By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The Wildwood Catholic High School girls basketball team enjoyed one of the program’s best seasons in 2018-19.
There were 23 victories, a berth in the Cape-Atlantic League semifinal round and two state playoff wins.
The Crusaders want more this winter. And they just might have the personnel to do it.
Armed with one of the most talented teams in program history, Wildwood Catholic has a chance to emerge as one of the best clubs in the Cape-Atlantic League.
Virtually every player is back from last season, led by the dynamic duo of senior Gabby Turco and junior Marianna Papazoglou, two of the best players in South Jersey.
“We’ve matured mentally and physically since last season ended,” said Wildwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri, who’s in his seventh season at Wildwood Catholic after 16 at now-defunct Sacred Heart. “The kids know our system, they know their roles and they know the highs and lows they’re going to experience during a long high school basketball season.”
Turco, a 5-9 G/F, has already committed to St. Anselm’s, a Division II powerhouse in New England. She returns having averaged 16.0 points and 7.2 rebounds while leading the team with 40 three-point baskets.
Papazoglou, a 5-10 G/F who’s drawing lots of Division I interest, became the first basketball player in school history to reach 1,000 career points as a sophomore. She averaged 18.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists last season.
“They’re as good of a 1-2 duo as there is in South Jersey,” DiPatri said.
Wildwood Catholic is banking on improvement from its role players from last season as well. Junior F Lauren McCallion, junior G Alyia Gray-Rivera and sophomore G Kimmy Casiello are all returning starters. One of last season’s key substitutes, sophomore G Xiomara Walker, is also back. Others expected to see significant minutes include senior F Caitlin Beaulieu, junior F Leona Macrina and sophomore G Adrianna Gray-Rivera.
Younger players with the junior varsity who could see some varsity time include sophomores Sami Andress, Julia Belansen, Rickii Davis and Roan Jacquelin and freshmen Trina Frey, Carly Murphy and Zariah Walker.
As has been the case for the past couple of seasons, Wildwood Catholic is expected to battle Middle Township for the Cape-Atlantic United Conference title. In addition to conference play, the Crusaders have stepped up their out-of-league schedule in an attempt to build more big-game seasoning for the league and state playoffs.
They’ll certainly need it, considering how difficult the South Jersey Non-Public b Tournament figures to be.
“We’re looking forward to playing in a highly-competitive Cape-Atlantic League and against some very tough non-conference opponents,” DiPatri said.
Wildwood Catholic opens Thursday at home at 6 p.m. against Cedar Creek.
DiPatri is assisted by Katie Caruso, Fran St. John and Caitlin McMullan.