MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville girls basketball team has been knocking on the door for the past few years, but has yet to take that final, championship step.
But with almost its entire starting lineup back, along with some talented newcomers adding to its depth, Montville has hopes of finally breaking down that door and will look to compete for the Morris County title, as well as state sectional and group titles in 2019-20.
A program which began this decade mired in a 72-game losing streak has developed into a team that has recorded winning seasons in seven of the last eight years, and has reached the state sectional semifinals for two consecutive years.
"I am very proud of how Montville has become a consistently successful team that builds up its brand year after year," said coach Derek Lynn, who is entering his 11th season leading the program. "At the start of our season, I discussed with this year's team the history of our program and how they are not only playing for themselves, but for the past players who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this program. We have had so many monumental wins along the way, from the Kinnelon game in 2010 which ended our program's 72-game losing streak, to our first state tournament win in 30 years in 2015 at Mahwah, our state tournament win at top-seeded Old Tappan last year, and so many more in between. There's been so many close, tough losses too which always hurt but fuels the fire for future seasons.
"Success can be measured in so many ways, and the one that has been missing for me personally, is a conference, county, and/or state championship. We have been close, but haven't sealed the deal. I'm hoping that this year's team can take Montville to those new heights."
A big reason why there are high hopes for this particular Montville squad going into this season, is the return of senior guard Emma Wax. Wax, who enters this season roughly 60 points shy of 1,000 career points, will be counted on to lead the way much like she has over the past three seasons.
"Emma is focused on helping Montville win some big games we haven't won in our program history," Lynn said. "Emma has a ton of basketball experience on our team, and from playing on big stages with her AAU team. Her toughness, will to win, and her overall basketball ability will hopefully lead us to that next step. Seniors want to win, and with this being her final year at Montville, what better way to end it than by bringing home some hardware?"
As impressive as Wax, who is committed to Division I Marist, is, she will have a very strong supporting cast to spread the ball around to. She'll be joined by twin sisters Bella and Dani Vito, who are both juniors. Both players are individuals that Lynn feels are vastly improving, even after playing a major role both offensively and defensively as sophomores a year ago.
They'll also be able to count on jack-of-all-trades Livia Shine (senior), who can play multiple positions, as well as a strong defender in senior Reese Henderson.
In addition to those five, look for freshman Grace Kowalski to have an immediate impact offensively this season. Freshmen Carey Werheim and Katie Gorski are two players that Lynn expects to grow into roles as the season goes on, while senior Gianna LaScala, sophomore Alyssa Neff, and junior Julia Demetropoulos should all have solid supporting roles this season.
This is a team that was battle-tested in 2018-19, as it overcame a slow start to the year while playing the toughest schedule in program history by going 12-2 in its final 14 games, with its only two losses coming to Chatham in the Morris County Tournament quarterfinals, and Northern Highlands in the North 1, Group 3 semifinals.
But while the strides made at the end of last season are nice, every season is a new beginning, and resting on its laurels will not be an option for this group.
"It is great having returning talent and experience, but I see each season as a brand new, clean slate," Lynn said. "Some faces are gone, we have some new faces eager to make their mark, and we have some talented new opponents to challenge us this season."
Lynn added, "Our goal is to win our conference, the county, and our state section. We have the talent and experience to do so, and we know we have a target on our backs this season. We had a challenging schedule last year, played some tough teams over the summer and fall, and have another tough schedule this winter. We are hoping that playing against constant tough competition will pay off in the end this season."
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