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Crimson headed to MCT semis

DENVILLE _ Morristown-Beard's Gianna Rella accomplished things at a dizzying pace in the second quarter.

Rella, a senior guard, tends to always go all out but this was an extra-intense effort. With the Crimson holding a six-point lead 1:37 into the period, the 5-foot-2 Rella, unguarded, went up - extraordinarily high - to take down a defensive rebound. Less than two minutes later, she made a steal. Not for one millisecond did Rella let up.

The performance by Rella was representative of the entire Morristown-Beard team: Relentless and driven. Because of it, the third-seeded Crimson, who harbored unpleasant memories of their first-round loss to West Morris in a 2018 Morris County Tournament first-round game, earned a 69-53 over the Wolfpack in MCT quarterfinal-round action on Saturday, Feb. 9.

"We worked so hard all summer," Rella said. "We were strong in the fall league. This is unfinished business for us. We want to show we're here to win. We're capable of it."

Last year's setback to West Morris had a double sting. Not only did Morristown-Beard make an early exit, it was playing without Bridget Monahan, who was sidelined with a broken hand. Monahan, a senior guard, was a huge presence this time around and was one of three Crimson players in double figures with 18 points.

Morristown-Beard, which has won eight of its last nine games, was clearly out for revenge after the 69-31 defeat at the hands of the Wolfpack. Every possession had purpose and each girl was focused.

"I'm not going to lie," Morristown-Beard coach Mike Sturgeon said. "We wanted revenge. The front page of our scouting report was the boxscore from the West Morris game. This is it. Unfinished business. We're coming back for you. These kids remember stuff."

Saturday's game, however, was one to remember as the Crimson (18-2) assumed control early and did not relinquish it. Morristown-Beard, whose opponent will be No. 7 Morristown in its first MCT semifinal appearance, raced out to a 19-11 advantage behind eight first-quarter points by Monaghan (18 points). They went into halftime on top, 30-24.

Olivia Omelczuk scored 14 of her 23 points in the second half for the Crimson. She had the initial seven points of the third quarter, including a 3-pointer that she banked off the glass 56 seconds after the break.

"We wanted to go out and hammer them in the second half," Omelczuk said. "This was a big game. We wanted to leave it all on the floor. We had to if we wanted to advance. We had to stay focused which is what we did."

Erin Martin (16 points) stood out in the fourth quarter with six points while Monaghan had seven. Martin indicated that it was ball movement which enabled Morristown-Beard to be successful from start to finish. Another factor was Morristown-Beard's desire to seal the win and move on to the semifinals.

"It's just unfinished business," Martin said. "That's it. We wanted this last year. The seniors pumped us up throughout the week. They kept saying we could do it. Our goal was to get past this and to move on."

Rella beamed when reminded about the second-period rebound and her non-stop hustle.

"Our coaches kept saying the guards needed to go in the lane," Rella recalled. "It was four on two. No one was on me so I crashed (the boards). The whole team was on fire. We wanted this."

Sturgeon spoke of Rella's value to the team, noting that she didn't start several games. Rella was upset she wasn't among the first five and asked what she could do to contribute.

"We need Gianna out there. She's our sparkplug, our Energizer Bunny," he said. "She doesn't get many points but her energy is a big thing. Gianna has no numbers really so she's so overlooked."

For West Morris, Mackenzie Selvaggi, a freshman, had 17 points. Five of Selvaggi's baskets were from outside the arc.

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Crusaders triumph in time of sorrow

DENVILLE _ Mimi Rubino, as always, tied back her hair and piled it high on her head when Morris Catholic clashed with Morris Hills in a Morris County Girls Basketball Tournament first-round game on Saturday, Feb. 2.

Rubino, a junior guard, thought about one of her former coaches, Bob Caprio, several times that day, recalling the inside jokes they shared, in particular the one about her wavy brown hair, which falls almost to her waist when it's down.

"Coach Caprio kept telling me he was going to take scissors and cut it all off," she said with a smile while remembering the former Crusaders assistant coach who passed away on Tuesday, Jan. 29. "It's kind of heavy when it's up. I'm used to it."

This time, it was Rubino's heart that was heavy as she spoke about Caprio after scoring a career-high 29 points in Morris Catholic's 68-35 victory over Morris Hills. She, like the entire Morris County sports community, was stunned by his death. She and her teammates attended Caprio's wake on Feb. 4.

"This has definitely been hard for the team," Rubino said. "He had a light spirit. He cheered us up. I was close to Coach Caprio. Many of us were. He definitely united us."

The atmosphere for the game versus was the Scarlet Knights was subdued. Caprio, who left the sidelines along with head coach and close friend Rich Fachet at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, was on many fans' minds at the second game since his passing.

Caprio, the former long-time athletic director at Parsippany Hills, had a passion for the MCT. He was in the midst of planning a ceremony to honor past coaches of boys teams that had captured MCT titles.

Senior Danielle Mills played three of her four years at Morris Catholic under the guidance of Fachet and Caprio. Mills said the Crusaders found out about Caprio's death the day after on a group chat.

"We were all taken aback," Mills said. "No one could believe it. Coach Caprio was a goofball kind of coach. He joked around with us, made things fun. Before games, he'd remind us to catch the ball with two hands and to make good bounce passes. He was the type of person who put a smile on your face. We love him. He will be missed."

Rubino, who missed two practices due to a stomach virus, got off to a slow start, missing a trio of 3-point attempts in the opening quarter. By the second period, Rubino was on her game, scoring 12 points to help second-seeded Morris Catholic gain a 30-8 halftime lead. She kept it up in the third quarter, adding 12 points. Rubino made five steals and was 4 for 4 from the free throw line.

"We played like we know how to play," Rubino said. "We were running to the ball. We got the ball to each other. There was a lot of teamwork."

Mills felt that same way. Teamwork, lacking at certain junctures this season, was crucial to the win and will be important in coming games.

"We've been on and off," Mills said. "In our last game (Villa Walsh), we were a second-half team. It was a little stressful. We all know we have to contribute. We've got our first MCT game out of the way. Now it's wins, wins, wins. We're not going to lose anymore."

Fey Idera joined Rubino in double figures with 12 points. Idera also had six steals and four assists. Mills ended with eight points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists. The Crusaders netted 10 field goals from outside the arc.

"We have a good shot at the MCT title," Rubino said of the Crusaders, who claimed their last county championship in 2016. "We split the season into three parts - conference, county and state. We want to win all of them." 

Wax block seals win for Montville

MONTVILLE _ Emma Wax leaped high, timing perfect, arm upstretched, to deny Chatham a last-second 3-point attempt, one that would tie the game.

Wax's effort capped Montville's 38-35 victory in an NJAC-American Division game on Thursday, Jan. 31 and indicated how she and her teammates felt: Let's end it here. No need for overtime.

"Everyone was super pumped up because of what happened last time," said the Mustangs' Dani Campbell, a senior forward, referring to a 23-point loss to the Cougars 27 days earlier. "We've been thinking about it. We talked about it all day. We prepared for this a lot. Our adrenalin was pumping."

Wax may have had the last big defensive play but there was so much more to the win that stretched Montville's winning streak - its longest this season - to four. The Mustangs stepped it up, especially over the last four minutes of the fourth quarter.

Dani Vito's basket with 3:23 remaining knotted the score, 35-30. Thirty seconds later, Campbell blocked a shot. With 2:35 left, Bella Vito netted a 3-pointer to give Montville the lead. Chatham, the defending Morris County Tournament champion, of course, wasn't going to yield without a fight. Wax, a junior guard, was swarmed by three defenders after grabbing a defensive rebound. She held onto the ball and was fouled. In the closing seconds, Bella Vito was surrounded by Cougars in the corner yet didn't panic.

"You're always worried at the end of close games," Mustangs coach Derek Lynn said. "We rewatched that last game against Chatham and we weren't ourselves. We played better in the second half tonight. Chatham's very talented and has good shooters. We had to defend better than the first game. I keep telling the girls every game that everyone needs to contribute."

That teamwork and what Lynn referred to "as little tweaks" to the 2-3 zone were key elements in the triumph that moved Montville's record to 10-8. One of those tweaks was extending the zone and getting up on the 3-point shooters as the clock wound down. In addition, the Mustangs remained calm at crunch time.

"Keeping our composure was important," Campbell said. "We kept reassuring each other. We could get the win if we were careful of what we were doing."

 Chatham, which received 22 points from Maddie Hartnett, fell for the second game in a row. That doesn't concern its coach, Joe Gaba, at all.

"Montville came out and did a great job in the second half," Gaba said. "We couldn't get stops. They had more energy than us. They wanted it more than we did. We're young. We're hitting midseason bumps in the road. That'll help us as we refocus and get ready to defend the county title."

The Mustangs, in the words of Lynn, have "won close ones or been blown out."

That's why hanging on against a top-notch opponent like Chatham was pleasing to Lynn. On Saturday, Feb. 2, the Mustangs defeated Mendham by 10 points in a Morris County Tournament first-round game to stretch their winning streak to five games.

"When we want to be competitive, we're a very good team," Lynn said. "I hoped our early season schedule would make us tougher and prepare us for the long haul."

Bella Vito led Montville, which will clash with Chatham in the MCT quarterfinals, with 14 points and 10 rebounds versus Chatham. It was the third double-double in four games for the sophomore standout. Wax ended with nine points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. 

Colonials believe in "power of three"

MORRISTOWN _ The history lesson in the midst of the Morristown High School Girls Swim Team's pasta party on Friday night served two purposes - to enlighten and inspire.

Colonials coach Donna Gelegonya had her swimmers' rapt attention, telling them of Morris County championships past. The last title Morristown won was in 2009 and was rapidly fading into the distance. The one before that was in 1999 before members of the current squad were born.

Gelegonya is a steadfast believer in the "power of threes" and Morristown, obviously charged up, delivered, tying Chatham for a share of the 2019 crown on Saturday, Jan. 26. The Colonials, thrilled about their first title in 20 years, and the Cougars, who stretched their championship run to 11 with the deadlock, each scored 234 points in a meet that came down to the final event, the 400 freestyle relay.

"I absolutely believe in the power of threes," said an elated Gelegonya, wet from a celebratory leap into the pool, shortly after the meet ended in dramatic style. "Three times... Ten years apart... This is unbelievable. I'm excited and so proud of our kids. Chatham is a great team. Very talented. We really had to turn up the volume."

It all came down to the closing relay. Morristown was in a must-win situation and received sensational performances from Nicole Barkemeyer, Elyse Genrich, Molly Webber and Annalise Webber, who turned in a time of 3:57.97. Molly Webber, a freshman and the Colonials' third leg in the 400 freestyle relay, was key in the Colonials finishing first as she came from behind and made a powerful turn to take a half-body-length lead.

"I went over and talked to them before the last event and emphasized that we needed to win to tie it," Gelegonya said. "They had the opportunity to be legendary. We had to hang on."

Molly Webber's "rally" was not surprising nor was the outcome. Samantha Smith, one of six Morristown seniors, knew of Webber's abilities. She also felt the Colonials were more than capable of coming through.

"Watching Molly come from behind was incredible," Smith said. "From freshmen to seniors, top to bottom, the talent is there. I think for awhile our energy went down and we were nervous. Our spirits went up again and I figured we had a chance of winning. Coach Gelegonya told us about everything on Friday night at the pasta party. I had a feeling it would motivate us."

The history lesson made a significant impact. Gelegonya filled the girls in on the 1999 Morris Championships when the Colonials girls went from third to co-champs with Mountain Lakes because of a scoring error. It was originally thought that Chatham was atop the standings. However, three days later, the miscue was discovered and changes were made.

In 2009, the Morristown boys took top honors along with Mountain Lakes. Again, there was a scoring issue. It was corrected and Morristown was deemed outright champion.

"Everybody counts. Every point counts," Gelegonya said. "Every place counts. Every person counts. Even if you're 12th, you're important."

Junior Grace Miller had a big day, taking gold in two individual events, the 200 and 400 freestyle, and swam on the victorious 200 freestyle and medley relays. Miller set a county record in the 200 freestyle, swimming a 2:03.06 to eclipse the mark set by Reagan Kology of Chatham in 2014.

"This day has been awesome," Miller said. "We wanted to win so badly. We knew we could but it would be very close. It was hard watching at the end but everyone did amazing. I was very hopeful for today. I felt we'd do great things."

Annalise Webber (50-meter freestyle) and Barkemeyer (100-meter backstroke) also had first-place finishes for Morristown.

Chatham coach Frank DiGiacomo didn't seem to mind at all that the Colonials claimed a piece of the title.

"This is awesome," DiGiacomo said. "I honestly love this. It should be like this. Both teams are good, talented, exceptionally fast. We want each other to be successful and push one another. For our team to be successful for this long is a testament to the community which supports us. It's the parents who do what they do. It's not just the coach and swimmers. I'm glad to be a little glimmer in all of it."

Victoria Eisenhauer, a Montville junior, became a three-time winner in two events, taking the 100-meter breaststroke and 200 IM. In both races, she broke her own records.

"I'm happy with how I did," Eisenhauer said. "I got the records and I'll continue to get faster. I feel like the key was going out fast and keeping the pace. I didn't feel any pressure. I try to have fun with it and enjoy being here with my team."

Eisenhauer's father, Gary, will add the medals to the room devoted to the athletic achievements of Victoria and her younger sister, Nicole. In addition to medals, the room features photos from the YMCA Nationals and softball trophies. Nicole, a freshman, doesn't swim for the Mustangs team but competes for the Somerset Valley YMCA club team.

Roxbury's Autumn-Brook Tucker prevailed in butterfly for the second consecutive year. Tucker, a junior, went into the race and "tried not to think about" what she did last year.

"I wanted to have fun and be loose," she said. "I thought of this as a team event."

Tucker's mother, Amber-Sky, got a closeup view of her daughter's win while serving as a timer in an adjoining lane.

"It was great to have my mom there," the younger Tucker said. "She was happy."

Tucker wore a five-year-old traditional pink, black and gray Nike suit, a birthday gift, for a bit of luck. Her teammates jokingly urged her to "Beat tech," referring to the tech suits preferred by some swimmers.

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Gibbs has 1,000 reasons to smile

BOONTON _ Devin Gibbs was not in the best frame of mind when she and her Boonton teammates gathered in the team room at halftime during their game against David Brearley.

Striving to reach a lofty achievement in her high school basketball career, Gibbs, a senior small forward, was feeling low.

"I was freaking out at halftime," said Gibbs, who was nine points shy of 1,000 at the break after going 2 for 6 from the field and scoring only six in the opening half. "I was contemplating not wanting to go back in. I was in a dark state of mind."

Gibbs, nervous and struggling to make her shots, quickly emerged from that uncharacteristic dark state and netted three more 3-pointers to reach the coveted milestone when the Bombers fell, 53-33, to David Brearley in non-conference action on Wednesday, Jan. 23.

The momentous event occurred with 16.3 seconds remaining. Gibbs converted from the left corner, becoming the eighth girl in school history to attain 1,000 points. The basket from outside the arc, Gibbs' fifth of the game, enabled her to shed the pressure she was feeling.

"I really didn't think I was going to get it," Gibbs said. "I felt like I just had to do it. I was looking for a 3 because I knew that's what I needed. Whenever I can get behind the line and I'm open, I try to put a shot up. I was nervous today. People were asking me about it. I wanted it to be low key but I was definitely feeling it."

Once Gibbs nailed the 3-pointer, her fifth of the game and her 207th overall, the stress faded away and she was all smiles. Her Boonton teammates and coaches swarmed her and offered their congratulations. She received flowers, balloons and a painted game ball to commemorate the achievement. Gibbs went over to the stands and was hugged by her parents, Bill and Theresa, sisters Kaitlyn and Megan, and her aunt, EIEI. Also on hand to celebrate was her best friend since kindergarten, Vanessa Lomakin, who plays for DePaul.

"My family comes to all of my games," said Gibbs, a Lincoln Park resident. "They're supportive but they can be embarrassing. I actually like having them here."

Boonton coach Mike Carlin was pleased, of course, that Gibbs shook off her early shooting woes. Carlin was also happy that Gibbs, a four-year starter, recorded her 1,000th point on her home court. The game originally was slated to be played at Brearley in Kenilworth but the Union County school agreed to make the trip north to Boonton.

"We knew what Devin's totals were and wanted it to be here," Carlin said of Gibbs, one of the Bombers' five captains. "Devin just kept chipping away at it. She's a smart player and has been a leader. The other girls look up to her and listen to her."

Carlin anticipated Brearley would employ a box and one in an effort to contain Gibbs but that did not happen. Two players shared the responsibility of guarding her. Carlin said he knew the 3-pointer in the closing seconds "was going to go in when she put it up."

Gibbs got off to a rocky start, missing the three shots she took in the first quarter. With 2:49 left before halftime, Gibbs sank a 3-pointer. A minute and a half later, she swished another. Midway through the third period, Gibbs (15 points, 6 rebounds) boosted her point total to nine. She failed to convert her next five field goal attempts, Basket No. 4 was scored with 2:10 remaining in the fourth quarter. 

It was fitting that the 5-foot-11 Gibbs would reach 1,000 on 3-pointers. She accumulated 59 3s as a freshman and has continued to be proficient from long range.

"In sixth grade, I was 5 foot 8 so I was the big, a center," Gibbs recalled. "I shot free throws pretty well so I figured I might still make shots if I moved back three to five feet."

Joining the 1,000-point club has been on Gibbs' mind since eighth grade. The goal became more realistic after sophomore year. The last two Boonton girls to score 1,000 points were CeCe Green and Sihana Asani, both members of the Class of 2015.

"It's so cool to be a part of it," Gibbs said. "I've always looked at the banner with the names on it. I felt encouraged and wanted to be as good as those players. It's a big thing for the school."

Gibbs will enjoy the rest of her high school games before going on to Ithaca or Bucknell. She'll forego basketball and focus on her academics. Gibbs is likely to major in pre-law in hopes of becoming a medical malpractice attorney.

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Mendham tops West Morris

BASKING RIDGE _ The lead changed frequently when Mendham and West Morris clashed on Dec. 14 in a season opener.

The Minutemen ruled the first quarter and the Wolfpack had the upper hand in the second period. West Morris had a slim one-point edge at halftime. And, the third quarter was tense, too, as the sister schools stayed close. It was uncertain until the end but then the Wolfpack emerged with a six-point win.

Fifteen days later, the scenario was completely different as Mendham, dominant on the boards, took a commanding lead over the first eight minutes and went on to prevail, 46-36, in the third-place game at the Len Sepanak Holiday Tournament.

"The first time we played it was much different," said Hilary Klimowicz, Mendham's first-year head coach. "This is a testament to how our team can play. It was a team effort, especially with rebounding. All five players needed to body on someone and they all did it. We went to the basketball. We showed quite a bit of maturity for a young team."

Mendham, behind five first-period points by senior Joey Meyers, raced out to a 16-2 lead. Klimowicz attributed the quick start to "energy" and the fact that the Minutemen "picked West Morris up in full court." Meyers, the lone returning starter, added six more of her 19 points in the second quarter. For West Morris coach Fran Gavin, the setback was upsetting.

"We played one quarter today - the fourth," Gavin said. "Even then, the girls had their heads in the clouds. The first time around, we played all four quarters. It was a good, competitive game. Both teams were focused and played hard. Everyone was playing too much in the moment. There was too narrow of a focus and things were very individualized.

"We needed to see the 10 (players) on the floor rather than two and anticipate what would happen next. When we get those two elements down, this team will do nice things."

It was evident that the Minutemen came out wanting to control the rebounding. They positioned themselves well and boxed out. They didn't allow second shots and used their rebounding prowess on the defensive end to power their offense.

"We rebounded great," Meyers said. "We did well with transition and we pushed the ball. I wasn't really surprised by the lead because we've been working so hard. We let defense lead to offense. It's a huge game every time we play West Morris. It's a battle."

Although Mendham was in front by double digits for much of the game, West Morris rallied in the fourth quarter. The Wolfpack cut their deficit to eight points, 44-36, on Mackenzie Selvaggi's 3-pointer with 45.6 seconds remaining. The Minutemen boosted their advantage back to 10 points on two free throws with 34.4 seconds left. On the ensuing trip down the floor, West Morris was whistled for traveling, squashing its chance to further close the gap.

"West Morris can go on runs," Klimowicz said. "They came back at the end. We had to stay full steam ahead. We couldn't look back and we couldn't let up."

"At the end, we played with urgency," Gavin said. "We were lacking in the first three quarters and couldn't recover."

Lexie Naval and Shannon Timoney chipped in with eight points apiece for the Minutemen (3-4). Faith Pappas led West Morris, which reeled off five wins before dropping the last two, with 13 points and Selvaggi, a freshman, followed with eight.

Mendham and West Morris, which compete in the NJAC-United Division, will meet in a conference game on Jan. 24. They could share the same court two more times as well if they oppose one another in Morris County or state tournament games.

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Mo-Beard fends off Panthers

FLORHAM PARK _ Christina DeMattheis knew well what the consequences would be if she missed a critical 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter and they were equally unpleasant.

DeMattheis, a senior guard for Morristown-Beard, figured she'd probably "get yelled at." Worse yet, St. Elizabeth, applying pressure and anxious to rally from a 15-point deficit, would come back and win.

However, DeMattheis, took no heat nor did the worst of her fears materialize as she connected from outside the arc with 4:26 remaining. The 3-pointer, instead, earned her immense praise from coach Mike Sturgeon and was critical in the Crimson's 55-38 victory over St. Elizabeth on Friday, Dec. 21.

"I had to hit that one. I just had to," DeMattheis said. "I was afraid they might win. After I made it, I could see it in their eyes. It was the killer. Leading up to this game, we said we had to get them. We have a history with St. Elizabeth. It would be sad if we lost."

The most recent history was ultra upsetting to Morristown-Beard, which improved to 4-0 with the NJAC-Liberty Division win over the Panthers. Back in February, the Crimson, top-seeded in the Prep B Tournament, were shocked by St. Elizabeth, 40-37, in the opening round.

And that's why Morristown-Beard so badly wanted to avenge that setback. DeMattheis' 3-pointer stood out as did Bridget Monaghan's 17 points and Addisyn Ibrahim's 12 points. Better yet, nearly every Crimson player had a hand in the game which DeMattheis described as "crazy."

"Everyone was diving left and right," she said.

St. Elizabeth came within 11 points, 40-29, when Hannah Kelly sank two free throws 1:47 into the closing period. Each team then had several turnovers. An errant shot by Monaghan began the sequence that led to the 3-pointer by DeMattheis. Erin Martin grabbed the rebound and passed to Gianna DeMattheis, who fed the ball to her sister on top. Christina DeMattheis unleashed her shot from 22 feet out and it fell through the net. The Crimson realized the importance of the basket, cheering DeMattheis' effort in the midst of chaos and rushing over to congratulate her.

"We were not moving the ball well," Sturgeon said. "We had a few quick passes and got the ball to Christina. She's been very clutch for us. That stopped a run. We came here wanting payback. We were looking for redemption. The girls were pumped up, maybe a little too pumped up."

Sturgeon had many concerns entering the game against St. Elizabeth. He feared there was no one capable of clamping down on Hannah Kelly, a junior who transferred from Chatham High School, but Ibrahim held her to six points, all in the fourth quarter. Although the Crimson possess a shooting percentage of 67 percent, led by Monaghan at 80 percent, they have not been boxing out well.

"Hannah worried me most," Sturgeon said. "We didn't think we had anyone who could match up with her. Addisyn did a good job. She frustrated her a bit. Boxing out has been an issue. If you think you're going to shoot 80 percent every night, you'll be in trouble, no matter what."

Bruce McCloud, naturally, wanted his Panthers to come out on top and restressed the importance of defense. St. Elizabeth, which fell behind 32-18 at halftime, was aggressive and its players stuck tightly to their assigned players.

"We knew Morristown-Beard was a very good team," McCloud said. "We had to get up on them and play them defensively. I appreciate the effort and I'm satisfied with it. We like to play a fast tempo and go full court. We feel good defense leads to offense. We just came up short. This was a test right here and it'll make us better in the future."

Morristown-Beard triumphed despite being without Olivia Omelczuk (9 points) for portions of the game. Omelczuk, averaging 10.7 points per game, was poked in the eye in the second period and had to sit out. She returned after halftime yet, soon after, was on the bench for good.

Monaghan was a force for the entire 32 minutes, scoring 10 in the second half, including eight in the closing quarter. She converted 7-of-8 free throws, going 6 for 6 over the last eight minutes.

Sophomore Jane Howard spearheaded St. Elizabeth's attack, pouring in 15 points. Howard was accurate from 3-point range, netting three treys. Courtney Kelly had nine points.

The Panthers scored 13 in the fourth quarter, their only quarter in double digits. It was evident St. Elizabeth was intent on closing the gap and the Crimson could feel the heat. Christina DeMattheis halted the momentum with her 3-pointer.

"That definitely took some wind out of our sails," McCloud said. "We didn't give up. We took it up a notch."

Christina DeMattheis noted that the noise level in the gym rose as the game wore on.

"We had to pick it up," she said. "All of us played together. Our bench was insane. Their crowd was loud. It was hard to hear."

As of Dec. 29, Morristown-Beard was 6-0 after capturing the title at the Joe Pepe Tournament at Jonathan Dayton. The Crimson are driven, trying to complete "unfinished business," a phrase put in place by one of their senior captains, Gianna Rella. Monaghan racked up 18 points in the holiday tournament final to earn MVP honors. She had 13 in the opener vs. Linden. 

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Hoftijzer OT goal lifts Morristown

MORRISTOWN _ The typical high school freshman athlete most often is a combination of uncertainty, raw talent and, sometimes, hesitation, willing to defer to upperclassmen.

Morristown forward/midfielder Britt Hoftijzer is just the opposite. The Colonials' standout ninth grader has started every game this fall and, according to coach Katherine DeBiasse, "always makes smart decisions."

Hoftijzer's talent, poise and ability to analyze and capitalize played a large role in Morristown's 3-2 overtime victory over Montclair in the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV final on Thursday, Nov. 1.

With 2:03 remaining in overtime, Hoftijzer, who moved with her family to the United States from the Netherlands 10 months ago, knocked in the decisive goal, helping the Colonials notch their third consecutive sectional title, this one under DeBiasse, a first-year head coach.

"This is amazing," Hoftijzer said. "It's an amazing job by the team. We all played so well together. I'm very happy. It was exciting to score in a game that is really important."

Nervous at crunch time? Not at all. The jitters were long gone by then.

"I'm nervous 24 hours before games," Hoftijzer said. "I step on the field and they go away. I play with all I've got. I try my best."

Morgan Mastracchio, who assisted on the gamewinner, and Hoftijzer celebrated in front of the goalcage before the rest of the team, led by Olivia Graham, raced over to join in.

"For Britt being a freshman... She's a great asset," Graham said. "Field hockey is very big over in the Netherlands. Britt is soooooo good."

Hoftijzer's goal was a result of her ability to detect an opening.

"I saw space," she said, recounting her thought process leading up to the score. "The (Montclair) goalie had the long corner but not the short one. I usually pull to the right."

DeBiasse noted that Hoftijzer has "one of the hardest shots I've seen during my time at Morristown."

"Britt has got a gift," DeBiasse said. "Not only that but she's a nice person, a nice kid. She fit right in. She's coachable. She's goofy. She talks to everyone. Britt knows the game and makes smart decisions. I'm thankful for a player with skills like that."

Hoftijzer began attending school in Morristown in January after her family moved from Arnhem, a city of 156,600 in the eastern part of the Netherlands. The Hoftijzers came to the U.S. because her mother took a job with Merck. She has been playing field hockey since the age of 4 and was a member of high-level teams in her native country.

Morristown, which will meet Bridgewater-Raritan in a Group IV semifinal on Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. at Boonton High School, has been rejuvented since falling to Madison in overtime in the MCT semifinals.

"We were really upset about the MCT but we bounced back," Graham said. "Things have been completely different. Our passing, our energy, not only at practice but overall, keep going up."

The two teams alternated goals with the Colonials getting on the scoreboard first. Graham scored 4:32 into the opening period off a corner. Montclair evened the score when Elizabeth Haefeli pushed the ball into the goalcage. Indira Summerville put Morristown (12-5-2) in front, converting 4:05 into the second half. The Mounties received a goal from Sosi Korian with 12:43 remaining for 2-2. Before Korian scored, the Colonials fended off five corner attempts.

"The girls put their hearts on the field every game," DeBiasse said. "They deserve this."

It was the first sectional crown with DeBiasse at the helm. DeBiasse, who hails from Brooklyn, N.Y., took over for Diane DeSalvo, who headed the Morristown program for 33 years. She became a volunteer assistant in 2013 and served as junior varsity coach from 2014-2017. DeBiasse felt that the transition went smoothly.

"The girls knew me because I coached many of them on the JV level," she said. "They were familiar with me and we discussed things. It was an easier transition than bringing in a totally new person."

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Wolfpack headed to sectional final

WASHINGTON TWP. (Morris) _ After taking a 1-0 lead 2:37 into the opening half, West Morris was feeling good about itself.

The Wolfpack, no doubt, was in a giddy state after extending that advantage to 2-0 with 10 minutes remaining before halftime. However, at the break, coach Courtney Barnett suggested her squad take it down a few notches emotionally and continue to play hard.

West Morris heeded Barnett's advice and did both, allowing it to survive a late penalty-stroke goal by Wayne Valley and emerge a 2-1 winner in a North Jersey Section 1, Group III semifinal on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

"Being up 2-0 is the most dangerous lead," said Barnett, whose Wolfpack gained a berth in the sectional title game for the third consecutive season. "That's why we talked. Teams become complacent. I really felt we needed another one in the first half. I knew Wayne Valley would fight back and put some pressure on us. They didn't get to the semifinals by chance."

And, just as Barnett anticipated, the Indians weren't done. Wayne Valley edged closer, 2-1, when Kaitlyn McNutt converted off a penalty stroke, awarded because the ball hit off a defender's foot, with 1:13 remaining, putting a scare into the Wolfpack (15-3-2). From there, the Indians, injected with confidence, tried to go back into West Morris' end but the home team was unyielding.

"We have to remember to play the whole game, not a certain half," said Wolfpack left wing Jenna Leonhardt. "We've got to be all in for the whole game."

Sophomore Sophia Prata, the right wing and scorer of West Morris' first goal, agreed that the late goal jarred her and her teammates.

"Maybe we did get a little complacent," Prata said. "The game is over when the clock runs out, not when we're up by two or three goals."

The Wolfpack will have to keep that in mind on Thursday, Nov. 1 when they clash with Warren Hills, which is aiming for its seventh straight sectional crown. West Morris, whose last sectional championship was in 2012, fell to Warren Hills in 2016 and 2017 and will need to toil for a full 60 minutes.

Versus Wayne Valley, the Wolfpack came out strong as Prata connected off a corner. Caroline Compoli sent the ball to the left post from the top of the circle and Leonhardt touched it on the goal line before Prata knocked it in. Leonhardt followed up her assist with a goal. Again, Compoli initiated the scoring sequence with a powerful shot on goal. Leonhardt cut through the circle and jabbed the ball into the right corner, just out of the reach of the Indians' diving goalie.

"It was 1-0 and I was eager to score," Leonhardt said. "I don't like when it's that close."

The Wolfpack, who graduated five starters, are relishing the opportunity to go up against Warren Hills again. West Morris feels as if it was underestimated in the preseason.

"We took everything to heart," Prata said. "We worked 10 times harder to prove everyone wrong. To win this game is so cool. We played with so much heart. It's because of the girls we play on the team with. We play for each other and it brings us closer."

Leonardt, too, feels that West Morris is exactly where it should be.

"We were underdogs at the beginning of the season," she said. "We belong here. We can stick around and win. I'm excited about the final. We've got to play to win and not to lose."

It was more than Prata and Leonhardt. Junior Alex Belen was a force at right back. Belen made an interception in West Morris' end at the 16-yard line and took the ball 14 yards. That was critical, as the Wolfpack would soon tally their second goal. Sweeper Maddie Ligos was praised by Barnett for "being composed with the ball and making key stops." Ligos thrived under pressure.

"I think scoring early was really important," Barnett said. "That was big for us. We set the tempo in the first half and that helped us a lot."

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Third Morris XC title for Rams' Loveys

PARSIPPANY _ Julia Trethaway of West Morris knows the exact point when Randolph's Abby Loveys began seriously widening the gap.

"It was after the first mile. Abby went ahead there," said Trethaway, a junior.

After that, Loveys remained in Trethaway's sight most of the time but became smaller and smaller as she traversed the course at Central Park on the way to a record-shattering first-place finish at the Morris County Girls Cross Country Championship on Tuesday, Oct. 23.

It was exactly what Loveys, the senior who finished in a course and meet record time of 17:07.47, wanted. The title was the third consecutive one for Loveys, who ran a 17:26.98 to finish atop the field at the NJAC Large Schools Championship a week earlier.

"I was feeling really good," Loveys said. "The weather was fine. It's a perfect day. The course wasn't muddy so it was faster. I went out hard and wanted to see what I could do. We were going after the team title. We got second place but that's OK. It's tough to go on all cylinders all the time."

Loveys, however, seems to be able to consistently perform at a high level. Her victory puts her in an elite class. Only two other girls - Kristen Hall of West Morris and Mackenzie Barry of Mendham - have won three Morris County Championships.

"It's an honor," Loveys said. "Morris County has a lot of good runners every year. There's always great competition."

Loveys was the only girl to complete the race in under 18 minutes. Trethaway crossed the finish line in 18:01.03. Montville's Anna George was third in 18:46.74 and Laura Green of Mount Olive clocked a 18:46.74 for fourth.

Mendham, whose top finisher was Madison Orlins (fifth place, 18:52.04), claimed top team honors with a score of 71. Randolph was second with 95 points and was followed by Villa Walsh. Also contributing to the scoring for the Minutemen were Megan Timoney, Grace Vives, Shannon Timoney, Kaitlin Vazquez, Ava Augustine and Ava Curry.

Cheering on Loveys was a large contingent of family. Their presence, she said, was helpful.

"It was rewarding to have them here," she said. "Everyone on our team was cheering, too."

Trethaway, fourth in the Morris County Girls Cross Country Championship last fall, was a bit disappointed as she did not get the time she wanted but noted that it would motivate her for upcoming sectionals. She planned to go out hard as well.

"I'm not good at hanging on," Trethaway said. "I go off how I feel and I felt pretty good. I worked the uphills. I had to pace myself after Abby went out ahead. She was definitely in the distance for most of the race.The first mile is a gradual downhill so it's easy to glide. The second mile is an adrenalin rush.

"I love racing against Abby. She's tough to beat. It's never like I say 'I'll just let her go.' I push for as long as I can."

The sectionals are on Trethaway's mind now.

"I'm going to unleash there," she said. "My time was just not what I wanted. I'm already pumped, I can do so much better."

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