Jakelle King-Gilchrist wasn’t lacking for incentive.
As coach Shenee Clarke took a moment at a recent Teaneck practice to revisit some of the painful losses the Highwaywomen suffered in the Bergen County Tournament, King-Gilchrist sat stoically, reflecting on the heart-breaking list of setbacks at perhaps a bit deeper level.
It jarred bitter memories of her freshman year when Pascack Valley struck for five points in the closing four seconds, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that dismissed Teaneck in the quarterfinals. As a sophomore, she accounted for 21 points but it wasn’t enough to avoid a 59-55 semifinal defeat delivered by Holy Angels and one year later, Angels once again thwarted Teaneck, with a 78-70 overtime decision in the semifinals.
So, King-Gilchrist probably could have done without the history lesson. She’d experienced it all first hand and, judging by her fast start, was determined not to repeat.
By ripping off her team’s first 11 points, the Florida State-bound senior guard sent a distinct message that Teaneck’s fortunes in the Bergen County Tournament were about to change. Her explosive opening performance in the game’s initial three minutes went beyond establishing a tone. It blazed a trail that bypassed the arc in favor of a direct path to the basket, something that top-seeded Teaneck, No. 4 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, rarely ventured off of en route to a 72-49 victory over third-seeded and 14th-ranked Northern Highlands on Saturday in the BCT championship at Ramapo College in Mahwah.
“We had to come out with heart and I had to lead the team and set the tempo,” said King-Gilchrist, who pumped in 28 points (one off her season high), including 13 in the first quarter when Teaneck sprinted to a 24-9 lead and never looked back. “I had to pick my team up and they were right behind me. Being a senior, it really meant more to me. It’s my last year to do it. I had to prove I was not leaving Teaneck without a county championship. We’re more than a team. We’re a family.”
That family added quite a chapter to the Teaneck scrapbook, capturing the program’s first county title since 1988. And, while King-Gilchrist was a standout from a scoring perspective, she was also a significant factor in another part of the floor.
Facing 6-3 junior Jackie Reyneke, who had been dominating in her own right throughout the course of the tournament, Teaneck (25-2) defended her straight up in its man-to-man but subscribed to a more team-oriented approach when it came to the boards. With King-Gilchrist, 5-8 senior Deja Gabbidon, who repeatedly hustled to track down loose balls and 6-0 Kayla Gibbs working the glass, Teaneck had the rebounding edge, 41-34.
“We had to shut her down because she is heart and soul of their offense,” said Gabbidon, who finished with 11 points, 10 boards, three assists and five steals. “We had to play in front of her, stop the lob and be help side when she did get the ball. And, we had to box her out on both ends.”
Yet, another area where Teaneck thrived was at the back end of its full-court press. A combination of its athleticism and collective spring thwarted Northern Highlands in its bids to go over the top of the extended defense, which resulted in 10 first-quarter turnovers.
Northern Highlands (23-4) got as close as eight points twice in the second quarter only to have Teaneck answer by taking a 38-26 lead into halftime. After King-Gilchrist found Gabiddon for a 3-pointer and then came up with a steal which she converted into a layup, Teaneck had pushed advantage back up to 45-29 less than two minutes into the third and the cushion never dipped below 12 points the rest of the way.
Senior guard Monique Cheek ended with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals for Teaneck, which also received 13 points and 12 boards from Gibbs. Reyneke collected 16 points and 14 rebounds, Tori Balzano scored nine and Melissa Heath seized 11 rebounds for Northen Highlands.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner