Local teams succeeded on the court
HAMMONTON—Although it was shortened by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the winter sports season was a solid one for local high school teams, as some competed for titles while others put together strong rebuilding campaigns.
The season began later than expected, and saw basketball teams competing in empty gymnasiums while bowlers also had to wait until late in the season for a few fans to attend their matches. Parents and friends sat in front of televisions and computer screens watching livestreams of games that featured some of the best athletes in the Cape Atlantic League (CAL).
In the end, athletes in both sports were able to overcome all the challenges to put together a season that, while different from any other ever played, was still able to create many lasting memories.
On the basketball court, both Hammonton and St. Joseph’s boys teams were among the best in the CAL West Division.
St. Joe entered the season ranked among the best teams in southern New Jersey and the Wildcats lived up to the hype, posting a 12-2 record and finishing first in the division.
The Wildcats opened the season with eight-straight wins, none bigger than a 57-51 victory at St. Augustine Prep, marking the first time St. Joe had defeated the Hermits since 2007.
Senior Marcus Pierce led the Wildcats, averaging more than 22 points per game. Pierce was St. Joseph’s leader on and off the court, setting the tempo for a team that topped the 70-point plateau six times during the season.
Making St. Joseph’s run even more impressive was the fact that the Wildcats played their entire schedule on the road.
“This was by far the toughest season I’ve ever been through,” St. Joseph coach Paul Rodio said.
“First, we had to survive all summer not knowing if the school would be open. That was tough, getting our kids to stay here because other schools were calling them, trying to get them to transfer. Then we had to get them all to buy into what we’re trying to build here. I’m so lucky that they all stayed the course and bought in. I think we were the best team in the league this year,” Rodio said.
Joining Pierce was a talented group led by seniors Jordan Stafford and Dom Thomas. Arnaldo Rodriguez, Antonio Sydnor and Darryl McGraw also played well during the season.
At Hammonton, head coach Joe Martino celebrated his 20th season by seeing his team claim the CAL West Division public school title with an 8-7 record.
The Blue Devils only lost once to a public school in its division, and a four-game midseason winning streak gave Hammonton the title.
Juniors John Andaloro and Jaron Hill were the top scoring threats for Hammonton, while senior Owen Mauriello provided veteran leadership as well as strong shooting and defense. Sophomore guards Tyler Lowe and Gavin West were sharp shooters who handled the ball well.
“We were a young team and I’m really proud of how we handled everything this year. I think to win the public school title in our division says a lot about how hard our kids worked all season and it’s something positive for us to build on next season,” Martino said.
On the girls side, Hammonton dealt with injuries late in the season and finished with a 6-7 record in coach Mike Velardi’s first season on the bench.
The Blue Devils started well winning five of their first eight games, but after losing starters Giada Palmieri and Ava Divello to injury, struggled down the stretch, dropping four of their last five games.
“It was tough for us. We only had 10 players on the roster, so to lose two starters who were also two of our top three scorers, hurt us. We just didn’t have the depth to deal with some of the better teams in the league,” Velardi said.
Seniors Luca Berenato, Caitlyn Salita and Kelsey Reynolds picked up some of the slack, and junior Sophia Purvis enjoyed a breakout season for Hammonton.
The leader for the Blue Devils was sophomore Emma Peretti, who averaged more than 22 points and almost 15 rebounds per game, earning her several all-star honors.
St. Joseph’s girls basketball team also played with a short-handed roster and finished with a 2-12 record under first-year head coach Matt O’Keefe.
The Wildcats struggled to put points on the scoreboard for much of the season, but were playing much better at the end of the year than the start, something that impressed O’Keefe.
“I do think we improved a lot throughout the season. We’re small and don’t have any depth, so that was a huge issue for us. I think if we can add some players for next year, we’re not that far away from being very competitive. The girls worked hard all season and it was nice for them to get a win in the last game,” O’Keefe said.
Freshman Cassidy Perri led the Wildcats in scoring, and sophomore Macie Jacquet played well all year. Katie Dainton and seniors Makenzie Veneziale and Brianna Bailey added depth to the roster.
Hammonton’s bowing teams spent the 2021 season rebuilding. The boys fell short of their own expectations, posting a 2-9-2 record, while the girls finished without a victory.
James Colasurdo, Robert Feriozzi and Richard Achanzar led the way for the boys team, as each enjoyed strong seasons.
Hammonton’s girls competed with just two bowlers all season, and freshmen Violet Speakman and Emily Stanziale showed improvement throughout the year.