MONTVILLE, NJ - For any high school sports program, every season is a clean slate.
The Montville girls basketball team closed out last season by winning 12 of its last 14 games, which included a run to the sectional semifinals. It returned virtually its entire lineup from last season, which presented plenty of reasons to be optimistic going into 2019-20.
But once the season starts, everything starts over, and nothing is guaranteed.
Luckily for the Mustangs, that momentum that was built at the end of last season has found a way to carry over into this season. It has gotten off to an impressive 12-0 start, and continued that stretch with a dominant 64-35 win over Morris Knolls on Friday night at Montville Township High School.
"We’re really able to pick up right where we left off last year," senior guard Emma Wax said. "Last year we didn’t finish exactly how we wanted to, but we had a great run in the state tournament. I think from game one we were just able to pick that right up, and we know that if we want to go further than we did last year, we can’t have a slow start like we did last year. We’ve had a really good start so far and we’re looking to just continue that.”
Friday night's game showcased just about everything that has gotten Montville to this point. The defense forced turnovers which allowed the team to take advantage in transition, and even more impressively, the team showed off its range from the field. It hit a total of 15 3-pointers in the game, with freshman Grace Kowalski knocking down four treys for a team-high 16 points. Emma Wax added 15 points, with three coming from beyond the arc.
In total, nine of the 11 players who got on the court for Montville hit a 3-pointer in the game.
"The offense that we run is generally geared towards guards or forwards that can shoot the three," Montville coach Derek Lynn said. "That’s what we have this year, and it’s a really great fit for what we’re doing. That’s why I think we’re one of the best teams in the state, because we can score from many positions. We put a roster out every single time that has four or five girls that can shoot from the outside.”
But the team's ability to make plays on offense was halted during the first quarter, when Morris Knolls opted to play with a slower tempo, limiting Montville's ability to get out in transition, and it found itself in a 7-5 deficit heading into the second. But Kowalski came in off the bench in the second quarter and hit four 3-pointers, in a quarter which saw the Mustangs pull away with a 27-6 run.
“We knew shots would fall soon, so we just kept shooting, and they fell," Kowalski said.
"She’s probably the best sixth man in Morris County, for sure," Wax said of Kowalski. "She comes off the bench and gives us that spark. Her three-pointers definitely lift us. She started that run in the second quarter, for sure. Sadly, I only get one year with her, but we’re just excited and she fits right in with all of us.”
Dani Vito added 11 points, while Reese Henderson had seven points for Montville. Bella Vito, Carey Werheim, Katie Gorski, Julia Demetropoulos and Gianna LaScala each added 3-pointers, as Montville got its entire roster involved in the fourth quarter with the game in hand.
"If you told me we were going to be 12-0 at this point-because of who we played so far- I would have been surprised," Wax said. "But I’m super excited that we are. We’ve beat some really good teams up to this point, and we’ve showed who we are. We should be the one seed in the county, which is really awesome. We’re obviously not done yet, we haven’t won anything yet, so we’re just excited to keep pushing forward. Hopefully, we can finally get on that banner up there.”
As Wax predicted, thanks to its 12-0 start, Montville landed the top seed in the Morris County Tournament and has a bye for the preliminary round of play. With that, Montville will begin its quest for its first-ever MCT title at home on Feb. 8.
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