For head coach Joe Whalen and St Rose, seeding Sunday was like a punch in the gut! St Rose, who were ranked second in the conference by most media outlets were handed the 5th seed by the Shore Conference committee after coming within six seconds and a free throw of beating Manasquan on their home court.
But sometimes, it’s that extra bit of adversity that can light a fire under any team. In sports, an added amount of motivation can go a long way in sparking a playoff run. Not enough quality victories during the regular season has always been the main criticism toward Joe Whalen’s squad, even when it’s not their fault that they are forced to play in the B Central division.
However, everyone who has followed St Rose knows that business is business with Joe Whalen. It has always been about the one game at a time approach. Championships are not won on paper. Championships are won with the right amount of preparation, practice, excellence, and execution. The games are played and won on the court.
That’s the type of attitude that St Rose would take into the Shore Conference tournament. Even with a harder road to the final, that still wouldn’t slow them down! Rumson Fair Haven, Manasquan, St John Vianney? No problem! After being in this final in 2014 and 2015, the third time would finally be the charm as the Roses are the last team standing with the Shore Conference title. With a 56-31 victory over St John Vianney, all the haters have been silenced and the fans from the little school in Belmar couldn’t be happier!
“Did the seed motivate us a little more? Yes, of course, we talked about it, but we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. First of all, this was never about the committee, media, or earning anyone else’s respect. This was always about our own respect. Our girls are in this to compete. They wanted to prove this to themselves”, added St Rose head coach Joe Whalen.
St Rose put three players in double figures. Lucy Thomas led the way with 15 points and 7 rebounds. Jen Louro supplied 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. Elizabeth Marsicano connected three times from downtown and finished with 11 points. Mikayla Markham chipped in with 8.
St John Vianney was led by Kimi Evans with 10 points, and Courtney Dobrzynski added 5. Sarah Karpell and Sajada Bonner poured in 4 points each.
With St Rose and St John Vianney both earning overtime wins over Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic in the semifinals, the stage was set between two streaking teams that wanted nothing more than to take home the hardware.
St John Vianney, the defending champions who most did not expect to make it back to this point found a way to keep fighting all year. Even with only 1 returning starter (Kimi Evans) from last year’s championship team, head coach Dawn Karpell found a way to make it work and get the most out of her kids. That has always been the St John Vianney way!
The Lancers would come out swinging early, trying to deny St Rose of their outside shooting expertise. St John Vianney had two to three defenders rushing the outside which made St Rose a bit uncomfortable at first. A feed to Kimi Evans gave SJV a 10-4 lead, but that was the biggest margin they would get.
St Rose punched back and went into the locker room with a 22-19 advantage, but then really kicked up their smothering defense in the third. Joe Whalen instituted a halfcourt man to man which added relentless pressure. St John Vianney had trouble getting a shot off from all angles. Defensively, the Roses would hold the opposition to a total of 2 points in the quarter.
Alex Pendergrass came off the bench and exploded in the third. She was a real force, leaping into the air and getting a putback to fall. She followed that up by driving hard and getting to the foul line for a quick three point play. Mikayla Markham then followed with two consecutive floaters that gave St Rose a 33-21 edge.
“Alex has always been the X factor for us. We always say that she comes in with a lot of energy. You don’t want to go to your bench and have them turn the ball over. We got to our bench and we’re gifted a lot of the time. Alex really gives us a lot on the floor”, said Joe Whalen.
But the real story of the third was the heart and toughness of Jen Louro. Louro has been a real workhorse for the Roses throughout the year. She is the player that always gets the toughest assignments no matter what. During the four games that St Rose played in this tournament, you saw Louro matched up against Jess Broad, Tori Hyduke, Dara Mabrey, and Sajada Bonner.
This time, Louro decided to give the offense a bit of a lift. She would close the third quarter with 6 of her 13 points. After getting to the line and nailing a free throw, she drilled a key three pointer on the next possession. From there, she wasn’t done yet. With time ticking down, Louro drove to the hoop aggressively and got a big time layup to go straight through. St Rose finished the period with 15 unanswered points!
The seniors will always set the tone when it is their last chance to bring home the crown. Louro who had gotten to this point in the SCT twice before was simply not going to be denied tonight. She was ready to do whatever it took for her team to come out on top.
St John Vianney would not get any closer as St Rose closed the game on a 17-10 tear.
The Roses are the 2017 Shore Conference champions with the win. For everyone that did not believe, or anyone who is still in denial, there is nothing more that these girls have to say. Once again, it’s not about whether you are the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 seed or more, it’s about who finishes on the court, and this team got the job done tonight convincingly!
What was the biggest difference between tonight and the previous title games in 2014 and 2015? I can’t help but believe that the situation with the seeding gave these girls the big time kick and motivation to go out and play like their life depended on it, but again, if you talk to Joe Whalen, it’s all about business and doing your job. That will never change!
“Tonight, we’re just going to enjoy the win. This means everything to us. It means everything to our girls. It means everything to our program. We’re going to go home, have fun with it for a second and then get ready for Trenton Catholic in the state tournament”, said Joe Whalen.
Another key factor was the phenomenal job that Lucy Thomas did against St John Vianney center Kimi Evans. Lucy was handed a tough assignment and was able to handle it with true confidence and poise. Thomas was able to use her quickness and athleticism to get the upper hand quite a bit.
“We started off slow in the first half, we missed some layups, but that third quarter was huge. We were really able to take charge and get control on defense, especially in the high post with Lucy. You know, Kimi is a great player, we have all the respect in the world for her, but we liked that matchup and felt that Lucy would do a nice job. Lucy (Thomas) played a great game for us”, added Joe Whalen.
Jen Louro ended up taking the Most Valuable Player award for the game. Louro’s senior heroics will certainly go down in St Rose history. She’s been through all the battles during her four year career and will leave the Shore Conference as a champion!
Hear from Jen Louro
Hear from Ellyn Stoll
Just a quick look back at the preseason rankings for fun! It was only NJSR that ranked St Rose No 1 in the Shore to start the season. The NJSR Preseason Rankings.
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