BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- Somerset County has been the center of the girls' basketball universe in New Jersey for the last few years.

This year, the Ridge girls basketball team hopes to have something to do with keeping it that way.

The county has been dominated by the likes of two-time New Jersey Tournament of Champions winner Franklin High School, Watchung Hills, Bridgewater-Raritan and Rutgers Prep the last few years. But throughout that stretch, Ridge has been steadily gaining momentum, ascending to a 20-9 record last season.

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Now, the Red Devils have five senior starters who have played together for many years, and what comes with that is a chemistry that can't easily be replicated any other way in this sport besides years of repetition, familiarity and friendship.

Not to mention talent, something that's also in great abundance at Ridge, where the Red Devils will open their season Friday night at home against Immaculata.

Senior point guard Sophie Beneventine, a Boston University commit beginning her fourth season running coach Eric Schroeder's offense, sees the floor like a coach, is a keen-eyed passer with a swift first step off the dribble, a dangerous outside shot and the ability to work inside for rebounds against players taller than her 5-foot-8 frame.

Schroeder has said that Beneventine often is capable of scoring more points than she does--she averaged 9.4 points as a junior--but that she is very unselfish, with a point guard's mentality and the desire to keep everyone involved in the flow of the offense.

So that means Ava Haiback, who led Ridge with 54 3-pointers last season, and Taylor Smith, who paced the Red Devils with 76 steals, are extremely important players in Ridge's three-girl starting backcourt, too. Haiback averaged 7.6 ponts and Smith 10.1 points last year.

Senior Lauren Lusardi and junior Delaney Donohoe are back to play forward, but this year, senior Allie Byrne is back to share time up front with them after missing most of last season with an injury. Donohoe averaged 5.7 rebounds a game, ranking her second to Smith's 6.0 rebounding average.

Schroeder will be looking to work junior guards Lauren Feldman and Kate Pesarchick, junior forward Liv Pikiell and sophomore forward Carly Cambria into reserve roles this season.

"We are looking to continue to build on our success from last season," Schroeder said. "We return all five starters and hope to continue to share the ball and play great team
basketball. We put a strong emphasis on our defense and applying constant