BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - When the Gov. Livingston girls varsity basketball team opens the season Friday night at home against Scotch Plains-Fanwood there will be new faces not just on the court but on the bench as well.

The Lady Highlanders will be taking direction from new head coach Chris Eckert who took on the coaching duties just one week before the 2017/18 season officially opened. Eckert replaces Vin Gulbin (44-29) who unexpectedly resigned on Nov. 2 after three seasons at the helm. Eckert, a first year teacher at Gov. Livingston, who previously separately coached both the girls and boys teams at Deerfield School (Mountainside), was fortunately available to take the reigns at Gov. Livingston for his first high school head coaching position.

The biggest challenge Eckert faces is molding together a very young and inexperienced varsity team especially with such a short practice window. Implementing new offensive and defensive sets, defining player expectations and roles, and creating a competitive spirit have been preseason priorities. Although Gov. Livingston returns five players who saw varsity minutes, Eckert's roster will be mostly made up of inexperienced underclassmen. 

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Gov. Livingston will need to replace about 70 percent of last year's point production which was lost to graduation. This season the team plans to employ a quicker paced offense while attacking the basket more from the wing than the post. Defensively, look for the Lady Highlanders to play a more physical game with on ball pressure extended beyond half court. A high energy defense will hopefully jump start the offense in the early season until the team finds more of an offensive identity.

Coach Eckert's Season Outlook – "Like every season, our goal is always to win the Mountain division. We will be counting on our seniors to be leaders on and off the court this year. For our younger players, our goal is to compete every day in practice and in games, and to get better throughout the season." 

Coach: Chris Eckert (first year)

Last season: (10-15, 6-4) Lost to Voorhees 57-45 first round North Jersey II,Group 3 state playoffs

Union County Conference (Mountain Division) - GL, Johnson, Oak Knoll, Rahway, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Summit

Season/Home Opener - December 15th at 7 p.m. vs Scotch Plains-Fanwood

NJISSA State Bracket - North Jersey, Group 3

Can’t Miss Game - January 6th vs New Providence. Gym will sell out on Super Saturday. Get your tickets early.

Key Players Lost

The Lady Highlanders lost their leading scorer (21 ppg) and rebounder, Lindsay Gerrato, who scored 1144 points over her three year varsity career. Also lost to graduation was versatile Lara Romano (8 ppg), who also was the team's best defender. The two combined for approximately 70 percent of the team's offense and controlled things in the paint and on the boards.

Key Players Returning

Skylar Dowling (soph, point guard) – Dowling took on big responsibilities as a freshman last season as the starting point guard and came through with an outstanding season. Dowling was second in the team in scoring (12.3 ppg) and the team's best three point shooter, connecting on 48 three balls. She hit a career high 7 three pointers against Cranford and scored in double digits 13 games last season. This season while orchestrating the offense for coach Eckert she will need to do two things: keep the defense honest with her long range shooting and most importantly getting the ball to her teammates in position for them to score.

A trio of seniors, Allie McGlynn, Michelle Coyle, and Stacey Berliner will make up the starting front court. McGlynn was a starter at forward last season and is a strong rebounder and aggressive defender. She should provide more inside scoring this year after averaging 3.3 ppg last season. Coyle will provide a strong presence in the post on both ends of the floor. Berliner can play both guard and forward and will be counted on to provide more scoring from the perimeter. All three girls will provide the senior leadership on and off the court to this young team.

Junior Fiona Kerr (guard/forward) will most likely join Dowling, McGlynn, Berliner, and Coyle in starting lineup. Kerr got some valuable experience as a part time starter last year as a sophomore. Can put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket or shoot the short jumper. 

Promising Newcomers

Abbey Solfaro (junior, guard), missed last season with an injury and has been working her way into the rotation this season as a solid complimentary player. Three sophomore's Paige Phillips, Jess Roland, and Shannon Polimeni all saw limited action last year at the varsity level. Phillips who has good ball handling skills and a nice mid-range shot has had a solid preseason and is challenging for a starting position at the 2. She will serve as the backup point when Dowling is not in the game. Roland can play all three front court potions and is a strong finisher under the basket. Polimeni combines a strong understanding of the game with solid fundamentals and should prove to be a valuable role player in her first varsity season. Also securing roster spots, sophomore forward Jillian Meltzer, and freshman guard Kelsey DiStaso. Meltzer is a tall athletic forward who has continued to improve her game on both ends of the floor and will be fighting for minutes in a crowded front court. DiStaso, who has already earned her first varsity letter as a freshman member of the soccer team, is a combo guard/forward who is an aggressive defender and rebounder.

Rounding out the roster is spirited senior Marisa Fudenna, who offers unwavering  support to her teammates and will surely ready to take the court when coach Eckert gives her the nod.

Strengths- Physical play, high energy, motivated young players. 

Weakness - Lack of game experience, overall size, and consistent perimeter shooting 

From the Turf to the Hardwood - Coyle, Berliner, DiStaso, Solfaro, and Polimeni all are soccer athletes at Gov. Livingston

Big Sisters,Little Sisters - Dowling, Polimeni, Berliner ,Coyle,and DiStaso all had older sisters who starred for the Lady Highlanders in past seasons.