By BRIAN CUNNIFF
For almost the past decade, the Middle Township High School girls basketball consistently had at least one proven scorer in its lineup.
From Lauryn Fields to Jenna Herlihy to Bridget Ruskey to Kira Sides to Kate Herlihy, there’s been a long line of players with the ability to net 20 points in any given game.
At the outset of the 2021-22 season, Middle lacks that one true bona fide scorer. But it doesn’t mean the team won’t develop one or that it will have trouble competing.
Middle, which went 8-1 and won the Cape-Atlantic East Division during the pandemic-shortened campaign last season, lost one of the top players and top scorers in program history in Kate Herlihy to graduation.
But there are a number of players returning. Junior Jada Elston (5-8), known as a defensive stopper and a secondary scorer who contributed nine points per outing last season, will slide to the point guard position this winter. Other returnees with a good amount of varsity experience include Lynasia Harris (5-6 G/F), Brianna Robinson (5-7 G) and Kylie Graham (5-7 F).
“The good programs have kids coming through where every year they improve and have to embrace a little more responsibility in terms of roles and this year is no different,” said Middle coach John Leahy (18th season, 327-133 career). “Those four kids played a ton of varsity last year and some did the year before, too, so they’ve played enough to know what the level is about. I know they’re ready to embrace a greater role to try to help us win.”
Less experienced players expected to be in the varsity rotation include juniors Mia Elisano (5-10 F) and Ciara DiMauro (5-7 F), sophomore Brooke Nabb (5-8 F) and freshmen Riley Morrow (5-8 F) and Isabelle Toland (5-10 F).
Others who could see varsity time include juniors Lily Zuzulock (5-5 F), Kylee Rothmel (5-1 G) and Olivia Clarke (5-4 G).
Middle’s size and athleticism should make for a good defensive team. But, will it score enough?
“Probably the biggest question for us is, how are we going to score enough points to beat good teams?” Leahy said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be any one person. It has to be a collective effort. Everyone’s going to have to chip in more than they did last year.
“Hopefully we’ll find a way to get enough points. I feel like our defense and rebounding are good enough to keep us in games. A lot’s going to depend on our offense.”
Middle figures to compete for top honors in the CAL United Conference, a grouping that also includes Wildwood Catholic, Lower Cape May, Bunea, Egg Harbor Township, Hammonton and Our Lady of Mercy Academy. The Lady Panthers should also do well in the South Jersey Group II Tournament.
“Our standard is not going to go down, regardless of who is or isn’t coming back,” Leahy said. “We expect to be competitive in our conference and compete for a championship and we expect to compete in Group II. Every year is different but that’s where we expect to be.
“The goal is to be playing our best basketball in February and into March. We have a lot of new pieces and a lot of kids in new roles but I feel like we’ll get there. It’ll take a lot of hard work but if we commit to it I think we can be in position to do good things in March.”
Middle opens the season Friday with a home game against Lower Cape May.
Leahy is assisted by Brandee Day, Brynn Caraballo, Jordan Sykes and former Cape May Tech head coach Ginny Traber.