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MCT final will match Montville, Chatham

RANDOLPH _ The question came up over and over and over during Montville timeouts.

When are we going to play our game?

Derek Lynn, coach of the top-seeded Mustangs, wondered just that as he watched his team trail fourth-seeded Villa Walsh for the bulk of the first half and into the third quarter in a Morris County Tournament semifinal at County College of Morris. Montville was working against two factors - the fired-up Vikings and their ultra-energized student fan section known as the Mosh Pit. And, yes, it certainly seemed like Montville's perfection was in danger.

The Mustangs, bolstered by a 12-point run that commenced with 3:03 left in the third quarter on Emma Wax's free throws and extended into the fourth period, finally pulled away, gaining a 37-25 lead on the way to a 48-34 win on Feb. 21.

Prior to that burst, Montville did plenty of sweating while contending with Villa Walsh which retained its drive and determination despite the loss of its top 3-point threat, Kate Gehringer, who exited 1:40 into the second period with a knee injury.

"Van (Johnson) always has a good game plan," said Lynn, referring to the Vikings' coach. "We weren't familiar at all with Villa Walsh. We had to get a feel for them. They fed off the crowd. They kept coming at us. Even when No. 30 (Gehringer) got hurt, they didn't stop.

"Villa Walsh was more aggressive on offense than us on defense. They had 3-point attempts and were getting to the rim with ease. We didn't match their intensity."

Montville (22-0) didn't have strong fan backing because many of the students didn't attend. They were taking part in a volleyball marathon sponsored by the Key Club. Lynn felt their presence would have made a difference. Instead, Villa Walsh, appearing in its first Final Four, had it all - no fear, a solid plan it adhered to, the VW Mosh Pit in white-out mode and the desire to play for Gehringer.

"This was our first time here and we left it on the floor," Johnson said. "There were no jitters, no nerves. Villa Nation was here and those girls were good. Our team had so much heart. I'm so proud of them. We were up against two Division I-type athletes. We tried to stop them. We believed and executed. Maybe if Kate didn't go down, we would've had a legitimate shot."

On Friday, Feb. 28, the Mustangs, seeking their first MCT girls basketball title in school history, must be focused for 32 minutes when they clash with second-seeded Chatham, which prevailed 40-28 over No. 3 Randolph in the other semifinal. Montville, the MCT runner-up in 1977, already defeated Chatham twice in league play, winning by five and six points.

"We've been starting slowly lately and that's not good," said Montville junior forward Dani Vito. "We were so nervous coming in. We need to relax and play our game. We're ready to make history."

Villa Walsh (16-7) was clearly intent on advancing and putting the first blemish on the Mustangs' record. The Vikings thrived from outside the arc in the opening period, getting 3s from Gehringer, Karin Brett and Isabella Jambrina.

Daniella Jambrina kicked off the second quarter with another 3-pointer, putting Villa Walsh up, 12-9. The Vikings maintained a five-point lead for a good portion of the period but Montville closed to one point, 20-19, at halftime.  

There were two ties and five lead changes in the third quarter. The score was knotted, 25-25, then Wax, bound for Marist, netted a pair of free throws and two field goals to send Montville in front, 31-25. Bella Vito went inside for two baskets in the last 1:09 of the third period to widen the Mustangs' lead to 10. Villa Walsh was unable to recover, although it reduced its deficit to eight, 40-32, on Maggie Crimmins' 3-pointer with 3:06 remaining.

"I think we focused on what we were good at," said the Vikings' Brett, who ended with 17 points. "There was no pressure on us. We were motivated. We played with a chip on our shoulder. We went from proving it to ourselves to doing it for Kate."

Chatham coach Joe Gaba felt that if the game versus Randolph had a turning point, it was Emma Frohnapfel's 3-pointer off a pass from Shannon Donohoe 2:44 into the fourth quarter. The trey - Frohnapfel's only points - enabled Chatham to open a 26-19 advantage.

Frohnapfel, whose last name means "happy apple" in German, was overjoyed to have a significant impact at crunch time considering she missed all of last season with a torn ACL sustained during her sophomore lacrosse season.

"That 3 helped us get ahead," said Frohnapfel, a senior. "If I'm open, I want to knock one down. We get rolling with 3s. They get us excited and give us energy."

She further indicated that she was "happy to be back" and be part of the Cougars' latest MCT run. Chatham (19-4) will play in the MCT championship game for the third consecutive year. Last February, the Cougars were edged 34-33 by Morristown-Beard in the final.

Frohnapfel has honed her long-range shot after practice with Maddie Hartnett and Tess Ford. Her sophomore sister, Carly, typically serves as rebounder.

Hartnett, who had 14 points, 13 in the second half, also fired in a critical 3-pointer 3:14 after the break to send Chatham up by four. The Rams, paced by Angeleen Mulero's 13 points, stayed in it and were behind by only five, 28-23, with 2:30 left. Over the last 1:59 of the game, Hartnett had five points, including another 3-pointer. In the closing 2:17, the Cougars converted 9-of-10 free throws to stay on top. They were 20 for 27 from the line inthe game.

"Our composure stands out. We weren't rattled when it was a one-point game," Gaba said. "We stayed the course and made adjustments. Our shots started to fall. We didn't panic. We came out strong defensively in the second half. We got more transition going."

Now that they've advanced, the Cougars are anxious for another meeting with Montville.

"Last year was disappointing," Frohnapfel said. "We want redemption. It's a privilege to get here and we're going to leave it all on the court."

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A perfect night for Mitarotonda

DENVILLE _ The setting was perfect for Emily Mitarotonda to pursue a significant milestone in her athletic career.

Elementary-age girls from the Rockaway and Denville recreation programs were in the gym at Morris Knolls, watching from beyond the baseline. Some played basketball at the far end, perhaps dreaming of being the center of attention on a night like this in the future. Adding to the atmosphere was a near-capacity enthusiastic crowd.

Mitarotonda, a senior forward, came through, as expected, scoring her 1,000th career point on a free throw 48 seconds into the fourth quarter becoming the third girl in school history to achieve the feat.

Morris Knolls went on to gain a 58-34 win over Lyndhurst in the non-conference game on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

"I wasn't thinking about getting a 1,000 points as a sophomore and junior," Mitarotonda said. "If I got it, I got it. I didn't think it was a big deal at first then, leading up to the season, I decided I wanted to get it."

Rob Moore, Morris Knolls' head coach, informed Mitarotonda that she'd need to score 15 points per game as a senior to earn the distinction. One hundred points away from 1,000, Mitarotonda said her "confidence level was boosted knowing how close I was."

Although Mitarotonda initially didn't perceive the milestone as a big deal, her teammate, Brielle Gavito, did. Gavito was beyond enthused by her friend's accomplishment, screaming and jumping after the foul shot that put Mitarotonda in the company of Kerri McMahon (2001) and Melissa Gialanella (1994).

"This is a really, really big deal," Gavito said. "It's been a long time since the last person did it. It's definitely important."

In the last 10 seconds of the third period, Mitarotonda had two chances to get to 1,000 but two close-range field goals missed their marks. Of course, she was double-teamed by two Lyndhurst players.

The first of her two foul shots brought her to the magic number. After the free throws, Morris Knolls had a 48-27 lead.

Mitarotonda, who finished with 23 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and four blocks, was swarmed by her teammates. She hugged her mother, Bridget, and handed her the ball. She ran to the opposite end of the court to embrace her father, Nick. She received flowers and balloons and then posed for photos with the team, which held a banner.

"I was a little nervous coming in," she said. "We had a few games left so I figured I'd get it. All of my teammates were telling me to calm down. During timeouts, they were telling me to take deep breaths."

Moore noted that Mitarotonda "set her goal" and "got it done while never forgetting her teammates."

"Emily always gets them involved," he said.

Mitarotonda, headed to East Stroudsburg University where she will play lacrosse, spent a good portion of her youth playing for the Rockaway Rockets. Two of the three other seniors, Gavito and Gabby Perna, were Rockets, too, and they were glad to be on hand for her 1,000th.

"If anyone deserves it, it's Emily," Perna said. "She's always been a standout player. I'm glad we got to experience it together as seniors."

For as long as Mitarotonda can remember, she's played basketball. It began on the driveway at home with her dad and older siblings, Krista and Matt. She said that her father has been a big influence on her athletic career.

"We connect through basketball," Mitarotonda said. "At halftime, he talks to me. During the games, I don't hear others but I hear him. He tells me what I need to do."

Her mom, the activity director at Sunrise of Randolph, brought some of the residents of the facility to the game and they were clearly enjoying themselves. Most had never met Emily but they know well of her athletic endeavors.

Krista, a 2017 graduate of Morris Knolls, also was a fine athlete, earning 12 letters in volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. She's a junior at ESU and a member of the lacrosse squad.

"I hoped Emily would get it tonight," Gavito said. "We kept feeding her the ball. I love that she got it with all of the little kids here." 

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Villa Walsh makes history

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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Rams back in MCT semifinals

DENVILLE _ Randolph's Angeleen Mulero unleashed a high-arcing 3-point attempt from the left corner at the close of the third quarter and was knocked to the floor, landing in a seated position.

For a second or two, Mulero waited, enjoying the role of spectator, to see if her shot would fall through the net. Mulero's trey hit its mark - the Rams' second basket to close a quarter - and gave third-seeded Randolph a four-point lead over St. Elizabeth.

Mulero, who finished with a game-high 20 points, had yet another critical 3-pointer in the closing period, snapping a 30-30 deadlock en route to Randolph's 43-37 victory over St. Elizabeth in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals on Saturday, Feb. 15.

"I was really focused for that shot," Mulero said. "I really wanted it to go in. It was a critical moment. I got a great pass from Ellie (Sciancalepore). I was down (on the floor) before the ball went in. It was great. I got to sit and watch for a moment."

The win landed the Rams a berth in the MCT semifinals, which will be contested on Friday, Feb. 21 at County College of Morris. Randolph, which last appeared in the Final Four in 2014, will meet Chatham, a 51-25 winner over Morris Knolls.

A year ago, the Rams (18-2) were denied a berth in the semis when they were edged 48-46 by Hanover Park in overtime so this victory was doubly satisfying. When Rams coach Pete Torres was being considered for the head coaching position four years ago, he promised then-athletic director Jeff DiLillo he'd be in a Final Four if given the position and that's why he was pleased his squad triumphed in another close, hard-fought game.

"It's been a little tough in recent years," said Torres, an assistant to his wife, Kristin, for eight seasons, two as a volunteer, before moving into the top spot. "Our program won games but, with all due respect, we didn't have the chemistry and talent needed to get to the semifinals. Something was always missing."

Randolph displayed those two necessary attributes in the quarterfinal, fighting off the determined Panthers, who were appearing in their first quarterfinal in school history. St. Elizabeth came within one, 25-24, with 30.1 seconds left in the third quarter on Quinn Galligan's layup. The second of Mulero's three 3s ensued.

In the closing period, the score was knotted twice, at 30 then at 33. Nine of St. Elizabeth's 11 points came from outside the arc. Two of the 3s came off the hands of Caitlin Barry (12 points). With 4:37 left, Barry made it 33-33. The Rams responded with two foul shots by Sarah Bona to pull in front. The foul was committed by Hannah Kelly, St. Elizabeth's best player, and it was her fifth.

The Panthers turned over the ball and Bona, the niece of former Morris Hills High School standout and current Newark Academy coach Liz Bona-Beach, knocked down a 3-pointer for 38-33. Sciancalepore's basket capped the seven-point run at 3:08.

"We were optimistic coming in," St. Elizabeth coach Bruce McCloud said. "We were hoping to advance and were ready to play. We played hard. I appreciate the effort. Being here was big for us. To be here is progress in  leaps and bounds."

McCloud said that the late 3-pointers "helped and kept the momentum going."

"We were energized," he said. "We had a few huge shots."

Bona, a sophomore forward, finished with 11 points, seven in the fourth quarter, and seven rebounds. Bona nailed a long-range field goal at the buzzer in the first period. Junior Olivia Turner dominated on the boards, taking down nine rebounds. Randolph thrived with man-to-man and 3-2 defenses.

Mulero said that she and her teammates "went crazy in the locker room."

"We were screaming," she said. "It was a big accomplishment. We wanted this since freshman year. We were really hungry. We went all out and played like it was a championship game. We had little mental lapses and St. Elizabeth caught up but we kept pushing it. We had the ability to persevere."

Torres attributed a good amount of the Rams' success to seniors Alyssa Alfieri and Sciancalepore.

"They don't care about stats. They only care about winning," Torres said. "It's rubbed off on everyone. It's been great. Freshman. Sophomores. Juniors. Seniors. There's no animosity at all."

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Degan's OT score lifts Crimson in prep final

MORRISTOWN _ Playing top-notch defense was Alexa Degan's only role on the ice until this winter.

On a whim, three weeks ago, Morristown-Beard coach Bruce Driver requested that Degan, a freshman, kill a penalty in a game versus Chatham and she responded with a short-handed goal, her second career score. She converted against Jen Olnowich, bound for Princeton, who also tends net for the boys squad, and the Crimson gained a 2-0 victory.

"That showed us Alexa was capable at forward if we needed her," Driver said.

Degan has been beyond capable. In the NJSIAA Prep Tournament final, Degan once again demonstrated her knack for scoring, connecting for a pair of goals to spur to a 4-3 overtime win over Pingry at Twin Oaks Ice Rink on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The 5-foot-2 Degan was playing right wing when she tallied the decisive goal, picking up the rebound of a low and hard shot made by Lilli Warnock. Degan came into the zone from the right and pounced on the rejected shot, scoring 2:32 into the extra period. Immediately after, Degan, in her own words, "a defender forever," was swarmed by her teammates, who were anxious to celebrate their fifth consecutive prep championship.

"It was pretty crazy," Degan said of her clutch effort. "I don't get to have the feeling of scoring a lot. I saw the back of the net when the puck came out and took a shot. It was just insane. Going into overtime was actually pretty scary. It was intense. Coming off and knowing it was tied after three periods... I didn't want overtime. No one did.

"I was a little worried. I thought with our team, though, that we could do it. I see us in practice. We know what we're doing. It's good to know we have the power to do what we did and to bounce back."

The Crimson (14-5-1) were under pressure for the second time in five days. On Friday, in the prep semifinal, Morristown-Beard posted three goals in the third period, erasing a one-goal deficit to stun Trinity Hall, 5-3. Against Pingry, the Crimson went up 3-2 in the second period on a goal by Degan which was assisted by Kaitlin Skorzewski and Leah Stecker. However, the Big Blue evened the score with 6:30 remaining in the third period on CeCe Korn's goal.

"The level of stress was high today," Driver said. "Pingry's a good team. They pressed the pace and had scramble goals. We really had to battle."

Senior Anna Bajak, a defender and Morristown-Beard's captain, said it "was terrifying" when Korn got the neutralizer for Pingry.

"The whole game was an emotional roller coaster," Bajak said. "For that to happen made it worse."

And Morristown-Beard was fortunate to have the 14-year-old Degan, who came through not once, but twice. Degan, though, loves competition and is a three-sport athlete. Her other two sports are tennis and lacrosse.

"From the first day on ice, I could see Alexa's aggressive nature," Driver said. "I realized right away that she can make plays."

Abby Russell and Faith Facchini had goals in the first period to stake the Crimson to a 2-0 lead. Warnock and Leah Stecker each picked up assists on those scores. Allie Moss and Korn put the puck in the net for Pingry in the second period and, suddenly, it was 2-2. Degan then converted and Morristown-Beard breathed a sigh of relief.

Bajak was on edge yet still held out hope that the Crimson would triumph.

"This is amazing. The best," Bajak said. "It makes it even sweeter that it was in overtime. We knew coming in that Bruce, with his calm words and calm demeanor, that we'd get it. We're fighters. We're usually calm, cool and collected. We do it for each other and that gets us through."

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Falcons rally past Madison

JEFFERSON _ In the frenzied fourth quarter, Tayler Soules' 3-pointer - her only field goal of the game - had a major impact.

Soules, a junior guard, has made difference off the bench for Jefferson this season and, versus Madison in a Morris County Tournament first-round game on Saturday, Feb.8, her basket from outside the arc not only gave the Falcons, missing 6-foot-3 freshman center Amanda Nwankwo, the lead but much-needed momentum en route to a 40-32 victory.

The 3-pointer 1:05 into the closing period provided fifth-seeded Jefferson, which will face No. 4 Villa Walsh in the quarterfinals on Feb. 15 at Morris Knolls, with a 25-24 edge. The Falcons (16-2) trailed by five points, 24-19, after Tess Callaghan scored 20 seconds into the fourth quarter.

"It meant a lot," said Soules of the 3-pointer. "Early in the season, my shot wasn't really on. Last year, most of my shots were going in. This was our first Morris County Tournament game so everyone went crazy when that shot went in. We got momentum then we finished the game off."

Sophomore guard Ivana Tisma had 11 of her 20 points in the last quarter. Tisma went 6 for 6 at the free throw line in the final 2:20 and had one of the Falcons' three 3-pointers in the decisive period. The Dodgers (14-6) were up 32-29 with 3:32 left. A layup by Tisma and a 3-pointer by Deanna Torsiello ensued, putting Jefferson in front, 34-32.

"I was a little nervous for the foul shots but I just took a deep breath and took them," said Tisma, a 90-percent free throw shooter who aspires to break the school record in that category. "We had a deep conversation at halftime. We had to get back on track. We had to make smarter passes and play better." 

Putting the ball through the net just once typically isn't cause for an abundance of praise. However, Falcons coach James MacDermid felt Soules was worthy as she struggled with her shot for several games at the start of the season.

"Tayler wasn't shooting up to her standards," MacDermid said of Soules, whose nickname is T Swish. "She works so hard every day. To have the confidence to pull the trigger in that situation... We challenge our kids to take that shot."

According to Soules, who connected from 3-point range 33 times last season, her game came together on Jan. 16 when she scored eight points against Kittatinny.

"I was set after that," she said."It was in my head when I kept missing. It was more than that. I only had a shot before. I've become better at defense and passing. I'm much more well-rounded."

When her shots weren't falling, Soules had to work on three aspects: mental, form and not rushing. Her hands, she said, "were sideways and not facing the basket" when she released the ball.

Not having Nwankwo, who suffered a knee injury in loss to Newton on Thursday, caused the Falcons to be out of sorts. Madison, too, was missing a player, taking to the court without point guard Julia Olesen (back injury). Sadie Kim ran the plays in Olesen's absence and Shea Baggett played in the other guard spot.

Callaghan scored 10 of her 16 points in the first half to help the Dodgers to an 18-10 lead.

"We got a little nervous at the end," Madison coach Lisa DiTuro said. "The momentum swung their way."

The Dodgers thrived with man-to-man defense.

"We're a defensive-minded program," DiTuro said. "We lock down on defense. Everything starts there."

Vivian Summerlin was impressive on defense, getting into the lane and frustrating the Falcons.

"We were very out of sorts without Amanda," MacDermid said. "Madison is good. They're super athletic. They applied a ton of pressure. We were missing one and a half players because Ivana was back after being sick for two days so things were very different."

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Amiaga, Glunk excel at MCT Bowling

ROCKAWAY _ The pins teetered and seemed to fall in slow motion each time Emma Amiago recorded her last three strikes.

No doubt, the 10th frame, which closed out Amiaga's 267 game was tense. Amiaga, a senior from Morris County Tech, made it through the pressure situations, seemingly with ease, and had the highest game of all bowlers at the Morris County Bowling Tournament on Thursday, Jan. 23 at Rockaway Lanes.

Amiaga, a resident of Butler, ended with five strikes in a row - the same way she started the game that would send her to the top. In between were two spares - one of them attained despite a 3-7 split in the sixth frame.

"It was exciting," Amiaga said of the 267, her personal best. "It was pretty scary, too. The last few strikes I got weren't the best strikes but they were strikes nonetheless. I just pulled it together."

Chatham sophomore Sam Glunk had the high series for the girls, rolling a 230-194-212 (636).

"Getting the high series felt amazing," Glunk said. "I bowled very well all three games. I was consistent."

Glunk was a bit nervous initially, likely because the event was being filmed by a local news outlet, whose videographers were stationed at the end of the lanes. She put them out of her mind, however, and got to work.

"I'm not used to being on camera," said the 15-year-old Glunk, whose opening game featured six strikes.

In the final frame of her high game, Glunk was stellar, firing three strikes.

"I had a big finish," she said. "That was nice but I could have spared better. I didn't have any strikes in the second and third games."

Still, Glunk played a large role for the Cougars, runners-up to Montville in the team competition, with her steady performance.

For Amiaga, who focuses on multimedia at Vo Tech, bowling the high game (Tyler Johnson of Morris Knolls had a 263) was a moment to treasure as she likely will not be competing next year when she goes to college. The schools she's interested in for film and media do not have bowling teams.

The new 15-pound Storm Physix ball, which she had drilled a week before at Rockaway Lanes, played a major role for Amiaga. The ball, two shades of blue and a pinkish red, rolled true. Amiaga believes the core made a difference, allowing for more hooks.

When recording the day's high game, Amiaga not only had the 3-7 split, she had a 4-6 split to contend with yet dug deep and made the spare.

"I somehow managed to keep calm," Amiaga said. "If I work myself up, I don't do very well. I was in it for the team so I had to believe in myself."

Amiaga, bowling for 13 years, certainly did. Her many years of experience enabled her to stay on an even keel.

As a youngster, trips to the bowling alley were commonplace. Amiaga tagged along with her parents, Chris and Nancy, when they competed in a Sunday co-ed league at T-Bowl in Wayne.

"Emma would crawl around the alley at first," Nancy Amiaga said. "We'd go for fun sometimes and Emma would use the ramp to get the ball going. At the age of 5, she was in a bumper bowling league."

The elder Amiaga, of course, was delighted by her daughter's showing in the county tournament.

"I'm so proud of her. I'm so happy, especially because it's her senior year," said Nancy Amiaga. "What a way to finish."

Getting the high score was a source of great satisfaction for Amiaga because it was the best among all bowlers, male and female.

"Males are praised so much," Amiaga said. "Most sports are super-male-dominated so this is great because of that. I think it's probably pretty rare."

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Montville digs deep; beats Chatham

MONTVILLE _ Chatham's 10-0 lead was established in a flash and, of course, left Montville reeling.

And the Cougars kept scoring, seemingly unchallenged, rapidly pushing their advantage to 14.

The Mustangs faced what seemed like a daunting, impossible task - fight back, pull even and, hopefully, assume control - but it wasn't going to be easy against Chatham, a sectional champion and Group III and Morris County Tournament runner-up last winter.

Montville, although stunned by the deficit, turned to its defense, switching briefly to zone to slow the pace then going back to man to man. Again and again, the Mustangs disrupted the Cougars' attack and rallied to gain a 38-33 victory over Chatham on Wednesday, Jan. 8.

"It was not a good start," Montville's Emma Wax said. "They came out of the gate firing. We weren't ready and we paid. It was not the ideal start. They came out hot. We did not envision being down by double digits."

Clamping down on "D" enabled the Mustangs to narrow the gap to four, 19-15, by halftime. Each and every Montville player toiled. Senior Reese Henderson was praised as a "lockdown defender" by coach Derek Lynn. Dani Vito defended down low and was aggressive on screens. Grace Kowalski was kept busy guarding Maddie Hartnett. Wax and Bella Vito did their share, too.

The win moved Montville's record to 7-0 and came two days after the Mustangs defeated Watchung Hills 54-48 in overtime. However, there were no signs of exhaustion as Montville, seeking titles to add to the conference championship it captured in 1980, took care of business.

 "It was a tough game," said Lynn of the game versus Chatham. "You think any team which is down 10-0 to Chatham won't win the game. We buckled down on the defensive end and got back into it."

Henderson and Dani Vito were responsible for the first three baskets of the second half for Montville. Vito's field goal, with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter, provided the Mustangs with a 21-19 lead. Kowalski made a free throw for 22-19. The Mustangs pushed it to 24-19 on a Wax layup at 2:08. The third period ended with Montville on top, 28-21.

Chatham closed within two, 30-28, on a Hartnett putback with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter and pulled even, 32-32, on Tess Ford's 15-foot jumper at 3:16. The Mustangs, though, persisted and outscored the Cougars 6-1 the rest of the way. Dani Vito snapped the last deadlock with a layup at 3:04. In the final 1:05, Chatham, always consistent on offense, missed a variety of shot attempts while under defensive pressure by Montville.

"We jumped on them early and, as good teams do, they responded," Cougars coach Joe Gaba said. "Montville is a good basketball team. They took us out of our offense. We got stagnant. We had many opportunities and missed some wide-open shots. Sometimes, the ball goes in. Sometimes, it doesn't."

Bella Vito, the 5-foot-9 junior who had six of her team-high 10 points in the fourth quarter for Montville, favors the man-to-man defense the team has been playing this season. Zone was the preferred "D" in the past.

"We can be aggressive in man. There's not much energy in zone," she said. "You can go for steals and it leads to offense. We're so much better when playing fast."

Wax, bound for Marist, was, of course, well guarded and finished with nine points. The theme was balanced scoring as Montville received 10 points from Bella Vito and eight from Dani Vito. Hartnett topped Chatham with 15 points.

"Chatham put a lot of pressure on Emma," Bella Vito said. "Everyone needed to step up when it counted and we did."

Since defeating the Cougars, the Mustangs have defeated Wayne Valley, West Morris and Morristown to send their record to 10-0. They've scored 60 or more points four times and posted 73 points versus West Morris.

Efforts like that have Montville believing this may be "the year."

"I was born in 1981," Lynn said. "It's been a long time since we've won something."

"We've got high hopes," Bella Vito said. "This is the year for states, county, conference. Everything. We need to get on the banner."

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW*** 

 

Montville's Wax nets 1,000th point

MONTVILLE _ For some players, scoring 1,000 points in high school is a burning desire.

Not for Montville senior guard Emma Wax, who never zeroed in on the milestone. Sure, it crossed her mind a little bit but she's more about winning games than attaining personal accolades.

However, on Monday, Dec. 30, Wax accumulated 24 points, including the 1,000th of her career, when Montville recorded a 63-37 victory over Hillside in the Mustangs' third game at the Paterson Kennedy Holiday Tournament. Wax not only scored, she had seven rebounds, five assists and five steals in the game which pushed Montville's record to 5-0.

"It was definitely in the back of my head as it got closer but it was never a goal," Wax said. "If it comes, it comes. We want to win games and get a few championships this season. Still, scoring 1,000 points is extra special."

Wax fired in the first of her four 3-pointers in the opening period to join the O'Reilly sisters, Kelly and Katie, and Julianne Kowalski as the girls 1,000-point scorers at Montville. Kelly O'Reilly was the last player to hit the mark, accomplishing the feat on Feb. 3, 2015. Her sister did it the year before while Kowalski became the first to reach the coveted plateau in 2007.

"It's an honor," said Wax, who has committed to Marist.

To celebrate Wax and her family went out for pizza. When she surpassed 1,000, the game was stopped and she went to the bench area to hug her teammates and coaches.

Montville coach Derek Lynn was thrilled for Wax, the third player to land a spot on the banner in the gym that touts the names of the school's top offensive standouts. More than her physical abilities, Lynn said that Wax has the demeanor required to thrive in pressure situations.

"Emma's consistency is her strength," he said. "She's never high and never low. She stays right in the middle. Emma has been great for our program."

Wax, who plays AAU for the New Jersey Freedom out of Oakland, began playing basketball at the age of 4 in a West Orange park with her father, Adam, and her grandfather, Jerry. Her dad played the sport in high school and her grandfather competed on the collegiate level so she had plenty of encouragement and support.

She prides herself on being a good playmaker, although scoring is fine with her.

"It's not just scoring," Wax said. "It's making the plays. Other teams guard me hard. I'm faceguarded hard. I just keep trying to make good passes."

 

Cliff Back Invitational

MADISON _ Savanna Marcantonio's dad, Frank, a frequent supporter at her track meets, couldn't make it to the Cliff Back Invitational because he wasn't feeling well.

The elder Marcantonio, however, wanted his daughter to know he was thinking about her and sent her a text during the high jump competition.

You've got this, it read.

Marcantonio, a Whippany Park junior, proceeded to jump 5 feet, 2 inches, matching her personal record, and went on to claim first place in the high jump at the meet held on Thursday, Jan. 2 at Drew University.

"I'm more consistent now," Marcantonio said. "I've gotten 5-2 a few times this winter. I'm happy with it. I feel like it's going to be a good season."

Wildcats assistant coach Katie Karovic, a College of New Jersey graduate and Whippany Park alumnae, advised Marcantonio to "jump" and "reach up" after the two viewed videos of her earlier attempts. Marcantonio did just that, putting all of her concentration into her form.

The ability to plant her foot and utilize her speed make Marcantonio a strong high jumper. In addition, she said that playing other sports has helped her flexibility and athleticism. A three-year starter at forward for the soccer team, Marcantonio was responsible for throw ins. She played basketball as a freshman and has taken part in spring track since entering high school.

In the spring, javelin is another forte and she aspires to compete in that event in college, where she plans to major in physical education.

"I'm thinking of college so it's my first time doing winter track," she said. "I want to get better and get ready for the spring."

Marcantonio's teammate, senior Alexis Schauder, cleared 9 feet to take gold in the pole vault. It was Schauder's second meet this winter and, although she vaulted six inches less than her PR, she was satisfied.

"I'm happy with how I did," Schauder said. "The last meet didn't go very well. I'm getting back into vaulting. Today was the first day back to school after the break and I'm a little tired."

Schauder, a club gymnast for 10 years, has greatly improved her swing. She's been working on her core and leg strength by lifting at the gym. She decided to try pole vault at the suggestion of her mother, who noted that other gymnasts had succeeded in the sport.

Undecided on a college, Schauder would like to study biology with a concentration in genetics.

Mendham's Megan Smith, a sophomore, took the 3,200-meter run in 11:56.32 despite experiencing lower back pain. She attributed the discomfort to "the pounding" caused by running.

"I was slower than I wanted to be," Smith said. "I'll take care of it and come back stronger. Everyone on our team worked super hard. My priority was to help the team."

Other first-place finishers were Randolph's Karen Hull (55-meter hurdles), Scotch Plains' Jenai Berry (800 meters), Chatham's Maya Lee (55-meter dash), Mount Olive's Sophia Redmond (400-meter dash), Scotch Plains' Julia Jackson (300-meter dash), Villa Walsh's Sara Hanifin (1,000-meter run), Mount Olive (4x100) and Melissa Aymil of Mendham (shot put).

***PHOTO GALLERY BELOW*** 

 

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