BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Governor Livingston Highlanders girls basketball team had a successful week at the Madison High School Holiday tournament. The Highlanders picked up two wins this past week against Mount Olive and Madison, respectively, and improved to 2-2-1 in the process.
The Highlanders defeated Mount Olive in the semifinal round and Madison in the championship game this past Friday. Sophomore Skylar Dowling picked up tournament MVP honors for her efforts which included a 21-point performance against Mount Olive. Fellow sophomore Paige Phillips was named to the All-Tourney Team for her efforts, which included a career-high 17 points in the championship game against Madison.
Head coach Chris Eckert couldn't have been more proud at the way his young squad performed in the two contests.
Despite the youth, Eckert and his team agreed coming into the tournament that if they played their style, they'd be fine.
"We knew that if we played together, we'd win," Eckert said. "With a young team, you never know what you'll get. But the girls stepped up which was exciting to see."
From the tournament's opening tip, the Highlanders were firing on all cylinders as they opened up a 20-9 advantage against Mount Olive after one quarter. The Highlanders struggled a bit in the second quarter but still managed to keep a lead they would never relinquish.
Even though the shots weren't falling briefly, the Highlanders leaned on their defense and rebounding to come away with the victory. And it also helped that the team went 20-22 at the free throw line.
"We started off the Mount Olive game well but then struggled a bit in the second quarter," Eckert said. "But the girls stepped up on defense and did an outstanding job corralling the 50-50 loose balls and attacking the glass offensively and defensively."
Things weren't as smooth against Madison in the championship game. After his team fell behind 20-9 early on, Eckert challenged his team defensively and they responded in a big way. The Highlanders outscored the Dodgers, 9-0, in the second quarter and clawed their way back into the game.
The Highlanders traded blows with Madison in the second half and when they took their first lead late in the fourth quarter, they held it for the remainder of the game for a 46-42 victory.
While Phillips and Dowling led the way with 17 and 14 points, respectively, Eckert said the senior duo of Michelle Coyle and Allie McGlynn deserve just as much credit.
"Michelle and Allie combined for 14 rebounds and provided a physical defensive presence for us," Eckert said. "But all of the girls stepped up on defense after the challenge. We faced a lot of adversity early but the girls did a good job of staying composed throughout."
The championship game was a total team effort. Dowling and Phillips were outstanding with their offensive efficiency, Coyle and McGlynn did the dirty work, sophomore Shannon Polimeni's four points in less than a minute during the third period helped keep the team in the game, and then there was junior Fiona Kerr.
Kerr battled through an illness to score six crucial points late in the contest.
"Fiona's final few minutes of the game were huge for us as she battled through sickness," Eckert said. "When we were watching film from the game earlier, she said 'When I looked around the court, I wanted to do it for the four other girls on that court'."
Up next, the Lady Highlanders will travel to Elizabeth to play the Patrick School on Tuesday and then will host Summit on Thursday with a 7 p.m. start. The annual Governor Livingston Booster Club Super Saturday varsity girls basketball game against New Providence will tipoff at 1:30 p.m.