It would be very easy for the Delaware Valley High School girls basketball team to overlook the regular season and set its sights directly on correcting what could have been last year.
The Terriers cruised through the regular season a year ago, going 16-0 in the Skyland Conference Valley Division and taking a 22-3 record into the state tournament after falling one game short of the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Tournament final.
But when an unlucky twist of fate landed Delaware Valley in a second-round matchup with Manasquan, which had won the previous year’s Tournament of Champions, the Terriers’ dreams of a Central Group II sectional title were dashed in a lopsided 43-28 affair.
Now, a year older and wiser, and with a first-year coach intensely focused on not letting his team get ahead of itself, Delaware Valley is resisting whatever urge it might have to look directly toward a chance at redemption.
“We can’t overlook anyone,” coach Michael Haughey said. “I think if we take it one game at a time throughout the regular season and just continue to improve, I think by the time we get to March, we’ll be absolutely ready for the postseason. Our motto, so far, is just to get better than we were the game before. If we continue to do that throughout the regular season, hopefully, we’ll be ready to take a run at it in March.”
The Terriers are the favorite to repeat in the Valley Division, despite having lost second-leading scorer and second-team All-Area selection Shannon Croasdale to graduation.
Senior Justine Doran returns at point guard after pacing Del Val with 12.1 ppg. last season. A three-year starter who is a leader on and off the court, she will again be counted on to run things. Junior Hailey Pilone gives the Terriers another experienced weapon in the backcourt, and Haughey feels that veteran presence will be a huge plus for his club.
“Having experienced girls who played in big games, I think it’s going to help you down the line helping you win basketball games,” said Haughey, who also counts seniors Emily Kolonia, Megan Bradley and Kristen Brokaw among his senior starters. “Especially when they’re close, I think that experience really pays off.”
While Doran and Pilone will, likely, be the offensive focal points, with Bradley’s 6-foor-1 presence in the middle challenging opponents on both ends of the court, it’s the defense, Doran feels, that might be the Terriers’ biggest strength. It’s certainly the area in which they take the most pride.
“We were one of the top defensive teams last year, and that’s really going to keep us in games,” Doran said. “Everybody on our team is just so aggressive, we never let down. Ever. We’re always diving for loose balls. And if we are down, we know it’s our defense that gets us back into games and I think that’s one of our strongest points. That’s just how we were taught since we were little. Never giving up and always hustling for everything.”
While the Valley Division schedule doesn’t figure to challenge Delaware Valley as much as the postseason figures to, the Terriers will face some tough out-of-conference competition, including HWST and North 2 Group IV sectional champ Phillipsburg, and have faced some big-time teams in scrimmages, including reigning Greater Middlesex Conference champ Piscataway and two-time defending Union County champion Governor Livingston.
And while Delaware Valley isn’t focused on the postseason – yet – the Terriers know the tougher the grind leading up to the playoffs, the more prepared they’ll be.
“Even though we’re going to be playing a lot of the teams we faced last year, we’re just going to have to work 10 times harder because we know we are going to be facing these better teams in the playoffs,” Doran said. “We want to always be improving, because when we get to that state tournament, we want to win.”