DENVILLE _ Villa Walsh's initial goal for the Morris County Tournament was to play in the quarterfinals.
It wasn't long before the Vikings decided they had much bigger dreams.
"As time went on, we felt we had a chance to be one of the top four seeds and get to CCM," said Villa Walsh coach Van Johnson.
That mission has been accomplished. The fourth-seeded Vikings, paced by Kate Gehringer's 11 points and unyielding defense, defeated fifth-seeded Jefferson 30-21 in MCT quarterfinal action on Saturday, Feb. 15 at Morris Knolls High School and will make their first semifinal appearance at County College of Morris.
Johnson and his Bayley-Ellard basketball teammates went there twice - in 1981 and 1982. They didn't come away with victories, falling to Morris Catholic and Morristown, but that didn't put a damper on his memories.
"This isn't about me at all," he said. "I just want this team to get there. It's a wonderful experience. It's something they'll be talking about 30 years from now."
Gehringer, a senior forward, is delighted about the opportunity to compete at CCM.
"I don't think anyone expected us to do this well," Gehringer said. "We have the desire to win. This is an insanely special team. We come to work every single day and we have fun all the time."
Villa Walsh was up 10-7 after the first quarter and ran off seven consecutive points, four by Gehringer, to go up 17-7 at halftime. The burst continued in the third quarter as Gehringer scored the first basket.
"Jefferson has a defense that's designed for you to forget about the basket," Gehringer said. "They're very good and they play up high. Some of my baskets came because they got lost up high."
Jefferson closed to 22-18 on a 3-pointer by Deanna Torsiello with 4:33 left in the third quarter but could not close the gap any further. Daniella Jambrina opened the fourth quarter with a 16-foot jumper with 1:17 elapsed and sent Villa Walsh ahead, 27-19.
With 3:39 left in the game, Ivana Tisma sank two free throws to help the Falcons cut their deficit to six, 27-21. After that, Jefferson had opportunities but was unable to capitalize. After a Villa Walsh turnover, the Falcons put up two errant shots. Mackenzie Rock came up with a steal but a turnover at 1:46 squandered that chance. An errant pass, two missed free throws and two more field-goal attempts by Jefferson followed.
Johnson felt that the Vikings' tight man-to-man defense played a large role in the outcome.
"Our defense was terrific," Johnson said. "Our game plan was to limit No. 20 (Tisma) and No. 23 (Torsiello) from shooting 3s and we did that. They had only one in each half."
Grace McKenna, a junior, was assigned to Tisma and held her to one field goal and two free throws. Isabella Jamrina had the task of guarding Torsiello, another offensive threat, and limited her to six points.
"There were scoring lulls for us, too, but we never let them take control," Gehringer said. "We never gave up."
The Vikings motivate themselves by singing and prepare for games with "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and "Let's Go" by Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo. They could be heard singing in the post-game locker room as they reveled in their historic win.
"We sing all the time," Gehringer said. "We sing on the bus. Everywhere. It gets us so excited."
Gehringer, headed to the University of Wisconsin where she will major in human ecology, intends to make the most of the rest of the season, namely the MCT semifinal against top-seeded and undefeated Montville.
"This is absolutely amazing," Gehringer said. "I've played AAU with the other two seniors (Daniella Jambrina, Karin Brett). We've been together forever. This means a lot to us. I won't be playing in college so I'd like us to keep winning. This really is a special team."
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