By: Mark J. Czerwinski
The road to the Tournament of Champions begins today with the first round of the North Jersey sectional tournament. Here are 10 things to look for:
1. Clash of the titans: All signs seem to be pointing to a Non-Public North A semifinal matchup between Bergen County champion IHA and its Passaic counterpart, DePaul. They split the regular-season series in the Big North United Division, and the winner has a leg up in the race for the final top spot in The Record Top 25.
2. Say goodbye: This tournament is going to be the last hurrah for several North Jersey stars including Samantha Wilkes of IHA, Kellie Lane of Ridgefield Park, Jackie Reyneke of Northern Highlands, Sophie Lederer of Glen Rock, Lauren Beausoleil of Ridgewood, Jade Walker and Brianah Ramos of DePaul, to name a few. If you haven’t seen these girls play, don’t miss the opportunity now.
3. Sweet redemption: Kennedy, Northern Highlands, Paramus Catholic and Passaic Tech are top-shelf teams that had disappointing finishes in their respective county tournaments, but have the opportunity to make amends. And that includes Secaucus, a team that should have a chip on its shoulder in North 2, Group 1 after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Lincoln in the Hudson title game.
4. Player of the Year watch: Plenty of candidates have a chance to take one more turn on the big stage including Wilkes, Walker, Reyneke, Kayla Gibbs of Teaneck, and Katherine Haines of Ridgefield Park. Looking for a dark horse? Keep an eye on Secaucus sophomore guard Julia McClure.
5. Cinderella in waiting: There are plenty of lower seeds that can make a big impact including No. 9 Bergenfield in North 1, Group 3, No. 14 Ridgewood and No. 10 Passaic Tech in North 1, Group 4 and No. 9 Saddle River Day in North Non-Public B. They all can be more than first-round spoilers.
6. Small wonders: The Group 1 tournaments are always a lot of fun because the teams are so evenly matched. Midland Park is clearly the team to beat in North 1, Group 1, but there are some potential good stories lurking at places such as Wallington, Park Ridge, Hasbrouck Heights and Cresskill.
7. Junior achievers: The class of 2014 is ready for prime time, and players such as Haines, Brittany Stone of Paramus, Madison Dunbar of Northern Highlands, Kierona Morton of Passaic Tech, Kayleen Melvin of River Dell and Rebecca Rabeiro of Midland Park can put exclamation points on stellar seasons and stamp themselves as the players to watch next winter.
8. Southern rules: Teams south of Passaic County always seem to be bringing home the hardware in girls basketball, and it will be interesting to see if any North Jersey teams can change that. The competition will be stiff for those lucky enough to reach Toms River.
9. Don’t forget: The North 2 side of the ledger. Start with Secaucus, but also keep an eye on Ridgefield Park, Lyndhurst and Rutherford in North 2, Group 2. They have the misfortune of being in the same group as state power Shabazz, but could get the chance to play giant killer.
10. First time, long time: Some tournament teams aren’t Top 25 staples, but could be worth a look. That includes Demarest, which has surprised all season, and youthful Westwood, which has come together to reach its potential late in the season.