A player from the St. Catharine-St. Margaret CYO girls Varsity team goes up against Hamilton Township’s Our Lady of Sorrows. Mike Ehrmann photo
A player from the St. Catharine-St. Margaret CYO girls Varsity team goes up against Hamilton Township’s Our Lady of Sorrows. Mike Ehrmann photo
For the St. Catharine-St. Margaret CYO girls basketball teams, it was a matter of one team defending their championship and another regaining theirs.

Mission accomplished for both squads from the Spring Lake parish.

St. Catharine’s Varsity team took a 54-30 victory over Hamilton Township’s Our Lady of Sorrows, and the JV grabbed a 34-12 win over St. James of Pennington in the Msgr. Leonard Toomey Diocesan CYO Tournament championship games Feb. 29.

Varsity won its second straight diocesan title in the Mincey Manczak Gymnasium at Trenton’s Mercer County CYO Center, and finished its remarkable season with a 46-0 record.

Photo GalleriesJV Girls, St. Catharine v St. James AND Varsity Girls, St. Catharine v Our Lady of Sorrows

After falling in the championship game last year, the JV garnered its third crown in four years and capped a 30-1 season played against formidable competition.

Since varsity coach Ellen Masonius could not make the final, the coaching was shared by assistants Trish Stapleton and Kathy Westhoven and JV coach Mark Donnelly.

“This group had one of the best two-year runs in St. Catharine's history,” Donnelly said. “Last year it was even more amazing because they went undefeated in the [Monmouth County League] and won the Diocese championship with mostly seventh-graders, so we definitely expected to be back in a position to win this year.”

McKenna Karlson led St. Catharine with 11 points against OLS, and contributions came from throughout the lineup.

“I thought Hayla Dora really turned the game around in the second half with her defense; whether it was getting steals and deflections or putting a lot of pressure on the ball and forcing contested passes that led to turnovers,” Donnelly noted. “ Then she took those turnovers and pushed the ball into easy baskets that really got us rolling in the second half.”

The coach also praised Karlson for constantly attacking the basket; Siobhan Stapleton for grabbing rebounds to start the fast break or hitting timely 3-point shots; and Hope Massonius for overcoming first-half foul trouble to penetrate into the paint to either score or kick out to teammates. Massonius also hit some key 3-pointers.

Over the course of the season, Shea Donnelly’s hustle, defense and rebounding made a huge impact, along with her perimeter shooting. Kayla Westhoven was a physical presence inside and, according to Donnelly, always put herself “on the line for every loose ball and rebound.”  Breanna Cies was also a strong rebounder, while Anna Clark displayed stellar court vision and passing ability, and Mairead Merkler was able to knock down timely shots during crunch time.

Siobhan Stapleton and Grace Love also chipped in at various times, although Love missed the season’s last month due to injury.

Massonius, Stapleton, Westhover, Cies and Merkler have been the team’s nucleus since fifth grade. Karlson and Dora entered the school last year, “making it a very special and talented group along with a strong seventh-grade class of Donnelly, Clark and Love,” coach Donnelly said.

“When you consider this two-year run they have been on and the amount of games they have played each season, I would say they were very businesslike in how they came to play each and every game over a four to five month period and figure out ways to win,” Donnelly said. “At this age, to have this level of success day in and day out, month after month, it's a real credit to the kids.”

Masonius and Karlson will both attend Manasquan High School next year, Westhoven is headed for St. Rose and Stapleton and Dora are going to Manasquan. Cies and Merkler are still undecided.

In the JV final, Niamh Stapleton led St. Catharine’s with 9 points, which nearly equaled the entire St. James team in an outstanding defensive effort by SC.

It was a veteran team loaded with 12 sixth-graders and six fifth-graders, and the players all put the team before the individual.

“The biggest strength of this team, without a doubt, is unselfishness and team-first mentality,” said Donnelly, who was assisted by Meg Rigney. “We were lucky to have a very talented team.” 

Because of St. Catharine’s willingness to share the ball, teams could not focus on any one player, making St. Catharine hard to defend.

“They have always really bought into making the extra pass, no matter who gets the shot,” Donnelly said. “They just play with great chemistry, and always have. It’s a special group.”

In the championship game, Brooke Missry attacked the basket with authority for lay-ups or kickouts, while Shannon Looney hit two 3-pointers and also penetrated to the hoop.

Donnelly noted that Erin Dwyer, Maris Child and Bridgit Rigney “did an amazing job pressuring the ball on defense, disrupting what the other team was trying to do, and getting us into fast breaks as well as driving to create shots for themselves or their teammates.”

Maddie Rigney and Paige Donnelly both came off the bench to hit some timely 3-pointers, while back-up center Madde Quinn was “a bit of an unsung hero in that she was a great leader in getting players where they needed be, being vocal, and getting us into plays, especially on baseline out of bounds plays.”

The JV’s only loss this year was by three points to an AAU team in a tournament championship game after going unbeaten during the regular season. St. Catharine entered some competitive tournaments to toughen up for the Diocesan Tournament and won a seventh-eighth-grade tourney earlier in the season.

“The goal was to get back here and win this year,” Donnelly said. “I knew we had the talent, only the coaching could have derailed this team! Meg and I were feeling the pressure to get back and win this game. This is a great group of kids and parents, and we especially wanted the sixth-graders to get the win.”