The St. John Vianney High School girls basketball program is the most successful in New Jersey’s history, with 16 state championships and seven Tournament of Champions titles.  freepik photo
The St. John Vianney High School girls basketball program is the most successful in New Jersey’s history, with 16 state championships and seven Tournament of Champions titles. freepik photo

With the NJSIAA basketball state tournament canceled this year due to COVID-19, coaches have constantly been asked what motivation their teams have.

St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell has an easy answer when it comes to her girls. They are playing for the honor of their program, which is the most successful in New Jersey’s history, with 16 state championships and seven Tournament of Champions titles.

“It’s a shame they can’t prove on the court where they might finish,” said Karpell, who returned every player from a 28-1 team. “But they take great pride in wearing the uniform and just want to go out and win as much as they can with whatever schedule is in front of them.”

It is part of the SJV mystique, which draws players who will battle to win a preseason scrimmage against their JV team, if that’s all that was available.

“I’m so lucky to coach kids of that caliber,” said Karpell, whose team was ranked No. 1 in the state by NJ.com in early February.

The Lancers’ returning starters are University of Richmond-bound senior Katie Hill and senior Emma Bruen (undecided on college) and juniors Madison St. Rose, Meg Cahalan (Holy Cross) and Ashley O’Connor. Senior Sianna Bradley (Wheaton), sophomores Janie Bachmann, Ciera Cevallos, Bre Delaney, Charlotte Dooley, Mikaela Hubbard and Ashley Sofilkanich and freshman Julia Karpell (the coach’s daughter) all see time.

Unfortunately, it’s the second straight year the uber-talented group will be denied the shot at a state crown. The season was shut down last year during the pandemic after SJV won the South Jersey Non-Public A title, and there is no state tournament or conference tournament this year.

The Shore Conference has broken down into pods during the season but has given schools the opportunity to switch out pod games to play other teams. In doing so, they forfeit the right to win their regular-season pod championship, but are still eligible for the post-season tournament that groups Shore teams ranked 1-8, 9-16 and 17-24. Groupings will be decided by committee.

Karpell swapped games out to pick up contests with No. 2 ranked Trenton Catholic, No. 3 Saddle River Day and No. 5 Red Bank Catholic. SJV won its first two games of the year against No. 16 Rumson-Fairhaven.

In essence, the coach has given the regular-season a Tournament of Champions atmosphere for her squad.

“I use my regular season to build for the playoffs, to play out-of-state, nationally ranked teams, but we can’t do that this year,” Karpell said. “So why not play the best teams we can in-state with the opportunities we’re given, and when we get to the playoff pod, hopefully we’ll be ready to go. These girls are basketball players, so any time they have an opportunity to get out on the court and play, we’re just going to take full advantage of that.”