MADISON, NJ - The Madison Dodgers girls basketball team made life easy for first-year coach Lisa DiTuro last year. All the team did was finish 19-9 and win the NJAC-Independence Division. It was truly a historic season. The team set a record for victories and won the first division championship

"It was a lot of fun and exciting for us", she said.

The Dodgers success earned them a trip up -- to the formidable Freedom Division, against the likes of Vila Walsh, St. Elizabeth, Hanover Park, Morristown-Beard and Morris Catholic.

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"We're excited for the challenge", DiTuro said. "We played some of them last year (losing to Villa Walsh in overtime). We're ready for them all this year".

The Dodgers graduated one senior but return nine prominent players from last year, including six seniors.

"The girls have come back and they are motivated and working hard," DiTuro said. "We look strong so far".

The team has also shown tremendous maturity on the court and off in the days of COVID.

"We've had a great first week and the girls are excited and working really hard" DiTuro said. "The girls are wearing masks during practice and they have stayed six feet apart during drills. The girls don't need to be reminded. The girls are on board, that's become easy. It's a challenging time for everybody. There has been a mental toll. There are a lot of unknowns. You never know if a game is going to be cancelled, or if there is gonna be a pause. But the girls have been great. I'm impressed with the work they have put in. The parents and the girls are thankful to have a season. We're just taking each day and being thankful and grateful to be out there"

Two of the leading players are four-year varsity performers. Point guard Julia Olesen runs the offense. She averaged seven points per game as well as three steals and three assists per game.

"She's really confident" DiTuro said. "She is a great leader and controls the pace of the floor. She's a great player"

Forward-guard Tess Callaghan (12.5 points per game last year, four steals per game) is another four-year Dodger.

"She can play forward and guard", DiTuro said. "She is very versatile and scores in many ways. She is aggressive. She gets a lot of steals and is a multi-faceted player".

Guard Kate Christos (eight points per game, three steals per game last year) brings a lot of athleticism onto the court. Christos is talented enough of an athlete to have earned a Division-1 lacrosse scholarship to San Diego State.

"She's dynamic", DiTuro said. "She makes her presence felt on the court. When she is out there, she changes things".

Another lacrosse standout who brings her athleticism onto the basketball court is guard Shea Baggett, who is headed to George Washington University to play lacrosse. Baggett averaged 4.5 points per game last year.

"She is our feistiest player," DiTuro said. "She is aggressive, all heart and hustle. She plays with a lot of energy".

Center Maggie Perrello is one of the team's on-court leaders. She averaged 3.6 points per game, five rebounds, and two steals per game last year.

"As a defensive player, she is always talking," DiTuro said. "We are a defense-minded team and that helps our offense. She is very vocal and directs people on the court. She directs the D".

Guard Sam Bangs, meanwhile, is one of the team's best offensive threats.

"She has a nice outside shot", DiTuro said. "She also plays with a lot of composure. She comes off the bench and gives us depth".

Junior Courtney Kelly, a guard, is a transfer from St. Elizabeth.

"She has an incredibly high basketball IQ",  DiTuro said. "She is talented offensively and can read the floor very well. She has been ready from Day One and there is no need for her to sit out."

Forward Kayla Davis is another junior whose presence will be felt.

"She is a really athletic player who has come into her own", DiTuro said. "She has developed offensively and looks really strong. We are excited about her growth this year."

Vivian Summerlin, a forward, and Brooke Kleiven, a guard, are two other juniors who should make an impact.

"Vivian is very aggressive and goes after the boards", DiTuro said. "She can also use both hands well. She's worked really hard to perfect that. Brooke is a very good shooter, she's fast and can get to the basket. She was the leading scorer on the JV last year and played some varsity and we're looking forward to her being with us this year".

There are some reinforcements coming through the ranks. DiTuro said the freshman team was undefeated last year.

"The junior varsity and varsity practice together" she said. "The freshmen from last year are making practices so much better. They make me excited for the future of Madison basketball. We're definitely trying to change the attitude and the culture. There is an excitement around basketball that wasn't there before".

One aspect of the season that will take some getting used to is that there will be no fans attending home or away games. All games will be live-streamed, according to DiTuro.

"That'll be nice, but it'll make for a different environment", she said. "Madison Rec basketball is doing a wonderful job. We wanted the kids to come to the games, but they cannot. I want my girls to be role models and carry themselves a certain way. That would have been a wonderful thing for everybody".

The team scrimmages Whippany Park Thursday and opens up at home against Villa Walsh Jan. 26.