By BRIAN CUNNIFF
There’s a great sense of urgency surrounding the Middle Township High School girls basketball team this winter.
That’s what occurs when so many of the key players in the program have reached their senior season.
Those seniors, along with some younger players, led Middle to great heights last season — 23 victories, a Cape-Atlantic United Conference title and berths in the CAL and South Jersey Group II championship games. So the expectations are for a repeat of that kind of success.
“Obviously we have a lot coming back from last year so that’s a big plus,” Middle coach John Leahy said. “Like every year, we want to get better as the season goes along and most times we’ve been fortunate to do that. Hopefully that puts us in position to win our conference and make a deep run in the playoffs.”
Middle returns its two leading scorers in senior Kira Sides (5-9 G) and junior Kate Herlihy (5-7 G). Sides, a Division I LaSalle signee for lacrosse and a terrific outside shooter, averaged 17.3 points and 6.4 rebounds last season, both team bests. Herlihy was second on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per outing, mostly using her ability to drive to the basket. She also added 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals per game.
Other returning starters include seniors Aubrey Hunter (5-11 F) and Maddie Barber (5-3 G), both whom are terrific role players who can add some scoring punch. Barber is another Division I lacrosse signee. She’s headed to Temple.
Senior Sophia Terenik (5-10 F) also returns after logging key minutes in a backup role last season.
Others back with some varsity experience include seniors Raine DeRose (5-4 G), Michaela Graham (5-4 G) and Lauren Nelson (5-6 F).
“We have some upperclassmen who’ve played 60, 70, 80 varsity games so they have a pretty good handle on everything they’re going to see,” Leahy said. “We’ll certainly be leaning on them for a lot of the things we want to do.”
Middle is also expecting a boost from a couple of young players in sophomore Lynasia Harris (5-7 F) and freshman Jada Eston (5-8 G).
Others on the varsity roster include junior Brynn Bock (5-9 F), sophomores Jen Drake (5-7 G), Brianna Robinson (5-6 G) and Kylie Graham (5-7 F) and freshman Mia Elisano (5-10 F).
“We have five kids back who’ve played significant varsity minutes the last couple years,” Leahy said. “The job now is to find a few more girls who can step in and fill some roles so we can go eight or nine deep. We have a lot of competition for spots. All of the kids are working hard to get the chance to be in the rotation.”
Leahy is assisted by Brandee Day, Jordan Sykes, Brynn Caraballo and Renea Wing.
Middle opens the season Friday at 5:30 p.m. with a home game against Holy Spirit.