TOMS RIVER – Manasquan won its fifth straight NJSIAA Group II title outlasting a scrappy Newark Tech squad, 95-79, last Sunday in one of the more entertaining games of the season which saw the Warriors’ one-time 18-point lead evaporate to five late in the third quarter.
Dara Mabrey, Lola Mullaney and Faith Masonius combined for 82 of Manasquan’s 95 points but it was a couple of unsung heroes who put an end to the Newark Tech onslaught after the Terriers had slashed a 53-35 Manasquan lead to just five, 61-56, with 1:47 left in the third quarter.
Following a Mabrey missed shot, senior forward Emma McMenamen rebounded and fed Mullaney in the paint for two points, then grabbed a defensive board at the other end after a Nina Mallette jumper was off the mark.
Masonius’ drive to the hoop then rimmed out on the Warriors’ ensuing possession but McMenamen was there again to corral the rebound and dish off to Mullaney for another two that pushed the Manasquan lead back to double digits, 74-60.
“Those were unbelievable plays by Emma,” said Manasquan head coach Lisa Kukoda. “And we said that as we ran into the timeout. Those two offensive rebounds and her little pitch-back to an open girl right on the block all contributed to us kind of stopping their run and putting the ball back in our court.”
Newark Tech though, refused to bow out quietly and kept hanging around and when Mallette’s two free throws hit nothing but net, the Terriers – ranked ninth in the state – had again narrowed the Warriors’ lead to single digits, 74-65, with a little over six minutes left in the game.
With the Newark Tech faithful, who made the trip down the parkway in droves, now on their feet and going crazy, the game’s momentum had shifted dramatically in favor of Newark Tech (24-9).
Senior Carly Geissler, who humbly accepts her vital but behind-the-scene role for the Warriors, then silenced the rowdy Terrier rooting section with dramatic back-to-back three’s from the corner right in front of the Manasquan bench stretching their lead to 80-67 with 5:25 remaining in the game.
Geissler wasn’t through though, drawing a charge on Jaylah Bennett on the Terriers’ subsequent possession, then feeding Mabrey in the paint for another two points and a 15-point lead.
“Newark Tech was on a little bit of a run and you expect that from them,” said Kukoda. “The end to that run was Carley knocking down those two three’s and then going down on the other end and taking that charge. She does every little thing possible on the court. You could see it in all our players’ faces. As soon as she knocked down that first one and the second one, just the energy and excitement for her and us; the girls love it.”
The 5-foot-6 Geissler, who will be making her fourth trip, second as a starter, to the Tournament of Champions, was a little hard on herself afterwards even after sinking the two biggest shots of the game.
“Throughout the game my confidence wasn’t in the best place,” Geissler stated. “I blew three wide-open layups that no one should miss. But I just had the team on my mind and I was going to do anything I could to help us win.
“I wouldn’t say that it was my time, but I knew it had to be done to stop their run,” said Geissler when asked about her heroics. “They’re a really good team that’s capable of going on really long runs to put us in a bad position. So we had to get a stop on defense and we had to get a score on offense so that’s what I contributed. It was the best feeling in the world. The fans are one thing but to see the smile on the faces of my teammates and coach giving you a hug knowing you did what you had to do, it’s a really great feeling as a senior to have it all come together.”
Geissler and McMenaman’s unselfish play doesn’t go unnoticed.
“There are very few people like that in the sports world,” said Mabrey of Geissler and McMenaman’s team-oriented play. “A lot of people want their name in the headline of the article the next day. It’s not about that in our program. Carly and Emma bring us down when we get too high and get us up when we get too low. When you get people like that in your program, it’s a blessing.”
Manasquan relied heavily on its “Big Three” for a better part of the game when they combined to account for all of the 74 points Manasquan scored through three quarters and into the fourth before Geissler hit her three’s.
With both teams playing at a breakneck pace, Masonius had team-high 19 points at halftime and had limited Newark Tech’s 6-foot-3 center Mariah Perez to just four points. Mabrey added 15 before intermission and Mullaney 13, as the Warriors took what looked to be an insurmountable 16-point, 47-31, halftime lead.
But foul trouble plagued Masonius much of the second half forcing her to play cautiously and slide off of Perez to avoid fouling out. This created mismatches and allowed Perez more freedom in the paint and she took advantage, scoring 15 points after intermission and grabbing a game-high 17 rebounds while igniting Newark Tech’s third-quarter run.
Masonius finished with 20 points along with team highs in rebounds (11) and assists (8) and steals (4).
“We knew that that was going to be a key piece to the game with that matchup for us,” Kukoda said. “We have to do a better job maybe a little earlier in making that adjustment so we don’t have to play almost all the second half with different matchups than what we would’ve liked. But our girls battled and did what they could – she’s (Perez) obviously a very talented player who really made things happen for them in the third quarter.”
Mabrey had the kind of game you’ve come to expect out of the Virginia Tech commit, but her sheer brilliance on the court can at times be overlooked – as it was on Sunday – because, well, that’s just Dara doing her thing.
She had a game-high 35 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots – just another day at the office for Mabrey. Mullaney finished with 27 points, two assists, three boards and a steal while Geissler added eight points, seven rebounds, six assists and a steal.
Manasquan (30-2) pick up its 30th win of the season for the second year in a row and it is the third time in four seasons they’ve eclipsed the 30-win mark. They’re ranked No. 1 in the state and 20th in the country according to the latest USA Today rankings.
This group of Warrior seniors will be making their fourth straight trip to the Tournament of Champions with one championship under their belt, winning the title in 2015.
“Like I said to them (the team) before the game, ‘it’s my last year here and we’re going to the TOC and there’s no doubt about it,’” Mabrey explained. “We were making the final six teams, and no one was going to come down here and take that title away from us. Everyone just fed off that energy.”