Piscataway High School and Monroe High School, two top seeds of the girls basketball Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, will face each other in the final at the RAC on Thursday at 6 p.m. and both will be trying to make some history for their schools.
Piscataway comes into the final as the two-time defending champions, looking to three-peat for the second time in school history. The feat was last accomplished from 2009 to 2011. The Chiefs won in 2012 and 2013 under coach Corey Floyd and now first-year head coach David Kosa will try to bring home the third.
“At the beginning of the season we set goals and obviously this is one of them. It’s just great to see a group of young ladies really bonding and banding together to try and achieve their goals. It’s a lot of fun,” said Kosa.
Kosa has seen the success of Piscataway’s basketball program in many ways, remembering the great teams under former coach Beverly Hall and coaching against former boys basketball coach and Athletic Director Paul Schoeb.
He remembers talking to Schoeb, who was part of the hiring process, about the tradition pride of the program. Surely, there are expectations of success, but Kosa is prepared to fulfill them.
“It’s a challenge, but I embrace challenges and as a team we embrace challenges,” said Kosa. “The girls understand it as well. The fact that we won the last two years, one of the goals was to get back to the RAC and three-peat so that’s something that’s been our driving force throughout the county tournament.
The top-seeded Chiefs have won all their tournament games by double digits, and it has come from different places. Piscataway boasts a balanced attack that doesn’t allow you to overlook anyone, along with a hounding defense that forces opponents into errors.
“On any given night, somebody can step up. We’ve had that throughout the last couple of weeks where Kendrea (Williams) is scoring, but Taylor (Nelson) is going to put the ball in the net,” said Kosa.
Kosa also cited his upperclassmen as important players and scorers. Seniors Wande and Tunde Adeyemo have made their mark along with role-players like senior Kelsey Nugent and junior Aubri McKoy. With 12 upper-classmen, the Chiefs can rely on that experience heading into Thursday’s final.
While Piscataway can draw on previous experience, Monroe will be entering uncharted territory for the program as this is the first time the Falcons have made it to the finals.
Second-year coach Leigh Vogtman has taken Monroe to new heights. Last year the team set a season record of 22-5, the highest total ever, as well as a semifinals appearance in which they lost to Piscataway.
This year, the Falcons have taken the next step. After defeating South River and East Brunswick in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Monroe will try to make the final step in becoming the school’s first girls basketball GMC champions.
“It took a little while to sink in that we are going to Rutgers to play on Thursday, so we’re all very excited about it,” said Vogtman.
The Falcons have torn through the tournament so far with big wins, scoring at least 65 points in each game, while playing tough defense. Monroe has the ability to make big runs and have teams playing catch up with scorers like junior guard Ashlyn Petersen and Erica Junquet, but Vogtman credits the defense for their success.
“We always talk about a lot of things, but one of our main focal points is to play good team defense. Everybody can play defense as an individual, but being able to be in the right place in reference to your teammates is really important,” said Vogtman. “We’re making sure we’re doing what we need to do to get stops so we can execute on the offensive end,” added Vogtman.
Monroe can draw from some experience playing Piscataway this year. The Falcons lost a back-and-forth affair 66-65 late in the regular season to the Chiefs and will try to use that on Thursday. Vogtman doesn’t feel like an underdog and believes they earned their spot versus Piscataway. This is the game they wanted.
“We know what we’re up against. I’m glad we got to see Piscataway this year to play with them and battle with them,’ said Vogtman. “It’s going to be a fun game. These are the kind of games you want to play. It’s going to be tight, they’re going to be physical, aggressive.”
Vogtman added, “We’re going to go out there and battle. The girls are ready to get there. They’re excited for the challenge and excited we got to this point. I’m happy for them that they were able to achieve the goal of getting there and now it’s just finishing it out.”
Staff Writer Matt Silva: email@example.com
WHAT: Greater Middlesex Conference Girls Basketball Tournament final
WHEN/WHERE: 6 p.m. Thursday/Rutgers Athletic Center
WHO: No. 1 seed Piscataway (18-4) vs. No. 2 Monroe (18-4)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Piscataway defeated No. 16 Colonia 58-35, No. 8 South Plainfield 53-27 in the quarterfinals and beat No. 5 Sayreville 66-55 in the semifinals. Monroe beat No. 18 Dunellen 85-37, edged No. 7 South River 65-47 in the quarterfinals and took on No. 3 East Brunswick 65-48 in the semifinals.
PISCATAWAY REPORT: Piscataway’s aggressive defense has given teams fits all season and the Chiefs have a six-game winning streak starting with their 66-65 win over Monroe. Senior guard Kendrea Williams can take over games, but Piscataway is a deep squad with many capable contributors. Seniors Wande and Tunde Adeyemo will be a force in the paint and on the glass.
MONROE REPORT: The Falcons have a very balanced starting five that play their roles perfectly. Erica Junquet is an aggressive and smart point guard that fuels an offense with skilled shooter, Ashlyn Petersen. Erin Seppi is their best rebounder and will need to hold her own against the Adeyemo twins. Cindy Foresta is the team’s x-factor who does everything well and could make a huge impact on Thursday.
PREDICTION: Piscataway 61-59