Category: Girls Basketball

A fitting tribute for Mr. Old Bridge, as Knights’ football press box is named for the late Ron Mazzola

He was everything to the Old Bridge community for decades. PA man, coach, mentor, organizer, uniform maker. But perhaps most importantly, a friend.

The passing of Ron Mazzola back in February at the age of 61 sent a tidal wave of shock and grief through the Old Bridge community.

So, less than seven months later, on the first day of September, he was honored in the best way possible: with the press box at Bob DeMarco Field being renamed, “The Ron Mazzola Press Box.

Click below to watch a video recap of Thursday’s ceremony:

Soon-to-be-senior Katie Ledden reflects on Rutgers Prep’s run to TOC Final

Sure, we joked a lot on Central Jersey Sports Radio that this year’s Tournament of Champions would be the last one ever, until it’s not. But getting to the historic final game and winning it all was a goal for the Rutgers Prep girls’ basketball team from Day One.

They didn’t win it all, but they went as far as they could: the TOC final, running (again) into St. John Vianney, nationally ranked, and the No. 1 team in the state.

But it was a fantastic year when all was said and done. They won the Somerset County Tournament, again. They won the Non-Public South B title, the Group B title, and got contributions from everyone, however little or small.

And yet, this team has so much more to do.

That’s because its two biggest stars will be back next year: sophomore Mikayla Blakes – CJSR’s inaugural Girls’ basketball Player of the Year – and junior Katie Ledden. She averaged 15 points and over 6 rebounds a game, while Blakes led the team in scoring with 18.2 points per game, and nearly five assists per contest.

Rutgers Prep’s Katie Ledden (left) goes for a rebound against Franklin’s Tiffany Pecorella in the third quarter of a 60-34 win on December 17, 2021 (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

And then there’s the supporting cast. Though Antonia Bates – who’s headed to Rutgers – Leyla Castro and Morgan Ryan graduate, sophomores Chloe Escanillas and Zahra Alexander return.

And all of that will have Rutgers Prep starting the 2022-23 season right where they begin this year – and last year, for that matter: at No. 1.

Ledden spoke with Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko about the 2021-22 season, and the prospects for next year; click below to listen:

Battling MS, winning the GMCT, Aquinas’ Joe Whalen named CJSR Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year

Winning a GMC Tournament Championship is not an easy feat. Some winners do, but most don’t have a clear road and path to the title.

In the case of St. Thomas Aquinas this year, there were numerous obstacles, like replacing key players, and getting new players to gel.

But for head coach Joe Whalen, the challenge was monumental, and life-changing: dealing with a multiple sclerosis diagnosis that explained so many things the 64-year-old had simply attributed to age and previous sports injuries.

He’d had knew issues years ago, and suffered concussions from his time boxing. But this was different, and it was starting to affect his coaching, even remembering simple plays, or strategies at the end of a game.

Yet, he and his team – players and assistant coaches – overcame it all, and Whalen is the 2021-22 Central Jersey Sports Radio Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year.

Click below to listen to Mike Pavlichko talk with St. Thomas Aquinas Head Coach Joe Whalen:

Super sophomore Mikayla Blakes is Central Jersey Sports Radio Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year

It’s rare that a senior – sometimes even a junior – isn’t named Player of the Year, in just about any sport, whether in high school or college.

But when someone is as good as Mikayla Blakes, just a sophomore at Rutgers Prep, the class year gets thrown out the window.

And so, Blakes is the inaugural Central Jersey Sports Radio Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year, an honor that’s well-deserved.

The numbers are impressive. Consider that as a frosh in the short COVID year she scored double figures in seven of 13 games – and in each of the season’s final five games – her encore was even more impressive: 18.3 points per game, and double figures in all but three games – two of which were blowout wins, while the other was a loss to Westtown, PA.

But she was so much more than the numbers showed. A double-threat, she could get hot from downtown – hitting five times in a game twice, including against Gill St. Bernard’s in the Somerset County Tournament final – but was devastating off the drive as well.

And as she explained to Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko this week, there’s a reason for that.

Click below to hear Rutgers Prep’s Mikayla Blakes talk about her 2021-22 season:

Rutgers’ WRSU celebrates 40th anniversary of Lady Knights’ AIAW National Championship with Grentz, Coyles and more

As the NCAA tournament rolls on, Monday will mark 40 years to the day since Rutgers won a hiostoric national championship.

On March 28, 1982 at the Palestra in Philadelphia, the Lady Knights – led by players like Mary and Patty Coyle, Chris Dailey, June Olkowski, and trailblazing head coach Theresa Grentz – beat heavily-favored Texas to win the final AIAW national title, in a year that was a crossroads for the sport.

That was also the first year the NCAA sponsored a national women’s basketball tournament, and women’s basketball programs were split. Some went with the NCAA, others stuck with the AIAW.

The Rutgers Lady Knights won the AIAW National Championship 83-77 over Texas at The Palestra in Philadelphia in 1982. (Source: Rutgers)

Since then, RU’s national title has largely been ignored. The NCAA, obviously, doesn’t recognize it, and Rutgers never really embraced it, particularly after Grentz left for Illinois in the mid-’90s (Athletic Director Fred Gruninger let her walk) and C. Vivian Stringer promised “the Jewel of the East.”

But in 2017, Rutgers’ campus radio station WRSU had the good fortune to connect with Jim Berman, Class of ’82, who had a cassette of the original audio broadcast. A few interviews and a lot of research later, the station aired a documentary – written and narrated by WRSU Sports junior Dom Savino – featuring the full game broadcast on Rutgers Day that year.

From that project, Berman and his classmates Jon Newman and Geoff Sadow had the idea to produce a film documentary on the team, calling it “Forgotten Champions.” The film would be completed over several years, narrated by U.S. National Soccer star (and Rutgers alum) Carli Lloyd, and it was set to debut this Winter at a gala in New Brunswick, but those plans were waylaid by the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former Rutgers women’s basketball coach Theresa Grentz (back, left) and some of her players pose with their 1982 AIAW national championship trophy, nearly 40 years later, at The Palestra in August, 2018. (Photo by “Forgotten Champions”)

This Monday, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the historic title, WRSU will rebroadcast the original documentary, which includes the full game broadcast, at 6 pm. Immediately following, at 8:30 pm, a special “Alumni Knightline” will follow, hosted by Newman and Sadow, along with Berman and Savino, and they’ll be joined in studio by Grentz and the Coyle twins. Several other teammates and prominent figures from the era will phone in. And listeners are invited to share their memories by calling in at 732-932-8800.

To listen, tune in to 88.7 FM or click on wrsu.org.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko – Rutgers Class of ’00 and WRSU’s full-time faculty advisor – talk with 1982 alum Jim Berman about Monday’s show and the “Forgotten Champions” documentary:

Rutgers Prep girls leave no doubt about it; they’re No. 1 in Bellamy & Son Paving final top ten of the year

When Central Jersey Sports Radio began its coverage of high school basketball last season, in the pandemic-shortened year, Rutgers Prep was the preseason No. 1 team. The went wire-to-wire with it last year, finishing 13-0, winners of the one-off Skyland Conference top pod.

To challenge themselves, they even played Saddle River Day the next day, after winning the pod final, and won that game, too.

They didn’t go undefeated in 2021-22, but they were by far the best girls’ team in the area, again, and once again, have gone wire-to-wire to finish No. 1 in the final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten, to be CJSR’s Team of the Year.

They finished 29-3, going all the way to the Tournament of Champions title game, where they fell for a second time this season to the state’s undisputed No. 1 team, St. John Vianney. Winners of the Somerset County Tournament, the Non-Public South B and the Non-Public Group B state titles, their only other loss came out of state, early in the season, to Westtown (PA).

That’s a run of 17 straight polls where the Lady Argonauts were No. 1, the only team to have that ranking in the entire – albeit brief, so far – existence of Central Jersey Sports Radio.

While Prep was no surprise this year – and would be a safe bet at a preseason No. 1 next year with key players like sophomore Mikayla Blakes and junior Katie Ledden returning – one surprise was Hillsborough.

The Lady Raiders made a late run in 2022, going all the way to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 finals where they lost to eventual Group 4 champion Westfield. They got their first ranking of the season in the final top ten, at No. 4.

Below are the final Bellamy & Son girls’ basketball rankings for the 2021-22 season:

INSTANT REPLAY-Girls’ TOC Final: (1) St. John Vianney 72, (3) Rutgers Prep 52

Click the ad above for more on Kean University’s next open house.

The 3rd-seeded Rutgers Prep Lady Argonauts fell to top-seeded St. John Vianney, 72-52, as the Lady Lancers won their eighth TOC title, and third under head coach Dawn Karpell.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko call all the action from Rutgers University’s Jersey Mike’s Arena in Piscataway on Sunday, March 20, 2022:

The rematch: A preview of Rutgers Prep and St. John Vianney in the last TOC final

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.

Click the ad above for more on Kean University’s next open house.

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

TOC HISTORY:

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.)

SUPERLATIVES

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:

Rutgers Prep head coach Mary Klinger
Rutgers Prep head coach Dawn Karpell

St. John Vianney gets big nights from St. Rose, Brooks, to beat Sparta; will face Rutgers Prep in TOC Final Sunday

Senior Madison St. Rose and junior Zoe Brooks did what they’ve been doing all year long – scoring a lot of points – and top-seed St. John Vianney – the No. 1 seed in the Tournament of Champions and the No. 1 team in the state – beat fourth-seed Sparta 75-54 to advance to the TOC Finals fir the first time since 2016.

St. Rose scored 23 and Brooks led the way with 24 for the the Lady Lancers, who now will face Rutgers Prep in the title game.

The two met on Super Bowl Sunday as part of a doubleheader at Kean University in Union, where SJV won 87-48, a result that left the Lady Argonauts wanting another crack at the top team in the state.

The Lady Lancers have been dominant. Now 31-1, their lone loss this season came on February 20th, to Sidwell Friends (DC), the top-ranked team in the country.

Like Rutgers Prep, both teams were undefeated last year, 14-0. And in 2020, Vianney was 28-1and had just beaten St. Rose of Belmar 67-54 in the Non-Public South A Final before the NJSIAA cancelled the remainder of the state tournament due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vianney’s last loss to a New Jersey opponent came in the 2019 Non-Public South A title game, where they fell 61-54 to St. Rose. That’s 62 straight against New Jersey competition, including 11-0 in Shore Conference Tournament/Pod play, and 8-0 in NJSIAA state tournament action.

Click below for postgame reaction from St. John VIanney head coach Dawn Karpell:

INSTANT REPLAY-Girls’ TOC Semifinals: (3) Rutgers Prep 64, (2) Manasquan 48

Click the ad above for more on Kean University’s next open house.

The 3rd-seeded Rutgers Prep Lady Argonauts beat the 2nd-seeded Manasquan Warriors 64-48, behind 17 points Rutgers-bound senior Antonia Bates, and nine team treys. Rutgers Prep moves on to the TOC Finals for the first time ever, and will face top-seed St. John Vianney, which beat 4-seeed Sparta in the other semifinal Friday night, 75-54.

Click below to hear Mike Pavlichko call all the action from Toms River North’s RWJBarnabas Health Arena on Friday, March 18, 2022: