it mentally today," said Detre, the senior center who will play hockey at Wesleyan. "Our coach was not pleased with us at first. Sometimes, the puck doesn't go your way. We weren't making good decisions. We weren't doing the little things right. We weren't connecting. We were sloppy."

Earlier in the day, Detre and several teammates watched the U.S. Women's Ice Hockey Team battle Russia in a preliminary-round game. That helped get them fired up for the championship clash with Princeton Day.

"The U.S women are the best in the world," Detre said. "They're so skilled. They're great inspiration for us and younger girls."

Crimson coach Bruce Driver was glad his squad achieved one of its goals and credited them with righting themselves following a lackluster start.

"The is a great win for us," Driver said. "Give Princeton Day credit. They played hard and played smart. This is always something we want to do. It's important to the kids, the parents, the school and the community. We had a little trouble adjusting to what they were doing. There are a lot of details that I see that others don't see. Our girls set the bar high and want to reach it. They knew they weren't playing up to their standards and raised their games."

In addition to Urbano, Jenna Pych and Anna Bajak played excellent "D." Driver said Bajak displayed "poise with the puck."

"Anna wasn't rushing passes," Driver said. "We've talked about that all season. We want the players to pass to someone."

The championship actually could be considered Morristown-Beard's third in a row. The Crimson triumphed in the title game in 2006 before the prep tournament was suspended for 11 years. Either way, Morristown-Beard was elated by the outcome.

"It's a great way to end my last season," said Heher, headed to the University of Richmond, where she will play lacrosse. "To do it with these girls is a great accomplishment. It's a testament to our hard work. It's an amazing feeling. We take nothing for granted. We gave it all we had and pulled it out. It's awesome."



Kolb, Colonials survive Hornets

DENVILLE _ Kate Kolb was discussing her career-high 18-point game and her contributions to Morristown's 50-45 defeat of Hanover Park in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals.

The Colonials' center noted that she thought she played well and stopped speaking.

"I hate talking about myself like that," she said before resuming the interview.

Kolb, very humble, had every right to revel in her play which helped top-seeded and defending champion Morristown come out on top. The 6-foot-2 senior, sidelined for the first six games of the season with a concussion, was exceptional when the Colonials (16-2) needed her most.

With leading scorer Elizabeth Strambi in foul trouble, which resulted in her sitting out for 19 minutes, Kolb asserted herself. Not only did she have a memorable night offensively, she took down seven rebounds. Nicole Ferrara joined her in double figures with 12 points. Elizabeth Mongey had eight points and seven rebounds. Strambi had three points, all on foul shots.

"I had to really fight for rebounds," Kolb said. "I had to jump a little higher today. The Hanover Park girls do everything. They crash. We all knew we had to work together with Elizabeth out. We had to get the ball up and do what we do without Elizabeth."

Before Strambi went to the bench, Kolb was busy. With the Colonials trailing, 16-9, she scored three baskets in a span of 1:19 to cut the deficit to one. In the third period, Kolb had three more field goals from close range. She did her job with efficiency and did not exhibit any signs of nervousness.

"I think our guards were out so far that it isolated me in the post," Kolb said. "That, of course, was an entire team effort because everyone had to be in position."

Kolb's heroics didn't surprise Morristown coach Jim Pisciotto.

"Kate does the dirty work," Pisciotto said. "She boxes out. She scores points. She dribbles. Kate is the stereotype of an inside player. She had some nice moves today."

Eighth-seeded Hanover Park snapped the first deadlock of the game, gaining a 7-5 edge on Meghan Macaluso's 10-foot jumper with 3:48 left in the opening quarter. The Hornets kept the lead, remained even or stayed close in the game which was tied seven times.

Following Kelsey Stites' 12-foot jumper with 2:48 left, Hanover Park was in front, 45-42. A basket by Kolb 10 seconds later brought Morristown within one, 45-44. Free throws were critical as the seconds ticked off the clock.

"If you told me Elizabeth would have three points and we win, I'd take it," Pisciotto said. "It was a gritty performance. We're a really tough team. If you look through our schedule, there were games where we were down and came back. Hanover Park had us on the ropes and we ground it out."

Another Morristown player who came up big was sophomore Tara O'Neill. O'Neill handled the ball in Strambi's absence and chipped in six points. Ferrara had back-to-back baskets in the fourth quarter when the Colonials were engaged in a tight battle.

Hanover Park used five points by Brielle Junda to secure a 14-9 lead in the first quarter. Camryn Coffey had 13 points, including three 3-pointers for the Hornets. The other Hanover Park players in double figures were Stites with 12 and Junda with 10.

"Survive and advance," Pisciotto said. "This prepares us for tough games. I commend Hanover Park. Doug (Wear) is as good of a coach as anyone in the county. They'll throw haymakers at you. Hanover Park had nothing to lose. They had us on our heels."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW***                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                





Falcons avenge loss to Mustangs

DENVILLE _ The turnovers were upsetting when Jefferson suffered an early-season loss to Montville. The Falcons were perturbed by their shooting, too.

What bothered Jefferson most, though, about the setback at the Mountain Lakes Tournament was something else. The Falcons' record dropped to a not-so-stellar 1-3. Not surprisingly, a team meeting was called. Jefferson turned it around but another matchup with the Mustangs loomed, this one in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals.

The Falcons knew what it'd take and got ready for a major showdown. It didn't materialize.

Fifth-seeded Jefferson built a 10-point advantage in the first quarter and defeated the fourth-seeded Mustangs 34-22 on Saturday, Feb. 10 to gain revenge and advance to the MCT semifinals.

"We were so mentally prepared," said senior guard Taylor Langan, whose 19 points paced the Falcons. "We knew what tempo we needed. Everything we had to do, we did. I think we exceeded our expectations today. Every individual on this team has gotten better since the last time we played Montville. I think Montville's as sharp as anyone in the county. They come to play."

Montville's win over the Falcons in late December was by 11 points. Jefferson (17-4) committed 22 turnovers and was unable to convert. The Falcons got busy immediately in this MCT quarterfinal, scoring the first nine points.

"We were a little out of sorts after the last one," Jefferson coach James MacDermid said. "We reflected in the meeting and discussed what we were doing well and not doing well, teamwise and individually. We figured out what we could correct. We went on to win 12 in a row."

The Falcons, who have five seniors and start four of them, maintained a double-digit advantage for a good portion of the game. Montville, though, came back and pulled within five points of Jefferson, 21-16, on Amanda Gorski's putback with 3:03 remaining in the third period. The Falcons, MCT runners-up to Morristown in 2017, then had a seven-point run highlighted by five points by the Colgate-bound Langan.

"We slacked off a little bit there," Langan said. "It was not OK to take a break."

Sophomore Emma Wax netted a pair of 3-pointers for Montville in the fourth quarter and ended with a team-high 12 points. Victoria Pietraszkiewicz joined Langan in double figures with 11 points. Effective zone defense also figured into Jefferson's triumph.

"Right now, we're good defensively," MacDermid said. "We're good at reading offenses and intercepting passes. Montville has size and some really good shooters. To hold them to 22 points is really incredible. We're really cooking defensively."

Next up for the Falcons in the MCT is top-seeded and defending champion Morristown.

"We're all excited to go back to CCM," Langan said. "We saw what it was like. Our seniors know what it takes to come out on top."


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