Monthly Archives: December 2013

Bernards looks to Sarah Ryan in win at Bulldog Holiday Tournament

METUCHEN — For Sarah Ryan and the Bernards High School girls basketball team, overcoming adversity was key on Monday night in the Bulldog Holiday Tournament Final against host Metuchen. As the fouls began to pile up and slowing down Metuchen’s star Cassie Smith became increasingly difficult, Bernards looked to Ryan to emerge victorious.

En route to claiming Tournament MVP honors, Ryan scored 30 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, leading Bernards to a tough 56-44 victory. In the second half, when it looked like a lead was going to slip away from Bernards for good, Ryan rescued her team, scoring 19 of her points, with 12 of those coming at the free throw line.

“It was so important for us because we’re a team on the rise and we’re very excited to win tonight and be 2-2 this season. This boosts our confidence and we really needed this one tonight,” Ryan said. “I’m so excited for the rest of the season after what we did tonight.”

The Mountaineers were 21-for-32 from the line, with Ryan leading the way, going 12-for-15. Sara Whelan added 12 points and Lex Demartino chipped in eight, as Bernards evened its record and got first-year coach Sandy Whelan her first tournament title.

“I told the girls that this game was going to come down to who fouled the least,” Whelan said. “Fouls were going in favor of Metuchen and (Cassie) Smith and it seemed like every time we were in her area she went to the line. I told the girls that it was fine and we had to be disciplined. Once we got to the double-bonus I knew we were in good shape.”

Smith, who led Metuchen with 34 points (7-for-15 FG, 20-for-21 FT), went to the free-throw line 10 on different occasions and drew a double-team every time the Bulldogs got into their half-court set.

Ryan said that she and her teammates only learned how to play a box-and-one defense last week, but they executed it perfectly against Smith.

“It was a tough game overall; I’m used to the box-and-one, but when I get two people put on me at all times, it’s tough,” Smith said.

In the game’s opening 16 minutes, Smith got scored all but two of Metuchen’s points, converting 8 of 9 free throws in the first half, giving her 14 points at intermission. She continued to get to the line in the third quarter, when she went 10-for-10 and collected 16 points.

“I live on the line,” Smith said. “Free throws are crucial for us and we just needed someone else to step up and we would have been set tonight.”

But Ryan was there point-for-point, scoring 14 in the third and five more, all on free throws, in the fourth to keep Metuchen (1-3) at bay.

“Sarah was the floor leader today; she was composed and she didn’t force anything. Good things happen when the ball is in Sarah Ryan’s hands,” Whelan said.

Ryan picked up four fouls and briefly went to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter, but returned with 4:50 to go to help close it out.

The teams combined for 41 personal fouls and Whelan picked up a technical late in the third quarter, after which Smith hit four free throws to turn a 30-28 deficit into a 32-30 lead. But Bernards hung tough, getting through full-court pressure and finding open layups on the other end. The Mountaineers shot 17-for-40 from the field, while the Bulldogs converted just 12 of 49 shots.

“I was really proud of the girls’ composure, for a young team, they bought into the game plan and it paid off,” Whelan said.

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Collier sparks Metuchen past Bernards

METUCHEN — After scoring just five points as a team in the first quarter, the Metuchen High School boys basketball team turned it on, using a 21-8 run in the second quarter en route to a 53-34 victory over Bernards in the Bulldog Holiday Tournament Final Monday afternoon.

Tournament MVP Evan Collier got Metuchen going in the second quarter, sinking four 3-pointers and scoring 15 of his game-high 22 points. His fourth trifecta of the quarter came as time expired and gave the Bulldogs a 26-20 lead going into the locker room.

“When we have a guy that can knock down shots like that from the perimeter consistently, we’re a good team,” Metuchen head coach Jon Korellis said. “Against the 2-3 zone that Bernards was running against us, we needed to be able to make shots like that. When our shots start to go down, we’re firing on all cylinders.”

Artie Flaherty added 11 points and eight rebounds for Metuchen and Hunter Clarke chipped in 10 points.

For Bernards, Doug Demarrais led the way with 14 points and five rebounds, but the Mountaineers made just six baskets in second half, wasting a strong first quarter where they out-scored the Bulldogs 12-5.

For Korellis, seeing his squad win a tournament on its home floor is a big boost for the rest of the season.

“It’s huge to win and get a few extra home games and it feels great to be in front of our crowd and gain some respect in the blue division,” he said.

South Brunswick wins Brunswick Tournament with tough defense

NEW BRUNSWICK — In what is becoming a customary outcome, the South Brunswick High School girls basketball team limited its opponent to less than 30 points on Saturday. This time, in the All-Brunswick Holiday Tournament final, the Vikings yielded less than six points in three different quarters and got just enough offense to emerge victorious, 35-24 over East Brunswick.

After winning 38-19 Friday against New Brunswick and eight days after allowing just 28 points to Woodbridge, South Brunswick (3-0) continued its great work on defense. The Bears scored just three points in both the first and third quarters and only five in the fourth to waste a second-quarter surge that saw them tie the score at 16-16 at intermission.

“We played a very good first quarter and then we were very flat in the second quarter. It was a good lesson for us though; East Brunswick is not going to lie down and they came out, knocking down three’s and they were feeling it offensively,” South Brunswick coach Jeff Johnson said.

Julia Simoes bookended the first half with a pair of 3-pointers for East Brunswick (2-1), one coming in the game’s opening seconds and the other as the first-half buzzer sounded. In between, reserve forward Kim Anderson got hot from the outside, making a pair of 3-pointers and another jumper from just inside the arc for eight quick points off the bench. Anderson also added four rebounds in sparse minutes for the Bears.

Taylor Brantley controlled the paint for South Brunswick in the first half, collecting all eight of her points and six of her nine rebounds in the game’s opening 16 minutes. Brantley, along with Jackie Harrison, helped limit East Brunswick to one-and-done on many occasions Saturday, cleaning the boards and starting offensive chances for the Vikings. Harrison finished with eight points and 12 rebounds.

“I’m really proud of the way we came out in the second half and we battled. We controlled the boards, so when their shots weren’t going in, it was one-and-done,” Johnson said.

The Vikings outrebounded East Brunswick 37-17.

South Brunswick has allowed just 71 points in three games, but its offense hasn’t exactly been in top gear. After scoring 58 points in their opener against Woodbridge, the Vikings managed just 73 points in the tournament.

Johnson said that his team has been executing well, but the baskets just haven’t gone down.

“Two games in a row now this weekend where it’s almost been like there’s been a lid on the basket for us; we’re getting in the lane and things just aren’t falling for us,” he said. “But if we keep playing that hard, it’ll work out. We played hard and got a win on the road and that’s a big thing for us.”

After getting herself into foul trouble early on, freshman forward Natalia Louhisdon scored all 10 of her points after intermission. Louhisdon made three out of four free throws late to clinch it for South Brunswick after the Bears intentionally fouled to put the Vikings in the bonus.

“I had to tell her to stop passing the ball there at the end, because she’s really solid at the line,” Johnson said. “Forget about her being a freshman; nothing fazed her. And you need players like that to take the ball and go to the line and help us win a game.”

Early start time fails to faze J.F. Kennedy

Taylor Freeman, of J.F. Kennedy attempts a layup over Carteret defender Courtney Hansen in an opening-round game of the Gene Haley Girls Basketball Holiday Tournament Friday. Photo by: Jody Somers

Taylor Freeman, of J.F. Kennedy attempts a layup over Carteret defender Courtney Hansen in an opening-round game of the Gene Haley Girls Basketball Holiday Tournament Friday. Photo by: Jody Somers

EDISON — Despite tipping off at an earlier time than they’re used to, the J.F. Kennedy High School girls basketball team came out on the offensive Friday morning. Taylor Freeman got the Mustangs going with a pair of 3-pointers and Rachel Andrejcak took over in the third quarter, leading J.F. Kennedy to a 55-26 victory over Carteret in the first round of the Gene Haley Memorial Tournament.

The Mustangs will play Edison in Saturday’s final at 12:30 p.m.

Andrejcak dominated the paint, especially coming out of the locker room after hafltime, when she racked up 13 of her game-high 21 points and eight of her game-high 16 rebounds in the third quarter.

“In the beginning of the game I was a little tired and at halftime I just woke up and told myself I had to get it going,” Andrejcak said. “We passed really well today to get the open layups and I just made the right moves.”

After opening up a 14-4 lead after the first quarter, J.F. Kennedy never looked back, using an up-tempo style of offense to put Carteret away. Freeman had all 14 of her points in the first half, scoring seven in each of the first two quarters, and Sofia Tahzib teamed with Andrejcak on the glass, collecting 13 rebounds.

Head coach Heidi Hodnett was pleased with her squad’s offensive performance, but spoke highly about the Mustangs’ ability to win the rebounding battle. J.F. Kennedy out-rebounded Carteret 47-31 in the game.

“The girls played really well offensively; they pushed the ball and did a better job of working the ball around and getting some looks inside,” Hodnett said. “One of the things we have been focusing on is crashing the boards. We have some taller players so getting offensive rebounds to allow us some second-chances when necessary is key.”

J.F. Kennedy led 29-8 at halftime, taking advantage of 10 first half turnovers by the Ramblers. Carteret couldn’t get its offense on track, consistently having shots rim out and clang off the backboard. Courtney Hansen finally got into some offensive rhythm for the Ramblers in the fourth quarter, with the game no longer in doubt, scoring 10 of her 12 points. She also added eight rebounds in the contest.

But neither Hansen or her teammates had an answer for Andrejcak, who muscled her way to loose balls around the rim and protected it on the defensive end. Hodnett was impressed with the junior’s ability to stay out of foul trouble and stay on the floor for as long as she did.

“Her key is not getting frustrated when she’s getting fouled and it’s not being called. She’s got a huge size advantage and she’s extremely athletic, but she just needs to stay focused and we need to keep her out of foul trouble defensively,” Hodnett said. “I don’t think she’s picked up a single foul yet this season, so her hard work on defense is paying off on offense.”

With a sizeable lead entering the fourth quarter, Freeman and Andrejcak didn’t play in the final eight minutes, allowing reserve Brianna Hindy to come in and score six points in the fourth.

“We’re still using every moment as time to get better, and this was a game we were able to do so,” Hodnett said.

South Brunswick opens girls basketball season with romp over Woodbridge

MONMOUTH JCT. — With all of the inclement weather recently, the South Brunswick High School girls basketball team had not seen action other than practice in the preseason in weeks.

In fact, first-year head coach Jeff Johnson couldn’t remember exactly when they last took the court for a scrimmage against Bridgewater-Raritan.

It didn’t matter much to the Vikings on Friday in the season opener, though, as they ran away from Woodbridge, building on a 15-6 first-quarter advantage en route to a 58-28 victory.

“We had three scrimmages snowed out, so we were really antsy to play,” Johnson said. “I have to be honest: I didn’t know what we had still. So we were hoping for a lot of effort, which the girls gave and I’m very pleased that we were able to score as many points as we did.”

Led by freshman Amber Brown, the Vikings were able to capitalize on Woodbridge’s missed jumpers and sloppy passing, more than doubling their lead at halftime, 29-12. Brown was the only player in the game to reach double digits in scoring, pouring in 13 points and adding four rebounds.

South Brunswick gave Johnson his first victory as a head coach by spreading around the rest of the wealth, as five other players scored at least six points.

Jackie Harrison scored nine points and added eight rebounds and Jenna Mastronardi and Casey Savoth each chipped in seven points. Johnson was particularly happy with the play of Mastronardi, who stepped in and ran the point in the absence of Allyson Berger, who missed the game for family reasons.

“Jenna did a great job running the point the entire game and I think she played 27 or 28 minutes,” Johnson said. “I was worried that because we hadn’t played a lot recently that we wouldn’t be in great shape, but Jenna played great.”

Harrison and Mastronardi each scored five points in the second quarter, which ultimately did Woodbridge in. The Barrons committed three turnovers in the quarter, all of which led to South Brunswick baskets.

With a pair of freshmen on the floor for extended minutes, Johnson was anxious that his seniors might not integrate the younger players into the offense. But Brown and Natalia Louhisdon looked comfortable on the court and the results showed. Louhisdon scored eight points and pulled down four boards in her first taste of varsity action.

“I think there were first-game jitters on both sides and it looked like the two teams were the same in those first five or six minutes as we were just feeling each other out,” Johnson said. “I think the freshmen played well. That was the unknown coming into tonight and I’m really happy with how they all played themselves through it.”

Brielle Bannister and Brianna Valdes each scored eight points for Woodbridge, which was trying to get first-year head coach Bob Timinski his first win. The Barrons couldn’t get their jump shots to fall in the second half, as they were playing catch-up. Woodbridge will try again for its first win of the season Monday afternoon against Metuchen.

Having served as an assistant under previous head coach Beth Barrio, Johnson knows how important it is to get a Red Division win under his belt this early in the season.

“You want to win at home and you want to be undefeated here and make it a tough place to play,” he said. “This division that we’re going to be playing for over these next two months is tough, so every win is key. If you can get a lead and keep it and win, it’s very important.”

Metuchen’s Smith keeps getting better

Cassie Smith, Metuchen High School girls basketball standout. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Cassie Smith, Metuchen High School girls basketball standout. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

For Metuchen High School girls basketball star Cassie Smith, there’s been a tremendous amount of growth involved with her game since arriving as a freshman three years ago. Not only did Smith grow in stature, but her game has evolved vastly. Last season as a junior, Smith averaged 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, leading the Bulldogs to an 18-8 record and a berth in the Central Group I semifinals.

Smith has become one of the Greater Middlesex Conference’s top players by working hard on and off the court.

“I’ve grown tremendously since freshman year, as I’ve worked all the time over the summer; working on getting stronger in the weight room and always shooting and getting shots up,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot overall, even height wise, and I’ve gotten bigger and stronger since my freshman year and I know I’m not even done growing yet.”

The prospect of Smith growing even more is a scary one to Metuchen’s opponents this season and if you ask first year head coach Pat Mayo, her star’s game is very well-rounded and should strike fear into anyone the Bulldogs play.

“She’s really a complete player; she can play all five positions and if I need her at point guard, she can play it. If I need her to post up, she can post up and she’s very coachable,” Mayo said. “She’s an unselfish leader and I tell her sometimes that I need her to have a sense of urgency. Cassie understands when that comes up and she’ll know when to take over. I don’t need to tell her what to do.”

Sixteen times last season, Smith scored 20 or more points, with a season-high 30 point effort against Dunellen on Feb. 11 leading the way. In two Central Group I games, Smith averaged 25 points and nine rebounds, standing out as a star for the Bulldogs.

But, the biggest feat of her junior season came on Jan. 18 against Cardinal McCarrick. With a short jumper, Smith went over 1,000 career points, becoming just the eighth player in Metuchen history to reach the century mark.

“It was a really cool moment for me and it wasn’t expected at all; I was shocked when I did it, even though I knew I was closing in,” she said. “It was great to do it at home also, I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else.”

After scoring more than 200 points in the final 11 contests of the 2012-13 season, Smith stands fewer than 50 points from passing former head coach Val Gazda who posted 1,254 as a player.

According to Mayo, Smith has a high basketball IQ, which helps her be so effective in pressure spots on the court. But for the first time in her career, Smith is going to be counted on to be a vocal leader on the court, managing an up-tempo offense and pressure defense that Mayo brings with her from a successful stint at Piscataway.

“I’m one of two seniors on the roster and we’re a very young team and I just need to help guide them down the right paths on the court,” Smith said. “It’s something I’m prepared to do and I’m eager to be that kind of leader.”

But for now, Smith and her Metuchen teammates have lofty goals in mind, most notably going unbeaten in Blue Division play. They can get off to a good start on the front Friday against Middlesex in both schools’ season openers.

Smith is committed to Bentley University following graduation and having the assurance that her career isn’t over when Metuchen’s season ends is comforting to her.

“It’ll be sad when I leave here, but it won’t be as sad if I didn’t have more basketball ahead of me,” she said.

Bynes back to lead Piscataway in bid to repeat in GMCT

A year after winning the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament as the seventh seed, the Piscataway High School girls basketball team is back for more.

Reigning GMCT MVP Kiki Bynes is one of three seniors on a roster that is full of underclassmen eager to contribute as the Chiefs look to go back-to-back.

“Right now, we have a good foundation coming back from last year, but the focus is on Kiki and Meghan Wells. Those two are pivotal for our team this year and I really like the way Kiki is handling the point,” head coach Corey Floyd said. “Meghan is very important for us on defense and I think she could be our defensive stopper this season.”

The Chiefs upset top-seeded J.F. Kennedy 43-41 in the GMCT title game, as Bynes scored a layup with 42 seconds left for the final two of her 13 points in the game. She averaged 15.8 points per game in the GMCT, up from the 9.6 she averaged during the regular season.

Floyd said that Bynes is going to be someone he looks towards to lead on the court this season.

“She knows my system and all the girls respect her. With her on the floor, she’s a general and we should have good chemistry when she’s on the floor,” he said. “With her playing so many years on the level, she brings experience.”

With the three teams that finished ahead of them in the Red Division having graduated a majority of their rosters, Floyd knows that a divisional crown is within reach. But he was quick to say that his group won’t overlook anyone this season.

“Anybody can beat anyone on any night,” Floyd said. “There are a lot of good teams in this conference; we’ll take it game-by-game.”

Rebuilding champions

Perth Amboy rolled along last season, using a strong collection of seniors to go 10-2 in conference play and win the Red Division. But the Panthers graduated eight seniors and all five starters, so head coach Mike Manfre knows that this season should be a bit of a rebuilding year.

J.F. Kennedy, who was a perfect 16-0 in conference games last year en route to winning the Blue Division, will also have work cut out for themselves. But Taylor Freeman is closing in on 1,000 career points and Jolie Tang should be a solid all-around player for the Mustangs. Finding complementary scoring and production from other sources is key if J.F. Kennedy is to stay at the top of the division.

New coaches

The new season brings eight new coaches to the forefront, including three in the always-competitive Red Division. Keith Lane takes over at East Brunswick, Jeff Johnson does the same at South Brunswick and Bob Timinski is now in charge at Woodbridge. Also taking over new programs are Pat Mayo at Metuchen, Leigh Vogtman at Monroe and Keith Connery at Dunellen. Jeff Vella is now in charge at Perth Amboy Tech and Jo-Ann Zwiebel is at Mother Seton.

Edison opener

Edison High School will be collecting non-perishable food items for the Edison Food Pantry before and during Friday’s season opener against East Brunswick. Anyone that brings two or more items will receive free admission to the game, which tips off at 7 p.m. between the two Red Division rivals.

Tavormina led Bishop Ahr to the top

Heading into the 2013 season, Bishop Ahr High School girls soccer coach Jim Tavormina knew that he had a solid group on his hands. What he did not know was that he’d be at the helm of the team that would capture the school’s first state championship, using a near-1000-minute scoreless streak in the regular season to set it up.

“Our defense just seemed to gel this season; the girls just worked hard and stayed with it and we had an exceptional group this year,” Tavormina said. “The girls do all the work and they make me look good.”

Bishop Ahr (17-2-2) shut out Immaculate Heart 1-0 in the Non-Public A State Final, adding the icing to the cake of a dominant season.

Tavormina is The Home News Tribune’s Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.

“It was huge for the girls and the program itself to win that game,” Tavormina said. “We went in there with a lot of confidence and the girls weren’t scared at all. It was their time.”

One of his four-year standouts, midfielder Alexa Povelaitis, said that Tavormina was a coach she loved playing for, not only because of the results on the field.

“He’s motivational for us and helps us to get through the doubt and uncertainty,” she said. “He makes us better and he’s always there for us when we may have a rough game.”

After allowing one goal in a 1-0 loss to Old Bridge on Sept. 10, the Trojans didn’t allow another ball to cross the goal line until the Greater Middlesex Conference semifinals against East Brunswick on Halloween.

But after that defeat, Bishop Ahr refused to lose again, going on a run for the ages through the state tournament. In the first two rounds, the Trojans needed penalty kicks to beat St. John Vianney and perennial state-power Pingry, and yet another shutout over Holy Cross put them into the Non-Public A State Final against IHA. Tavormina said that playing a non-conference game before the GMCT helped in his team’s preparation for their deep postseason run.

“We played Freehold Borough on Oct. 22 and beat them 1-0, and that was a big confidence boost for us towards the end of the season,” he said. “And we did penalty kicks every single practice, when the girls were nice and tired. Let’s face it: when you go into penalty kicks, it’s after 100 minutes and you’re dead tired, so we were pretty confident in those situations and we thought we’d have a good chance of winning every one of them.”

Tavormina, who is flanked by two assistant coaches during every game and practice, said that he couldn’t have done it without their help. Ernie Tenny, who’s been with Tavormina for all seven years at Bishop Ahr, and first-year coach Scott Laulette worked with the Trojans to get them prepared for anything they’d see this season.

“I’m so happy for the girls and the coaching staff and we did everything you can do in the summer to get prepared. Every day we worked together and we saw the girls grow from the beginning of the season; they played with more confidence and we kept it positive,” Tavormina said.

Rosa a reluctant star for East Brunswick

East Brunswick's Sydney Rosa, the 2013 Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

East Brunswick’s Sydney Rosa, the 2013 Player of the Year. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

While her head coach believes that there’s a storybook script for the career of Sydney Rosa, the East Brunswick High School soccer star just wants to keep getting better every game and every season she plays.

But one could argue that there is something special going on when Rosa steps on the field when the stage is at its biggest. As a sophomore in 2012, Rosa netted the game-winning goal in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament final as the Bears captured their 27th county title. This season, as a junior, she topped her own heroics, scoring a pair of second-half goals to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 victory and yet another conference crown.

Rosa is The Home News Tribune’s All-Area Girls Soccer Player of the Year.

“The best part about coaching her is just how she finds a way to score the big goals in the big spots,” East Brunswick head coach Kevin Brady said. “For her to step up in the biggest stages, she defies movie-like story telling. Coaching a kid like that is what a coach dreams of.”

After notching 15 goals last season, all while fighting Wegener’s granulomatosis — a disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, that she said she’s now completely recovered from — Rosa found the back of the net 20 times this year.

She scored in 15 different games, including seven in the postseason, as East Brunswick captured the GMCT title for a second-straight season. Rosa did all she could to get the Bears into a sectional final, registering three points in three state tournament matches in early November, but East Brunswick fell 3-1 to Hunterdon Central in the semifinals of the Central Group IV Tournament.

“It was a truly incredible season with the team and by far the most chemistry we’ve had with each other in my three seasons,” Rosa said. “It was icing on the cake to win GMCs and we wanted to get that streak back and we just accomplished our goals we had set out in the preseason.”

Against Old Bridge in the GMCT Final, East Brunswick trailed 1-0 at halftime before Rosa went to work, winning a pair of one-on-one battles, putting her squad on her back in the process. When asked if she preferred the winning-goals in the GMCT in her sophomore or junior year, Rosa said every goal is special.

“I think they’re on par with each other, because I like to think of every game as different from the prior one. It’s just great to score the winning goal in any game, but to do it in such a big stage, that was awesome,” Rosa said. “I love every goal I score and I just love to be able to help my team; that’s my job as a forward, to score, and when I don’t, I get down on myself. My teammates put faith in me to score, so I just go out and do my best.”

Brady said that since Rosa came into his program three years ago, she’s done nothing but improve, under such extreme expectations.

“Since Sydney came in as a freshman, has been the kind of player who opens your eyes to amazing possibilities,” Brady said. “After an incredible freshman year, we had such high expectations for her last year, but because of her illness that was challenged. But she bounced back this year and exceeded even our high expectations.”

All-Area Gymnast of the Year: Emily Shugan, Bridgewater-Raritan

Bridgewater-Raritan's Emily Shugan is the Courier News Gymnast of the Year. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Bridgewater-Raritan’s Emily Shugan is the Courier News Gymnast of the Year. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

The night before the Somerset County Tournament Championship in early October, Bridgewater-Raritan High School gymnast Emily Shugan got the go-ahead to resume competing in all-around.

Shugan had been limited with an ankle injury since August, and was working out with her club coach on the eve of the SCT. It was at that time when Shugan began going through her routines on all four events again, in preparation of helping Bridgewater-Raritan down the stretch of the season.

“I did routines the night before counties and I didn’t expect to do well at all,” Shugan said. “I got to the meet and Coach [Julie] Zaneto said I was only going to do bars and beam. She told me that I could do vault if I felt up to it.”

After notching her best score of the season on the vault, the first event that the Panthers competed on that night, Shugan began to believe she made the right choice.

“On bars, I did much better than I expected and the meet was going pretty well, so I did beam and I figured I’d just do it to do it, and it was the best beam routine I had ever done,” Shugan said. “I saw I had a good all-around going, so I asked if I could do floor. I hadn’t planned on competing on it, so I had like 30 seconds to warm up and it didn’t go well at all, I fell on my back and it was terrible.”

After winning the bars (9.500) and beam (9.550) and coming in second on vault (9.375), Shugan was awarded a first-place tie for the all-around title with Hillsborough’s Sarah Pallay.

“It was a complete surprise for me,” she said. “I was basically getting back into the game and I won in my first time doing all-around all season.”

Shugan also finished first at all-around in the NJSIAA Central II sectional meet and qualified for the state individual championships. She is the Courier News Gymnast of the Year.

Shugan, who said she’s headed to the University of Pennsylvania to continue her gymnastics career, made it to the state individual meet all four years at Bridgewater-Raritan. She said she had no nerves at big events, instead reveling in the excitement of being with all of the other elite gymnasts in the state.

“Everyone brings out harder skills and it’s fun to see everyone’s upgraded routines,” Shugan said. “Going into the individual events, I take the pressure off a bit and I just go in and have fun.”

She certainly had fun on Nov. 9, as Shugan’s all-around score of 37.175 won the Central II sectional. Shugan won the vault (9.600) and handled the pressure as well as she had hoped.

“Everyone wants to win that meet, and for me, sectionals is the one meet over the course of a season when you can determine who can handle pressure well and who can’t,” she said. “You have one chance to get to states and you see the craziest results, but I put it all together and it was exciting when they called my name as the winner.”

A 14th-place finish in the final meet of her high school career in the individual competition, with a fifth-place performance on the bars (9.500), capped a great career for Shugan last month.