Memorable Mondays: Top 5 Cinderellas
Welcome to MSGVarsity.com's Memorable Mondays, a summer-long series that looks back on the top players, games and moments from the past season and gazes ahead to 2012-13. As the summer goes on, we'll compile all the lists and post them here: www.msgvarsity.com/mondays. New lists will be posted every Monday.
In Week 3 of Memorable Mondays, we look at five of the best Cinderella stories from New Jersey high schools.
Verona girls soccer: Before the NJSIAA state tournament even commenced, Verona had plenty to celebrate. The Hillbillies had put together a dramatic turnaround under coach Anthony Scorciolla, rebounding from a 4-14-1 mark in 2010 to earn a nine-seed in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 1 on the strength of a 10-7 showing in the regular season.
Behind the deft scoring touch and invaluable composure of freshmen Julia Ashley (12 goals, 14 assists) and Claire Fitzpatrick as well as an airtight defense marshaled by seniors Alison Sprong, Caroline Mols and Amanda Cummings, Verona (10-8) upset eight-seeded New Milford in overtime, top-seeded Pompton Lakes, fourth-seeded Cresskill and sixth-seeded Midland Park, 1-0, in the final to capture the program’s first sectional title.
It nearly fashioned an even bigger upset when it raced to a 2-0 advantage against defending state champion New Providence before bowing, 3-2, in overtime in the state semifinals.
Manalapan baseball: Regardless of the new cast, one thing was certain in regards to Manalapan, there was going to be some sort of “re-“ unfolding this past spring.
Gone were 17 members of the 2011 squad that stormed to the NJSIAA Group 4 state title, capped with a resounding 29-14 triumph over Westfield in the final. Including in that group were eight everyday starters and the top three pieces of the pitching rotation.
Yet, while there was a certain degree of rebuilding, reshaping and regrouping, the ensemble that clicked on all cylinders are the most important time of the season only had one thing on its mind – repeating.
The Braves (18-11) fed off the confident mound presence of Joe Serrapica and Matt Simonetti and a batting order that caught fire, sparked by Brian Lamboy, Billy Moed, Ryan Ranieri, Vito Gadaleta and Mike Knauf. They stormed past Brick Memorial, Jackson, Middletown South and Steinert to reclaim the Central Jersey crown before upending Cherokee and, finally, Hillsborough, 2-0, in the title game on the two-run homer by Gadaleta and three-hitter by Serrapica to stamp an inspiring and unforeseen run.
Elizabeth boys basketball: It might be a little difficult at first to embrace the state's largest public school from a Cinderella perspective, but there's no doubt that the 2011-12 boys basketball team fit that bill.
Or the--well, you know--glass slipper.
Not only was coach Chris Balent's team young (one senior among top nine) and a bit on the small side (no one over 6-4), but also locked into a very competitive conference that featured a spectacular Plainfield unit, sound St. Patrick and Linden teams and a dangerous group from Roselle Catholic.
Compounding Elizabeth's situation was recent history. The Minutemen won only a combined 11 games over the previous two seasons, so did not exactly start off last December feeling like the kings of the world. Winning was no longer an inherited expectation, but a learning process.
But Elizabeth did win behind juniors Isiah Davis, Hakeem Rogers, Jahad Thomas, Damon Miraud and Isiah Johnson, finishing 22-7 and reaching the Group 4 state final against a bigger Atlantic City squad. The Minutemen entered the fourth quarter ahead by three points, though went dry late in the period and fell, 53-47. Three losses came against Tournament of Champions runner-up Plainfield and two against St. Pat's.
Newark Academy girls basketball: Newark Academy may have been short on numbers but the Minutemen proved to be long on heart and desire.
The roster consisted of only eight players yet Newark Academy battled its way to a 21-5 mark that culminated with a historic and somewhat surprising post-season march.
Fueled by consistent offensive output of senior guard Carly Gruenberg (17.1 ppg.) and the relentless work of juniors Ahlia Bethea and Ashlyn Heller as well as 5-11 sophomore center Taylor Smith on the glass, the Minutemen, who had never won a state tournament contest, reversed those fortunes in a rousing fashion.
Newark Academy strung together triumphs over Queen of Peace, Morristown-Beard and Eastern Christian on the way to the North Jersey, Non-Public B sectional championship, where its inspiring run came to an end with a 62-45 loss to Morris Catholic.
Ridgewood ice hockey: Entering the season Ridgewood was something of an afterthought in the Big North. With all of the success of such a young team, led by a young head coach Mike Lucchesi, the Maroons were an easy choice as one of the great Cinderella stories of this school year.
When Lucchesi took over at Ridgewood three seasons ago he inherited a team that had a mixed history of success and failure and a roster that only won seven games under his watch in year one.
Two years removed from that seven-win start and with six seniors off that team, Lucchesi and the Maroons captured their second-straight Big North Gold Cup and made it to the quarterfinals of Public A before falling to eventual champion Randolph.
Peter McGinley may go down as one of the best players in Ridgewood history and his 35 goals this season further solidified his place in that discussion. McGinley finished as Ridgewood’s all-time scoring leader with over 150 points.
Join us throughout the summer as "Memorable Mondays" brings you more top 5 lists:
July 16: Top five exciting endings from 2011-12
July 23: Top five heartwarming moments from 2011-12
July 30: Top five favorite venues from 2011-12
Aug. 6: Top five coaches from 2011-12
Aug. 13: Top five most memorable games from 2011-12
Aug. 20: Top five teams from 2011-12
Aug. 27: Top five teams to watch in 2012-13
Find them all at www.msgvarsity.com/mondays.