CHATHAM, NJ - Veteran Chatham coach Joe Gaba always has high expectations for his girls basketball team. That isn't going to change.
But after winning a state sectional championship and reaching the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship game last season, Gaba's players know that opponents are going to be raising their intensity level against the Cougars.
The new season for Chatham opens Friday with a 7 p.m. tipoff at home against Morristown.
"Last year, no one knew us and they underestimated what we could do," senior guard Maddie Hartnett said. "We came out and showed them they were wrong. Now that teams know how good we are, we have to work even harder."
Hartnett got an idea of what it might be like for her as the top returning scorer for Chatham in the Group 3 state final loss to Mainland, Hartnett received extra attention from the defense when she was "held" to 12 points.
Hartnett figures to be the marked player again this season after nailing 65 3-pointers on the way to a team-best 399 points for a 13.3 scoring average. She hit double digits in scoring in 24 of the 30 games Chatham played.
In addition to Hartnett, two other starters return in junior guard Tess Ford and 6-1 senior forward Shannon Donohoe. Ford, who hit 38 3-pointers and scored 7.3 ppg., figures to take over for her graduated sister, Michaela, as the point guard. Donohoe ended with 114 rebounds and a 6.3 scoring average last season.
Those three will be complemented by the Frohnapfel sisters, senior Emma and sophomore Carly. Emma Frohnapfel spent all last season recovering from an ACL injury while the 5-11 Carly played a key role off the bench during the Cougars' championship run. Carly has the potential for a breakout season after excelling on the boards and in the paint last season.
"Emma is our secret weapon," Hartnett said. "She's a senior with experience coming back from an ACL. Another player no one knows about."
Chatham's tallest and most impactful addition could be 6-1 freshman Meja Jaekerskorg, who is just getting up to speed with the varsity offense. Another newcomer to the varsity is 5-9 sophomore Anna Jesse.
"We have a little more potential for us to score this year," Gaba said. "We are giving a little more full-court zone look, turning the ball over and generating scoring that way. We're still going to be built as a defensive team. Our goal is still to hold teams to single digits a quarter and not give up anything easy."
The backcourt depth includes 5-5 junior Lea Casano-Boris, 5-7 senior Sue McAloon and 5-4 sophomore Ella Surmeli.
"Everyone is dedicated and working very hard," Hartnett said. "Right now, we're learning all the new plays and starting to figure out what our style is going to be; how we play and who we are as a team."
COUGAR NOTES: Jaekerskorg's cousin, 6-10 Adam Ramstedt played for the Swedish National Team. Jaekerskorg has been playing basketball since she was a third-grader in Sweden and moved to Chatham in the middle of her sixth-grade year ... McAloon knows that her shooting percentage can only go down this season. In limited action, the guard owned a 1.000 shooting percentage, sinking two 3-pointers and two baskets in finishing 4-for-4 ... Chatham lost the services of another highly touted freshman when Riley Allen was lost to a knee injury. Gaba had projected the 5-11 guard to be a prominent varsity player this season.