Category Archives: Notebook

Experience is key for New Providence boys lacrosse team

New Providence, last season’s Kimber Division champions, have three experienced attackmen that will shoulder the load this season.

Seniors James Burke and Jon Ebert teamed for 61 goals and 38 assists last season and junior Jack Harvey led the way with 61 goals and 17 assists. With a pair of senior defensemen in Mimmo Coppola and CJ Kliesch anchoring the defense, look for the Pioneers to remain near the top of the conference. but head coach Vinny Carangelo said that this year’s success will hinge on the ability of the midfield and defense to come together.

• Montgomery brings back a host of younger players to a squad that head coach Tim Roy believes should be competitive in the Skyland. Behind attack Cam Garinger (34 goals, 18 assists last season) middie Matt Stagnitta (20 goals, 53 assists last season as a freshman). After just one year on varsity, Stagnitta has already committed to play collegiately at national powerhouse Johns Hopkins and freshman Jared Reinson is being scouted by division-1 programs, according to Roy. If youth prevails, Montgomery could make some noise in 2014.

• Watchung Hills faces as much of a challenge as any in the Skyland this season, forced to replace the scoring ability of 2013 Courier News Player of the Year Jeff George, who graduated as the school’s all-time leader in points. The midfielder scored 64 goals and added 29 assists last season and is now playing for UMass. But head coach Jamie Lovejoy said that a more balanced offense will be employed this season. He expects juniors Alec Orazietti and Ryan Cunningham, who combined for 60 goals last season, to lead the offense. Senior Zack Melillo should continue to dominate at the faceoff area and Danny Phillips and Matt Rozmerski are expected to lead the defensive unit.

• Scotch Plains-Fanwood brings back 16 seniors to a squad that reached the sectional semifinals a year ago, with captains Brian Heath, Sean Duthie, Joe Pagano and Justin Giacona leading the way. The midfield could be the strength for the Raiders, as Gabe Gibson – an NJIT commit – and Thomas Walker, who head coach Nick Miceli said will quarterback the middle of the field lead the way. Leading scorer Christian Gordon also returns as does leading assist-man Kervin Kerby.

• Chuck Apel begins his 35th season at Bridgewater-Raritan with a squad that’s capable of winning the Skyland Conference. Apel mentioned that attack Griffen Fiegel should be a leader on the field for the Panthers this season and an experienced group of defensemen will be looked to for leadership.

• The defending champions in the Waterman Division, Bernards, will be in a bit of a rebuilding year, according to head coach David Brothers. After losing three solid midfielders from a season ago, the Mountaineers will look to St. John’s-commit Declan Swartwood (38 goals last season) and Mount St. Mary’s-commit Robert Schaufler (37 goals) to shoulder the offensive load. The defensive corps is an experienced unit and junior Matt Bessasparis will man the pipes. Brothers expects this squad to get better as it goes along.


Somerville’s Pastore aims for another big season; Keller, Vath key for Delaware Valley

Somerville High School girls lacrosse standout Dakota Pastore comes into this season as one of players to watch, after eclipsing the 100-goal mark as a sophomore.

Pastore, who was selected as a first-team All-Area by the Courier News a year ago, scored 102 goals and 48 assists for Somerville.

In 2014, she should expect to see heavy double-teams – and even some triple-teams – from opposing defenses.

Somerville head coach Maylin Harter said that she expects Pastore to have an even better season this year, if that’s possible.

Harter said that Kailee Spotts and Meghan Nolte will provide Pastore support in the midfield and Devon Hawkinson and Riley Stanford should net goals from attack.

• Delaware Valley, a team that was 9-9 a year ago, will have two go-to scorers returning in Joanna Keller and Caroline Vath. Keller, a senior, notched 39 goals and 31 assists in 2013 and Vath, a junior, registered 52 goals and 23 assists.

Keller is a player that Delaware Valley counts on to control the ball off the draws and Vath is just four goals short of 100 for her career. Expect to see the Terriers play solid defense as a team this year, as head coach Stephanie Cirino noted that her squad is full of players that are expected to step up and carry bigger roles in 2014. Cirino said that communication will be a strong point on the field as Delaware Valley looks to continue its rise in the Skyland Conference.

• Look for Hillsborough to remain a force in the Skyland, as graduation was kind to Beth Murrin’s group. The Raiders are a senior-laden group, with Erika Cavallo leading the way. Cavallo was a second-team All-Area performerlast season and Murrin mentioned Alex DeGaris, Amanda Muller and Lauren Belskie as key players.

• Andrea McNeely of Scotch Plains-Fanwood enters 2014 just 12 goals short of 100 for her career. The Raiders have eight seniors returning, five in the starting lineup. Goalkeeper Megan Welch and attack Julie Haggan should anchor a young defensive unit.

• Watchung Hills went 15-5 a season ago, but after graduating nine starting seniors, this could be a bit of a rebuilding year. Coach Steph Linder still expects her squad to repeat in the division and make an extended run in the state tournament. Linder mentioned Kelsey Reed, Lauren Stone, Gabby Burton and Haley Frey as players to watch.

• Junior goalkeeper Jenny Wilkens, a stalwart for Pingry the last two seasons, has already committed to play at University of California-Berkeley. Wilkens should be the anchor for the Big Blue.

NOTEBOOK: South Amboy a surprising winner

The Greater Middelesex Confercne Girls Basketball Tournament has reached the quarterfinal stage after Wedmesday’s second round whittled thew field down to eight — and the surprise of the tournament has to be 24th-seeded South Amboy.

The Governors, a 56-50 winner on Wednesday over Timothy Christian, have shown that seeds don’t always count.

South Amboy, along with 19th-seeded Old Bridge, had been the only two teams that played in last Saturday’s preliminary round to advance through two rounds and into Wednesday’s action. Old Bridge fell to Monroe in its game.

South Amboy, a team that won just eight games in the regular season, earned itself an easy win over Perth Amboy Tech (57-39) in the preliminary round, using a 28-14 spurt in the middle quarters to pull away. But what’s more impressive was that leading scorer Amanda LaVigne – who averages 17.4 points per game – scored just nine points and the Governors were able to win by 18.

Beth Kudelka scored 21 points to go with seven rebounds and five blocks, while Beth Noble added a big double-double of 11 points and 17 rebounds.

Against ninth-seeded Dunellen in the first round (a 56-52 win), LaVigne got loose, scoring 34 points. She rounded out her night with seven rebounds, six steals and five assists, as South Amboy held on late for the four-point victory. Kudelka chipped in a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds to aid the Governors’ cause.

In two regular-season meetings with Timothy Christian, South Amboy was 0-2, losing both games by a combined 40 points, so Wednesday night’s victory was a bit of redepmtion for the Governors.

Old Bridge, which finished fifth in the GMC Red Division in the regular season, cruised past 30th-seeded Highland Park (64-22) in its opener and came from behind to knock off 14th-seeded Middlesex (49-36) Monday night, allowing just 58 points in the two games.

While the Knights held Monroe to 48 points, the offense just couldn’t generate enough to get the win on Wednesday night.

Freshman Amanda Carney was the focal point against the Owls, pouring in a game-high 17 points and senior captain Taylor Torre added 13. In the win over Middlesex, the Knights came from 17-6 down after the first quarter with a 25-8 run spanning the second and third quarters. Carney had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, but it was Erin Halstead who led the team in scoring, with 16.

“Maybe in the smaller divisions, you get freshmen that succeed. But in the Red, Amanda came out of nowhere,” Old Bridge head coach Dan DiMino said. “I saw her in eighth grade, but I saw a lot of potential. She’s very confident and mature. Amanda’s like a sponge; she’s an ultimate freshman. She has no attitude and she’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Before Wednesday’s game with Monroe, a team the Knights did not face in the regular season, DiMino acknowledged that his squad would need to play a great game to advance.

“This team doesn’t want this season to end,” DiMino said. “Monroe is a great team; I don’t see flaws. But this is why you play the games. We’re not going to back down.”

NOTEBOOK: Cases have already been made by many teams for high GMCT seeds

With the Greater Middlesex Conference Girls Basketball Tournament seeding meeting two days away, many teams have made their case for a high seed, posting resume-boosting victories over the last week.

One of the biggest turnarounds in the GMC from last season to this has been East Brunswick, which won five games in 2012-13. First-year head coach Keith Lane has gotten the Bears to the top of the ever-competitive Red Division, scoring a 52-48 win on the road at Piscataway on Saturday. With that victory, East Brunswick pulled into a first-place tie with the Chiefs — in both the division standings and possibly in the conference.

The two teams are slated to meet again tonight — weather permitting — just hours before the seeding meeting is scheduled to be held at Spotswood High School.

Perhaps the biggest debates will come out of the GMC White, where four teams are in a serious logjam at the top of the division. Monroe has earned a huge resume victory over Union, South Plainfield has knocked off Sayreville twice, Sayreville edged East Brunswick and is the only club to beat J.F. Kennedy (17-1), but Bishop Ahr dominated Sayreville Tuesday night. To say the White Division is the conference’s best is an understatement.

Following Tuesday’s win, Bishop Ahr head coach Kevin Harper was fairly democratic about the seeding process.

“You have to win the games, so as long as we get seeded fairly, I’m fine with it,” Harper said. “This time of the year, we can play anybody and I’m confident about it.”

A high seed is also on the minds of J.F. Kennedy, which has dropped just a 68-60 decision to Sayreville on Jan. 18. The Mustangs have a 15-0 divisional record and a pair of wins against Red Division opponents, but head coach Heidi Hodnett isn’t overly concerned with where the committee seeds her squad.

“My thought is that you have to beat all of the best teams to end up in the finals anyway, so you need to beat the best to prove you are the best. The seeds are up to everyone else to decide,” she said.

Record breakers

Metuchen star Cassie Smith set the school’s all-time scoring record late in Monday’s win over Cardinal McCarrick, hitting a free throw to give her 1,774 career points. After knocking down another free throw, Smith finished with 28 points, bringing her total to 1,775.

Smith is averaging 29.1 points per game this season — the highest average in the state — and for her career, she’s now up to 18.4 points per contest. The Bulldogs figure to be a difficult out in the GMCT, regardless of where they’re seeded, with Smith’s scoring prowess and the possible return of Katelynn Flaherty to the backcourt. Flaherty, who fractured her foot in her Metuchen debut on Jan. 15, was seen in a walking boot and on crutches last weekend.

This past Sunday afternoon in Wardlaw-Hartridge’s Prep B semifinal matchup with Morristown-Beard, senior guard Taylor Gerhart entered the school’s record book. With a running layup in the third quarter, Gerhart eclipsed 1,000 career points for Wardlaw-Hartridge.

Gerhart, who is a three-sport star for the Rams, has averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this season, despite missing multiple games due to injury. She finished with 19 points Sunday as the Rams fell 54-38, bringing her career total to 1,011. Gerhart has failed to reach double figures just twice this season, and over her last four games, she’s averaged 19.5 points.

With Gerhart’s scoring ability, Wardlaw-Hartridge (4-14) won’t be a walk-over in the GMCT, even though it expects to be seeded in the low-teens.

NOTEBOOK: GMC coaches sick of the snow

One thing that nobody can control is Mother Nature and she has wreaked havoc during the 2013-14 basketball season.

With three different snowstorms having already postponed full days of the schedule, Greater Middlesex Conference coaches have had enough of the snow.

After their game on Tuesday evening, both South Plainfield and Monroe’s head coaches, Kevin Hughes and Leigh Vogtman, respectively, stressed that it’s been difficult to deal with the snow and the subsequent schedule challenges. But Hughes and Vogtman have taken much different approaches to get in contact with their players.

“I have the girls look over scout notes, so that keeps everybody prepared, at least off the court the best we can. And this way, whenever we can get on the court, it makes the transition a little bit easier,” Vogtman said. “It definitely presents a challenge, but I think that these girls are focused and we have a really good sense of team here.”

Vogtman is active on Twitter, posting updates for her team in the event of a day off from school. But when the weather clears enough that it’s safe for the Falcons to get in their cars and onto the floor, they’ve done so. With a 14-2 record through Wednesday, it’s evident that Vogtman’s strategy has worked.

“I think that if we need to get together, we do it. Keeping focus is hard but we do the best we can,” she said.

For Hughes, having his daughter Shannon on the team as a senior, has helped communication, but he said that it hasn’t just been one player that’s tried to spear-head the talks.

“It’s a challenge, for sure, but the older kids have carried us. The girls are so good and so into the season and they actually text me ‘hey, coach, we have to find a place to practice,’ ” Hughes said. “But I just have to say that it’s too bad out. We have the rec center in town that we can get into sometimes if the school’s closed, so that’s nice, but the girls really take the initiative.”

Saturday showdown

A year after posting a 26-2 overall record and a perfect 16-0 mark in the GMC Blue Division, J.F. Kennedy can take a big step toward another divisional crown by knocking off Metuchen for a second time this season.

The two teams meet in Iselin at 12:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, with the Mustangs riding a six-game winning streak. With a three-headed scoring monster of Rachel Andrejcak, Taylor Freeman and Jolie Tang averaging a combined 42.1 points per game, J.F. Kennedy has the makings of a GMC contender.

Cassie Smith, the second-leading scorer in the state and the GMC’s top scorer (28.7 points per game), may get point guard Katelynn Flaherty back from a fractured foot for this one, which could be a big boost for the Bulldogs. Metuchen is 7-4 in 2014, but has lost three of its last five coming in.

J.F. Kennedy won the first meeting of the season, 59-54 on Jan. 8, behind a near triple-double from Andrejcak — 16 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals. Smith poured in 32 points and added 10 rebounds for Metuchen in the loss.

Piscataway Pink Day

This Saturday afternoon, Piscataway High School will host its first Play-for-a-Cure Breast Cancer Awareness game when East Brunswick visits at 1 p.m.

The Chiefs will wear pink warmup shirts and all proceeds from ticket sales, donations and raffles will go to breast cancer awareness, according to head coach Corey Floyd.

Not only does the game have significance — first place in the GMC Red Division is still up for grabs — but bringing awareness to such a serious cause is equally important to Floyd and Piscataway.

NOTEBOOK: Sayreville’s Rodriguez has made a habit of rescuing Bombers

As the game clock ticked away Tuesday night, Sayreville High School girls basketball star Jackie Rodriguez took over.

Trailing for the first time all night, Rodriguez calmly knocked down a game-tying 3-pointer and then made 3-4 free throws inside in the final minute, helping Sayreville edge Colonia 44-40.

The rescuing act has become standard for Rodriguez this season, as the senior point guard has averaged 22.6 points per game, helping the Bombers to a 10-3 record.

“We haven’t had a point guard like her in a long time,” Sayreville head coach Tara Currie said. “To have a player like her a huge for our team; she handles the ball so well and it helps us be successful. She’s grown a lot for us this year, dishing to teammates and learning not to do everything by herself. But I’m sure glad to have her on the team.”

Rodriguez, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark against J.P. Stevens last week, and Sayreville have made the Greater Middlesex Conference’s White Division a four-team race with six games to play, as South Plainfield, Sayreville, Monroe and Bishop Ahr are all mathematically alive to win the division.

For Sayreville, with games left against all three of its division foes, Currie believes that her squad controls its own destiny.

“I’m cautiously optimistic; you just can’t underestimate anybody in this division,” she said. “We have to take care of ourselves and make every possession count. We’re starting to realize how to play an entire game and I think that the girls are understanding that we can’t look too far down the road.”

Starting with a Thursday matchup against South Plainfield, currently the leader of the bunch at 8-1 in the White, Sayreville plays four of its last six regular season games on the road. But having gone away from home and beating Blue Division leader J.F. Kennedy (11-1) on Jan. 18 will help the psyche of the Bombers.

“We didn’t talk about J.F. Kennedy at all before that game,” Currie said. “I scouted them early in the year and they dominated. But I didn’t tell the girls they were unbeaten or anything like that until after the game. That win was a real turning point for our season.”

Franklin rebounds

Franklin, The Home News Tribune’s No. 1 team, bounced back nicely from its second loss of the season, handing Hillsborough a 60-39 defeat Tuesday night. The Warriors were beaten by state-powerhouse Gill St. Bernard’s last week, 65-56. Led by Adreana Miller, who averages 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, Franklin has already beaten three out-of-state powers – Caravel Academy (Del.), Damascus (Md.), Staten Island Academy (NY) – this year.

The Warriors will play local rival Rutgers Prep at 5:30 Friday, as the Argonauts look to add a statement win to their resume. Rutgers Prep (5-5), No. 10 in The Home News Tribune’s Top 10, has played much better lately, winning four of its last six games. Even with just one player averaging double-digits in points – Allison Girardi (10.2) – Rutgers Prep has already made more 3-pointers in 10 games this season than they did in all of the 2012-13 campaign. The Argos have hit the glass hard this year, averaging 26.8 rebounds as a squad.

NOTEBOOK: Woodbridge looking forward to getting off road

Not often does a team play nine of its first 10 games on the road to begin a season, but the Woodbridge High School girls basketball team has done just that this year.

Under the guidance of first-year head coach Bob Timinski, the Barrons have battled through a bevy of away games and several injuries to a 5-5 record through Wednesday.

With the Greater Middlesex Conference’s fourth-leading scorer — Brianna Valdes — pouring in the buckets, Woodbridge has bounced back from a 1-4 start to win four of its last five, scoring more than 70 points twice in that run.

Valdes averages 17.4 points per game to lead the offense and Gabby Jones (15.8 PPG) has provided a big boost as the Barrons play without three key members of their offense.

“We have three girls (Brielle Bannister, Corrine Kist and Maura Walsh) out with knee injuries, so Brianna and Gabby have had to step up for us,” Timinski said. “They’re leaders on our squad and Brianna has been the leader of our offense from day one. As she goes, so does the offense.”

Woodbridge is going to need Valdes to continue her hot scoring, as it faces a gauntlet over the next six games. The Barrons are scheduled to play South Brunswick (6-2), Bishop Ahr (6-4), J.F. Kennedy (8-1), Piscataway (8-2), Old Bridge (4-7) and East Brunswick (7-1) in what Timinski calls a “season-defining stretch.” All of those games except for one will be at home.

“We’ve struggled to be consistent this year,” he said. “Hopefully we can be consistent and play like we’re capable of playing and win some of these games and make it interesting in the division.”

Starting Thursday — weather permitting — Woodbridge will need to be focused from the opening tip to the final buzzer, according to Timinski, who said his squad has struggled to put together 32 minutes this year.

“We have to be focused for a whole game; we have gone through stretches where we’ve played outstanding basketball for a quarter or a half, but not always for a whole game,” he said. “We have to play the whole game and that’s our main focus right now.”

Games to watch

Thursday: Bishop Ahr at South Plainfield, 7 p.m. In a key GMC White Division matchup between two Top 10 teams, Bishop Ahr will look to build on its impressive victory over Sayreville (43-39) last week and continue to put pressure on Monroe at the top of the division. South Plainfield, who won the first meeting, 57-52, on Dec. 21 between the two teams, will try and win four of its last five.

Saturday: Union at Piscataway, 1 p.m. The Chiefs will have their hands full with a non-conference foe with the ability to score at will. Union (10-2) has lost twice to powerhouse Roselle Catholic and has averaged 50.4 points per game this year.

Stat leaders

Points: 1. Cassie Smith (Metuchen) 30.3; 2. Jackie Rodriguez (Sayreville) 21.5; 3. Taylor Freeman (J.F. Kennedy) 18.3; 4. Brianna Valdes (Woodbridge) 17.4; 5. Amanda LaVigne (South Amboy) 16.3.

Rebounds: 1. Rachel Andrejcak (J.F. Kennedy) 13.6; 2. Simran Sangu (Colonia) 12.2; 3. Lena Buccigrossi (Mother Seton) 11.4; 4. Nikki Melie (Mother Seton) 11.2; 5. Erin Seppi (Monroe) 10.2.

Assists: 1. Alyssa Barry (South River) 6.0; 2. Amanda LaVigne (South Amboy) 5.1; 3. Erica Junquet (Monroe) 4.2; 4. Alyssa Andrejic (South River) 4.0; 5. Taylor Nelson (Piscataway) 3.7.

NOTEBOOK: East Brunswick gains momentum

For the East Brunswick High School girls basketball team, every game has been a chance to improve.

After getting off to a 2-1 start with a loss to South Brunswick in the All-Brunswick Holiday Tournament thrown in, the Bears have rolled off four straight victories due in large part to growing as a team.

“Honestly, we’ve got good team chemistry, and that’s a big thing for us,” head coach Keith Lane said. “Collectively we’re getting better with good, aggressive practices. This is my first year, so a lot of what we’re doing is new. In the first couple of games, we were struggling to execute the little things, but in each game since, we have gotten better.”

With victories over Perth Amboy, Millburn, South Plainfield and Woodbridge, the Bears have clamped down on defense and stayed out of foul trouble, according to Lane. He said that early on, his squad was making a lot of mistakes and getting key players into foul trouble and out of rhythm.

“We just have more confidence in what we’re doing right now,” Lane said. “We’ve gotten better in playing defense; that’s one of the things I preached early in the season. I like to play man-to-man defense and I tell the girls that half of the game is defense. We still have a long way to go, dealing with screens and cuts.”

In its four-game winning streak, East Brunswick (6-1) has allowed just 38 points per game, but Lane says he refuses to look ahead to more than one game at a time.

“We’re not good enough yet to look ahead; we’re all about us and the next opponent on the schedule,” Lane said. “We haven’t played Piscataway yet and we lost to South Brunswick, so we don’t talk about the schedule too far ahead. We take it one game at a time.”

But East Brunswick will get its shot at Piscataway next Tuesday in a Red Division showdown.

Freeman reaches milestone

Last Saturday against Mother Seton, J.F. Kennedy High School star Taylor Freeman went over 1,000 career points in the Mustangs’ 53-34 victory. With a layup off a pass from classmate Jolie Tang, Freeman got the milestone point en route to finishing with a game-high 26 points.

“It’s been amazing coaching Taylor in her career and scoring 1,000 points is a tremendous milestone to achieve,” J.F. Kennedy head coach Heidi Hodnett said. “Taylor has been a great leader, a two-year captain, and I look forward to her finishing out her senior year as strong as it’s started.”

Freeman has averaged 17.3 points per game this year as the Mustangs have raced out to an unbeaten start. But J.F. Kennedy has been successful this season due in large part to having offensive balance, with Tang and Rachel Andrejcak contributing 13.3 and 13.4 points respectively. Andrejcak has also averaged 13 rebounds per game, with five double-doubles in seven games.

“Taylor has been surrounded by successful teams and players, with high-scoring potential, has allowed our team to spread out the offense and not let defenders key in on one player,” Hodnett said.

South River off to strong start

In the Gold Division, South River is also off to a perfect start, winning all seven of its games by double-digits. The Rams are one of three unbeaten teams in the GMC, led by sophomore Gabrielle Harris, who leads the team with 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. In December, South River won the Henry Hudson Holiday Tournament, and after beating defending Gold Division champ Timothy Christian on opening night, the Rams have kept the pedal to the metal.

Edison to go pink

Thursday night, Edison High School will host its Pink Night, with proceeds going to The Cancer Center of St. Peter’s. According to head coach Amy Hansen, the Eagles will wear pink warm up shirts, socks, and pink laces in their sneakers. The basketball to be used in the game against Woodbridge will also be pink and Hansen said that she has pink nets as well.

NOTEBOOK: Smooth start for Monroe’s season

For Leigh Vogtman and the Monroe High School girls basketball team, the first six games of the 2013-14 season have gone as smoothly as possible. Vogtman, who served as an assistant last year and was the junior varsity coach for the previous three seasons, credits having familiarity with her players for the Falcons jumping out to an unbeaten start.

“These girls have known me since they were in middle school when I was coaching the middle school team,” Vogtman said. “So they know me and how I like to coach and that’s helped us so far. It wasn’t as difficult for them to adjust to a new coach because I was with them all along.”

Monroe (6-0) needed overtime against Colonia on opening night, as Erica Junquet connected on a 3-pointer as time expired in regulation en route to a 21-point night and a 51-45 win. Junquet, a junior, is one of two Falcons averaging more than 10 points per game through the first weeks of the season. Classmate Cindy Foresta has been a dual-threat, averaging 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds and sophomore Ashlyn Petersen has provided a spark, scoring 9.8 points per night.

“I knew what kind of talent and depth we had coming in, but I’m very excited about the success we’ve had so far,” Vogtman said. “My coaches and I knew early on that we liked to score; the girls aren’t shy to shoot. But we have to be careful because we rush the offense sometimes.”

Vogtman said that her squad is a “work in progress,” but she’s enjoyed the fact that it’s been through a multitude of games already. After winning in overtime against Colonia, the Falcons took care of Princeton (69-20), won both of their games in the Cougar Classic at Montgomery (47-46 and 53-35) before a 59-43 victory over North Brunswick last Saturday. Monroe defeated J.P. Stevens 56-36 Tuesday night to run its divisional record to 3-0. With a plus-110 point differential in their first six contests, Vogtman has been more proud of her defense than the offense.

“I told the girls from the start that we’re focusing more on defense than offense. I told them that they want to be known for their defense,” she said. “We want to cause turnovers and we want to play in transition off of the work we do on defense.”

Flaherty set for Friday debut

Katelynn Flaherty, who transferred to Metuchen Jan. 2, was nominated for the 2014 McDonald’s All-American Game. Flaherty, a 30-point per game scorer last season and a University of Michigan commit, was one of 13 New Jersey players nominated for the game which takes place April 2 at the United Center in Chicago. The rosters will be announced on ESPNU on Jan. 29.

Flaherty will be eligible to play for Metuchen Friday against Highland Park, after participating in six practices with the Bulldogs. Because she transferred to Metuchen with a “bonafide” reason according to the NJSIAA, Flaherty wasn’t required to sit for 30 days. Instead, she’ll team with the current GMC leader in points per game, Cassie Smith (31.3), to form a dangerous 1-2 punch.

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.