• Dan Russoman

Experience a key for Hammonton High School girls


Ava Divello is one of several starters returning for Hammonton this season. (THG/Dan Russoman. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.

HAMMONTON—With most of its roster back along with some talented new varsity players, Hammonton High School’s girls basketball team is excited to begin a new season.


“I think we can be really good this year. The girls are working hard and if we can stay healthy, I think we can surprise some people this season,” second-year head coach Mike Velardi said.


Last year, Hammonton dropped four of its last five games to finish with a 6-7 record. The Blue Devils played without two starters, guards Ava Divello and Giada Palmieri in those last five games, and left with just eight players on the roster, Hammonton struggled.


“I don’t think we anticipated how much we’d miss those two [Divello and Palmieri]. When they went down, it kind of blew up our season. The girls who had to step in played really well, but we were without maybe two of our best three or four players and it showed,” Velardi said.


Both juniors are back healthy this year, and along with returning starters Emma Peretti and Sofia Purvis, Hammonton should be one of the more solid offensive teams in the Cape Atlantic League (CAL).


Peretti was a first-team CAL All-Star last season and is one of the state’s top juniors. She averaged more than 22 points and almost 15 rebounds per game last season.


“What can you say about Emma [Peretti]? She’s our best player and a lot of what we do is based around her. She’s worked hard in the offseason and looks better than ever,” Velardi said.


Peretti and Purvis, who came on strong at the end of last season, give Hammonton two strong players in the post.


“Sofia [Purvis] was a little bit of a surprise last year. She developed into a very good player for us at both ends of the floor,” Velardi said.


Purvis and Peretti both stand tall at 5-foot-11, and along with the 5-foot-11 Palmieri, give Hammonton the size to compete against a tough CAL schedule.


“We definitely have size. We can match up with any big team in the league,” Velardi said.


Palmieri will be a key player for Hammonton this season. The junior was the team’s primary ball-handler last year before missing the end of the season with an injury. She averaged more than eight points per game, and should see more action as a small forward this season.


“Having G [Palmieri] back is huge for us. She can score and defend as well as handle the ball when we need her to,” Velardi said.


Divello was Hammonton’s second-leading scorer last season at 11 points per game and gives Hammonton a solid perimeter shooter.


Joining the Blue Devils this season is junior guard Shamaya Simola, a transfer from Orange High School where she averaged more than 11 points per game last year.


“Shamaya is exciting to watch. She’s going to bring a lot to our team. She handles the ball, shoots well and is a good defender. We’re really happy to have her,” Velardi said.


With a strong starting five, Hammonton expects to compete in both the Cape Atlantic League and in the South Jersey Group 3 playoffs. The Blue Devils also have much more depth than they did a year ago.


“Last year, we only had 10 girls in the entire program. This year we have around 25, so we’ll be able to have a JV team, too, which helps us in practice and if we have any injuries,” Velardi said.


Hammonton opens the season on December 20 at Middle Twp. at 5:30 p.m.