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  • Writer's pictureDan Russoman

Hammonton High School girls hope to maintain success

Sophomore Ava Divello is one of Hammonton’s top returning players in 2021. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—There will be plenty of changes for Hammonton High School’s girls basketball team this season, as the Blue Devils look to repeat the success they’ve enjoyed the last four seasons.

Mike Velardi, a Hammonton grad, takes over as head coach this season, Hammonton’s third coaching change since early in the 2018-19 season.

Velardi inherits a team that lost three of its top five scorers to graduation, including 1,000-point scorer Jada Thompson. The team will also rejoin the Cape Atlantic League this winter after spending six seasons in the Tri-County Conference. Add in a schedule shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s easy to say the Blue Devils will face their share of challenges this season.

“There’s a lot going on, but I think we’ll be OK.” Velardi said.

Hammonton has posted back-to-back 17-win campaigns, and should be competitive in a CAL division that also includes Bridgeton, Buena, Millville, Our Lady of Mercy Academy, St. Joseph and Vineland.

There are some tough teams on that slate, but Hammonton is confident it can finish at the top of the division.

“I know we lost some really talented players, but I’m very confident in the group we have back.” Velardi said.

“We have a young core of girls and with back-to-back 17-win seasons, I’m looking forward to developing and continuing that winning attitude and culture,” he said.

Leading the way for the Blue Devils will be sophomore center Emma Peretti. Peretti averaged 13.7 points per game last season and also grabbed 9.4 rebounds per matchup, the best on the team.

Peretti provides Hammonton a consistent inside scorer who rebounds well and can move the ball around the perimeter.

“Any time you have someone who averaged 13 points as a freshman, you have to be encouraged by that and what she [Peretti] can develop into,” Velardi said.

Sophomore Emma Peretti is one of Hammonton’s top returning players in 2021. (THG/Dan Russoman.To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

Also back in the starting lineup is sophomore Ava Divello, who scored almost five points per game as a freshman and will be Hammonton’s top outside scoring threat this season.

Another sophomore, Giada Palmieri, saw significant varsity time last year and should be in the starting lineup this season.

Senior Luca Berenato played off the bench last season and is a third-year varsity player, adding depth and leadership. Caitlyn Salita and Kelsey Reynolds are two more seniors with varsity experience.

Junior Sofia Purvis, and sophomores Adrianna Palamore and Alexa Panagopoylos add depth, as will freshman Lidia Hetzel.

Velardi acknowledges that Hammonton has much to replace on the court, but is confident this year’s team can quickly adapt to playing at the varsity level and produce strong results.

“We lost a lot of talent, but we have some very good players back and I think they’ll do well,” Velardi said.

Hammonton had less than two weeks to prepare for its season-opener, something that concerns Velardi.

“Obviously, I wish we had more time for practice, but I think we’ll be OK. I’m more worried about what kind of shape we’ll be in than if we’ll be prepared to play because I think they’ll pick things up quickly, learn what we want to do,” Velardi said.

Hammonton opens the season on January 29 when it hosts St. Joseph at 5:30 p.m.


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