Tag: HS Basketball

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:

Rutgers Prep’s Matt Bloom named CJSR Boys’ Coach of the Year after historic season

The first-ever sectional title in Rutgers Prep boys’ basketball history has earned Argonauts’ head coach Matt Bloom Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year Honors from Central Jersey Sports Radio.

They certainly reached new heights in 2022, getting contributions from so many players.

And Bloom is quick to deflect all praise to them: guys like Jadin Collins, Ryan Pettit, Cameron Piggee, Jordan Atkins and Ryan Zan.

So, Mike Pavlichko sat down not just with the head coach, but with Piggee and Atkins in the room, to get a sense of the player/coach/family dynamic Bloom has instilled at Prep.

Click below to hear Matt Bloom, Cameron Piggee and Jordan Atkins talk about Bloom’s recognition as Boys’ Basketball Coach of the Year by Central Jersey Sports Radio:

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:

Trojans’ Adam Silas named CJSR Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year

Even in a year when St. Thomas Aquinas lost the de facto GMC championship to Colonia, junior Adam Silas was one of the best players on the floor.

In his senior year, he was almost always the best player on the floor. Even on the rare night he didn’t pour in 20-plus points, or have double digits in assists or rebounds, Silas was always doing something to lead and steer his team to new heights, like beating Gill St. Bernard’s in a battle for No. 1 in the Bellamy Top Ten, or holding off Colonia to win the program’s second GMCT title.

READ MORE: CLEAN SWEEP! St. Thomas Aquinas boys win GMC Tourney title, make it two trophies for the Trojans in one night

For that, he is Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year for the 2021-22 season. (Scroll down to see Honorable Mentions, in no particular order.)

Silas went through a lot to get to North Edison. He started his scholastic career four years ago at St. Benedict’s, which turned out not to be the right fit for him. Silas finally thought he found a home at Marist, but the school closed after his sophomore year.

That’s when he found his new home on Tingley Lane.

Silas scored 12 points a game last year in the COVID-shortened season, but upped his game this year, averaging 19 even, and 5.1 assists per game to boot. And yet, it wasn’t just about the numbers.

St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Bob Turco (left) and senior guard Adam Silas are all smiles after a huge win over national power Gill St. Bernard’s on February 12, 2022. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

All year, head coach Bob Turco, at least publicly, expected, or maybe just hoped – to have back Jaquan Harris, the Seton Hall-bound point guard who was the leader of the team. He suffered an ACL injury late last basketball season, and missed all of football. But he never came back. And slowly, but surely, the leadership role fell to Silas, who welcomed it with open arms.

Click below to hear CJSR’s Mike Pavlichko talk with 2021-22 Player of the Year Adam Silas of St. Thomas Aquinas:

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order):

  • Saivon Pressley, Colonia
  • Jadin Collins, Rutgers Prep
  • Denver Anglin, Gill St. Bernard’s
  • Mackenzie Mgbako, Gill St. Bernard’s
  • Quadir Harrell, Bound Brook
  • Ethan Simmon, St. Joseph-Metuchen
  • Elijah Lewis, Watchung Hills
  • Ryan Curry, Montgomery
  • Brandon Dean, South Plainfield
  • The Okocha Trio (Jon, Josh and Eli), Monroe

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:

Gill St. Bernard’s boys finish No. 1 in final Bellamy & Son Paving Top Ten

In the middle of February, St. Thomas Aquinas made a statement with a win over Gill St. Bernard’s in the Hearts 2 Hands Showcase at Roselle Catholic. Key players were missing for both teams, but it established the Trojans as the No. 1 team in the Bellamy & Son Paving Rankings.

But then, Gill beat Rutgers Prep in the Somerset County Tournament Final, and Rutgers Prep beat Aquinas in the Non-Public South A semifinals, en route to a sectional championship.

Aquinas beat Gill, which beat Prep, which beat Aquinas, which beat Gill….

Ultimately, Gill St. Bernard’s will close out the season as the No. 1 team in the final Bellamy & Son Top Ten.

The Knights – with a host of Division 1 players, including Georgetown-bound Denver Anglin and junior Mackenzie Mgbako – finished the season 20-7, with only three of those losses coming to New Jersey schools. They lost to Aquinas, took then-No. 1 Camden to the wire, and lost to eventual Tournament of Champions winner Roselle Catholic in Non-Public North B title game.

Rutgers Prep finished second, going 26-4, and bringing home the program’s first-ever sectional title. They rallied to beat Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public South A title game down at Lenape High School.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the GMC Tournament Champion came in third, at 27-2, also the White Division Champions.

One previously-unranked team made it into the final rankings: South Plainfield. The Tigers finished 23-7, won the Blue Division in the GMC, and made it all the way to the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 finals, where they lost to Colonia, 56-52 in double-overtime. They finished seventh in the final rankings, while the Patriots finished fourth.

Below are the full final rankings:

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:

Rutgers Prep falls to St. John Vianney in last-ever TOC final

St. John Vianney certainly wasn’t 39 points better than Rutgers Prep. Everyone knew that after the first time the two girls’ basketball teams met in February up at Kean.

In the end, the Lady Lancers were 20 points better.

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

Third-seed Rutgers Prep fell behind big early, rallied from 15 points down to get to within six late in the first half, but could never get any closer as top-seed St. John Vianney claimed its record eighth Tournament of Champions crown, with a 72-52 win over the Lady Argonauts.

It was the third TOC win for 14th-year head coach Dawn Karpell, who won in her first season (2009) and in her program’s last trip (2016).

It was also the final Tournament of Champions event in basketball, as the NJSIAA has decided to scrap the tourney – which isn’t played in all sports – for the sake of uniformity between seasons, and allowing student-athletes some time off in between seasons.

Short of a brief spell midway through the second quarter when they rallied, Rutgers Prep never really got going, falling behind 8-0 out of the gate before Mary Klinger called a time out to stop the bleeding. But the deficit climbed to 15 beforfe the Argos showed signs off offense.

Trouble was, they couldn’t get a good long-distance look thanks to SJV’s pesky perimeter defense, and every time they were able to get a ball in the paint, the Lady Lancers had two defenders on the ball.

Turnovers – though not as much of an issue as the first meeting on Super Bowl Sunday at Kean University in Union – still plagued Rutgers Prep, which committed 21 to Vianney’s 12. That led to an all-important 25-14 SJV advantage on points off turnovers.

Sophomore Mikayla Blakes led Rutgers Prep with 18, finishing off a solid sophomore year. And she’ll be among a number of key returnees next year, including junior Katie Ledden – who had 8 – and 5′ 8″ sophomore Zahra Alexander, who had some nifty baskets en route to a 12 point game, two shy of a career high she set in a 75-15 sectional semifinal win against Holy Spirit, in nowhere near as big a game with as big an opponent as this one.

Vianney – which finishes the season 32-1 – was led by – who else? – senior Madison St. Rose and junior Zoe Brooks. The Princeton-bound St. Rose had a game-high 21, finishing her career with 1,747 points, while Brooks chipped in 14, and will have 1,260 heading into her senior year.

The Argonauts finish 29-3, with two of the three losses coming to St. John Vianney; the third was at the hands of Westtown (PA).

Click below to hear postgame reaction from Rutgers Prep head coach Mary Klinger:

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