MADISON, NJ - The tag line "March Madness" is associated with the NCAA basketball's big tournament known as the "Big Dance" A tournament that involves basketball teams from storied programs UNC, UCONN & Duke to smaller lesser known teams that enter the tournament as "Cinderella". South Plainfield has a new Cinderella this year. Welcome to March Madness and say hello to the SP SWISH, 7th grade girls travel basketball team. The players in alpha order: Anna Gnapp, Autumn Barge, Brianna Harris, Deleaney Born, Emma Morin, Julia Ghanim, Kelcy, McCoy, Mia Silverstein, Olivia Olano, Tori, Euston & Zyane Shephard.
The team came together in November with seven returning players from the prior season and four new players. Head coach Jim Olano and assistant Mark Gnapp saw potential in these players but who could predict what was about to unfold over the next four months? During the regular season the SP Swish had some adversity whether it was the flu bug, injury or the blizzard, playing consistent basketball wasn't in the cards. As the regular season came to a close their record was 6-6, good enough for the 6th seed in the Jersey Basketball playoff tournament with plays like these:
As the playoffs started the team was back at full strength and practices became more energetic and players more confident. The opening playoff game against rival Clark was an all out blitz. It was a home game and there was a buzz in the gym. The parents and fans who were so supportive throughout the season came out and packed the PAL. SWISH won in impressive fashion 40-23 and it was on to the next round. Waiting in the wings was 3rd seed Berkeley Heights who lost in the championship game the prior year. It was a back and forth battle that saw SP SWISH defense really step up and led the way to a 29-25 victory. The girls were rolling and confidence was at a high. The SWISH were heading to Mendham for the semi-final game. Over the last two seasons Mendham has only lost four times and was undefeated at home. The SWISH were on a mission, they knew they were only one step away from the championship game, where anything can happen. They also knew they had to play well and they DID! With a 42-37 victory, Coach Gnapp mentioned it was best basketball game they have played in two years. The offense was finding the open man and the shots were dropping while the defense was active and imposing. Welcome to the Championship game!
Bound Brook the #1 seed had taken care of Chatham, New Providence and Cranford in dominating fashion showing why they were the #1. The finals were played at a neutral site in Madison. "Leave it all on the court!", Olano yelled as his team walked on. Olano reminded his team that it was not going to be easy but they deserved to be here. The game started and the girls had butterflies, Brook packed in a tight zone that forced SP into turnovers and bad shots. As the 1st qtr ended the SWISH were scoreless and demoralized but it wasn't due to lack of effort. Coach O. reminded them to keep believing in themselves. The 2nd qtr was much of the same for the SWISH as they were a bit tentative, losing 13 -4 in a defensive battle. During halftime, Olano told his team that they were in a position for an epic comeback but they needed to make it happen, start taking chances. The road warriors woke up winning the 3rd qtr 9-7, confidence and energy on the rise. The fans had something to cheer for and the momentum shifted to SP's favor. The 4th quarter started with Brook leading 20-13 but SP was just getting started. Brook went into stall tactics trying to ice the game but it turned out to be premature. SP girls dug in on defense and with every pass they were trapping and stealing, every shot contested. Brook was very frustrated and back on their heels. The SWISH were running and gunning, shots were going in from all angles. A long 3 point shot tied it at 20 and it was pure bedlam! Through sheer desire, SP fought all the way back! Brook was stunned and busted while the girls from SP were fired up! They went on to close the final quarter on a 17-3 run and won 30-23. After not scoring in the 1st qtr, they never gave up and their hard work paid off! This season was a great journey for these girls and one of the best Cinderella stories ever.