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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Apr 20, 2021

A Look at Saint John Vianney Girls’ Basketball Undefeated Season

By Tim Morris

There was no Tournament of Champions coronation for the Saint John Vianney girls’ basketball team in 2021. However, that didn’t stop this year’s Lancers from taking their place among the program’s greatest teams.

The Lancers forged through the challenging ’21 campaign undefeated, leaving no doubt who was the best team in the state.

“Rarely does this [14-0 season] happen,” said Lancer Head Coach Dawn Karpell. “They did the best they could this year.”

Karpell knows a little something about SJV’s best-ever, having either played on or coached some of SJV’s great teams, and she has no doubt that this year’s squad is among the top. Everyone was back from the 2020 season when they went 28-1 and were NJSIAA sectional champions. These Lancers, she said, had something going for them beyond the obvious talent and experience. 

“They love playing with each other. That’s what separates the good teams from the great teams,” Karpell explained. “They had a strong bond.”

SJV earned the No. 1 state ranking this winter by taking on the state’s best, including No. 2 Trenton Catholic, No. 3 Saddle River and No. 5 Red Bank Catholic, twice.

Saint John Vianney’s last game was its 61-34 victory over Red Bank Catholic in the Shore Conference Tournament Pod A final, which served as this year’s Shore Conference championship.

Relentless pressure defense has always been the Lancer trademark, and this year’s edition was extra special, according to Karpell. “The unique part of this group is that each [player] could win their match-up defensively each game,” she said.

Senior guard Emma Bruen was the team’s defensive stopper.

She and junior Ashley O’Connor had the versatility to guard multiple positions, which provided SJC with defensive flexibility.

Defense was the difference in the Lancers’ big wins over Trenton Central, 62-55, and Saddle River, 63-53. In both games, SJV’s constant pressure wore their opponents down in the fourth quarter, and the Lancers won going away.

The victory over Trenton Catholic was the Game of the Year in New Jersey. The two teams were expected to play for the championship crown last year before the season was canceled due to the pandemic. Both teams looked forward to their meeting this year with a chance to settle some unfinished business.

This year’s Saint John Vianney team certainly had talent led by one of the best all-around players in the state in junior guard Madison St. Rose. She can simply take games over on either end of the floor, a luxury for any team to have. St. Rose, who has made a verbal commitment to Princeton University, can score in any number of ways: in the open court, in traffic, in the paint or from long-range behind the three-point arc. She averaged 20 points a game while surpassing 1,000 for her career. She was at her best when it matter most, scoring 28 against Trenton and 22 against Saddle River. Besides being the team’s top scorer, she led the team in steals. 

Senior Katie Hill averaged more than 12 points a game, but her real contribution was her competitiveness. She is headed to the University of Richmond.

Forward Megan Cahalan, a junior who has made a verbal commitment to the College of Holy Cross, gave the Lancers an offensive and defensive presence in the paint.

O’Connor and Bruen could chip in offensively and fueled the defense.

Sophomores Janie Buchman, Ciera Cevallos, Mikaela Hubbard and Ashley Sofilkanich made the most of the minutes they had during the season and showed a glimpse of the Lancers’ future.

“We have a strong sophomore class,” noted Karpell.

With those sophomores and some talented freshmen joining St. Rose, O’Connor and Cahalan next year, greatness could be calling.