We’re down to the last two teams, and half of girls’ basketball in New Jersey probably hoped it would come down to this, because the first meeting never lived up to the hype.
That was at Kean University on Super Bowl Sunday, part of a girls’/boys’ doubleheader at their great gym in Union. But the result was anything but super for Rutgers Prep.
The Lady Argonauts played an ok first quarter, but didn’t do much of anything right from then point on, en route to a 39-point loss to the No. 1 team in New Jersey. Rutgers Prep was No. 2 at the time.
Head coach Mary Klinger is OK with people saying that about her team. She knows it. He players know it. They’ve used it as a turning point in their season.
Not that a team with two losses all year, and only one in New Jersey needs a turning point. But Klinger says it brought out “Mean Mary” for a few weeks, and if it brings her Lady Argonauts a championship, then all will be forgiven.
Third seed Rutgers Prep (29-2) meets top-seed and No. 1 state-ranked St. John Vianney (31-1) Sunday at Jersey Mike’s Arena at Rutgers University in the last Tournament of Champions Final at 4 pm. You can hear the game live on Central Jersey Sports Radio with Mike Pavlichko calling all the action.
Pregame gets underway at 3:40 pm. Click here to listen for free, with no paywall.
Scroll down for a preview of the game with the head coaches of Rutgers Prep and St. John Vianney.
In the meantime, here are some more details on the game:
HOW THEY GOT HERE:
Rutgers Prep (29-2)
- Non-Public South B 1st Round: bye
- Non-Public South B Quarterfinals: def. 8-Holy Spirit, 75-15
- Non-Public South B Semifinals: def. 5-St. Rose, 64-34
- Non-Public South B Final: def. 2-Wildwood Catholic, 67-36
- Non-Public Group B Final: def. North B champ Saddle River Day, 62-51
- Tournament of Champions Quarterfinal: def. 6-Universit, 68-56
- Tournament of Champions Semifinal: def. 2-Manasquan, 64-48
St. John Vianney (31-1)
- Non-Public South A 1st Round: bye
- Non-Public South A Quarterfinals: def. 8-Immaculata, 95-50
- Non-Public South A Semifinals: def. 5 Camden Catholic, 79-93
- Non-Public South A Final: def. 2-Paul VI, 690-50
- Non-Public Group A Final: def. North A champ Immaculate Heart, 74-36
- Tournament of Champions Quarterfinal: bye
- Tournament of Champions Semifinal: def. 4-Sparta, 75-54
Rutgers Prep: The Lady Argos have made it twice before to the six-team field. In 2016, there were the 2-seed, earning a bye to the semifinals, where they lost to third-seed Manasquan, 59-50. ‘Squan then lost to top-seed St. John Vianney in the final, 65-58.
They would return the following year, earning the top-seed, and again a bye to the semifinals. But they would lose in the semis to the fourth-seed and eventual champion, Franklin, 66-57. The Warriors beat 2-seed Manasquan in the final, 50-48, for their first of back-to-back TOC titles.
Incidentally, Franklin may have been on its way to winning an unprecedented third straight title in 2020 had COVID-19 not shutdown the state tournament in the Group semifinal stage. Only three teams have won more TOCs than Franklin: Manasquan (3), Shabazz (6) and St. John Vianney (7).
St. John Vianney: The Lady Lancers have a ton of it, although this is their first trip since 2016, so anyone on that team is pretty much through college at this point. But their history in the event goes way back to the second edition of the TOC.
They’ve been to the season-ending tournament eleven times, and won seven of them, more than anyone else in the state on the girls’ side. Their first berth came in 1990, and they won it all the next year, beating Ridgewood. They also won in 1995, 1997 (beating Piscataway in the final), 1999 and 2009. In 2016, they beat Manasquan, one of this year’s final four teams.
In five appearances as the No. 1 seed, SJV is 4-1. Those wins came in ’91, ’95, ’97 and ’16; the lone loss came in the 1992 semifinals to Egg Harbor Township, 50-48 in double overtime.
RUTGERS PREP IN THE NJSIAA: Rutgers Prep was an independent until the 2012-13 school year. Since then, the Lady Argos have had great success under coach Mary Klinger, who is in her 38th year at the school, with a record of 583-234. Prep won three straight South B titles from 2016-2018, beating North champs Saddle River Day in 2016 and Queen of Peace in 2017 for the group title and TOC bids. They lost in 2018 to Saddle River Day.
Overall, Mary Klinger’s squad is 27-8 in NJSIAA Tournament games, over a span of 9 postseasons. (There was none in 2021 due to COVID-19.)
While Rutgers Prep is led by sophomore Mikayla Blakes and junior guard Katie Ledden, it was Rutgers-bound senior Antonia Bates stepping up in the TOC semifinals Friday night against Manasquan. She had 17 points, including three treys, and it was just the fourth time she has led her team in scoring all season long. Of course, she plays great defense in the post, so her effort doesn’t always show up in the stat sheet, but she’s another example of how it could be anyone else on a given night being the difference-maker. She was that against Manasquan.
That takes pressure of the sophomore Blakes, a 5′ 8″ guard who’s averaging 18.3 points per game, leading the team with 56 treys, and gets to the line when she attacks the basket; she’s hit a team-leading 105 free throws this season. She can also dish it and swipe it, averaging a team-leading 3.6 assists per game, and 3.4 steals.
It also takes pressure off the junior Ledden, who is having a fantastic postseason. She’s a veteran who’s really come into her own, and is leading the team in the state tournament, averaging 17.6 points per game. She had a double-double against Saddle River Day, with 16 points and 14 rebounds, then followed it up in the TOC quarterfinals with 23 points against University, all coming in the first three quarters. Though she “just” had 12 against Manasquan, that’s the point. When Bates can contribute like she did, Ledden and Blakes don’t have to go gangbusters for Prep to win.
And there’s the rest of the supporting cast: Chloe Escanillas had a big seven-point fourth quarter off the bench against Saddle River Day. Zahra Alexander saw key time – even if she didn’t fill the stat column – against gritty University. All that adds up.
For St. John Vianney, look out for Princeton-bound Madison St. Rose, averaging 21.7 points a game the whole season, and 20 in the states. She knows the score, and is uber-reliable for the Lady Lancers. With 1,726 career points, she likely would have reached 2,000 had it not been for the COVID-shortened 2021 season.
Junior Zoe Brooks completes the one-two punch, scoring nearly 21 a game to lead the team in state tournament play. The transfer from Trenton Catholic is a phenomenal passer, and also leads the team in assists (with 118) and steals (with 119), and won’t be far behind St. Rose, already with 1,246 career points in three seasons.
And while they also have a solid supporting cast – with Holy Cross commit Meg Cahalan (a post player who can step out and make shots) ad the coach’s daughter, Julia Karpell, who hits about four of every ten shots from three – it comes down to pressure defense, even moreso than Rutgers Prep likes to do. While the Argonauts are a little more content to play a half-court offense, Vianney will pressure you and try to get in transition. Holding onto the ball will be huge for the Argos’ Sunday.
Click below to hear previews of the game with both head coaches: