Girls Basketball – St. John Vianney Dominates No. 2 Team in New Jersey to Solidify No. 1 Ranking
HOLMDEL -- It is not even a full week into February and it is all but settled: the St. John Vianney girls basketball team is the best in the state and it is not particularly close.
That might have been a prevailing opinion before Sunday's 76-51 dismantling of Saddle River Day -- the No. 2 ranked team in the state, according to NJ Advance Media -- but the clinic the Lancers turned in at the Coaches' Choice USA Shore Conference Showcase Challenge at Holmdel High School made it as official as any game short of the Tournament of Champions final could.
With Sunday's 25-point win, the Lady Lancers improve to 19-0 for the season while extending their overall winning streak to 46. It was not put to the test on Sunday, but St. John Vianney also holds a 62-game winning streak vs. Shore Conference competition.
Senior guard and Princeton commit Madison St. Rose led the way with 28 points and junior Zoe Brooks chipped in 14 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in another solid all-around performance for the Trenton Catholic transfer and newly-minted 1,000-point scorer.
"This win is very meaningful to us," St. Rose said. "Saddle River Day is a really good team. They have all these Division I athletes and for us to just come out and play together and beat them by as many as we did, it was honestly just amazing."
Senior Megan Cahalan added 12 points and junior Bre Delaney chipped in 10 for St. John Vianney, whose lead hit the 20-point for the first time early in the third quarter at 48-27 as the Lancers methodically wore down the state's second-best team.
With nothing but blowout victories within New Jersey -- 22 points is the closest an in-state opponent has come to beating St. John Vianney -- and 18 out of 19 wins coming by double-digit margins of victory, the Lancers appear to be as close unbeatable as a team could be heading into the postseason, which begins a week from Tuesday with the Shore Conference Tournament.
A Sunday-morning clash with No. 3 Rutgers Prep is the final regular-season challenge for St. John Vianney before the SCT and if that game goes how the rest of them have, there will be only one team the Lancers will be competing against: themselves.
"We don't really talk about other teams," St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell said. "We really just put the focus on ourselves and look at where we can grow and where we can get better. Defensively, there are still a lot of things that we can do better, but today was great because that was a different kind of scout and there were a lot of in-game adjustments and I thought we responded to those quite well."
There are some other teams the Lancers could find themselves chasing and they include some of the best teams in program history, as well as state history. Just six seasons ago, St. John Vianney finished 31-1 with just one out-of-state loss and finished it off with a T of C final win over Manasquan.
That team played down-to-the-wire games in both the SCT and T of C championship games, which this team has yet to do.
This year's Lancers team also has yet to play a postseason game, so while blowout wins over Christ the King, Blair Academy, Life Center and Saddle River Day suggest beating St. John Vianney is a pipe dream, teams like Red Bank Catholic, Manasquan and St. Rose will still try to get their shot and the Lancers.
With no contender proving worthy of the Lancers to date, St. John Vianney has begun to focus on the games within the game: shutting down individual players, winning the rebounding margin, limiting turnovers and progressing toward an overall mastery of the offense.
"Honestly, our number-one focus is defense," St. Rose said. "We all know we can get a lot of stuff on offense, so our main focus is trying to stop the best player on the other team.
"We approach every game like it's going to be a really hard game. Saddle River Day is a big name, we know they are going to come after us, so approaching this game, we really wanted to focus on the scout and what coach was talking about with her key points. If we did slack off, this game could have gone in a whole different direction."
For Karpell, there is also the matter of continuing to push a team full of players who expect to play at the next level and would like to be polished performers as college freshmen.
"It's not just about what's immediately in front of us," Karpell said. "It's sending them to college as the best product that they can be. We want to keep challenging them that way as well."
On Sunday, the challenges from Karpell to her team included controlling the glass, making scoring difficult for Saddle River Day senior Paulina Paris, and getting quality shots out of their half-court sets.
"Our goal today was to outrebound them so they got less opportunities on the offensive side," St. Rose said. "We also wanted to close out their shooters because they do have a lot of kids who shoot threes, which can help them get back into the game."
"We spoke the other day about our defense," Karpell said. "In the Life Center game on Friday, it was a little sluggish and we were a little step behind. When we play certain games, we get into some bad habits, so we talked about cleaning up those bad habits, coming to practice hard every day and getting focused.
All of that adds up to a standard that goes beyond perfection. At this stage of the season, anything short of an undefeated 2021-22 campaign would be a shocking disappointment, but just simply getting to 32-0 to close out another No. 1 finish in New Jersey is not the end of the goal.
At some point the comparisons to the best teams in Shore Conference history will commence. For now, the conversation is much simpler: win the next game. It has worked for the last 46 games and counting.