McGuinness, Eagles ready to fly in A North basketball

first_img Meghan McGuinness has decided on a college basketball career at Niagara University and now is concentrating on leading a Middletown South team spotted with inexperienced players on the roster. The Eagles begin play this week with a 2-1 record. “I think we’ll have a really good team for this year,” said McGuinness. “I think we’ll be a lot faster and we’ll be playing four guards at times.” “We’re getting there, but the learning curve is big. But we’ll be ready to roll once the ball goes up,” said coach Tom Brennan. “There’s not too much offense [schemes]. It’s simple but a read-based offense. The freshmen on the team last year are starting to get the concepts, and this year’s freshmen are struggling. Defensively, we’re always predominantly manto man, but we’ll try to push tempo and get more offense out of our defense. Well press a little more and shorten the rotation so they can get out more often for a little bit.” McGuinness, a 5-10 guard, made her college decision last month after narrowing it down to Niagara and another school in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference — upstate New York neighbor Canisius. She officially visited the two schools that also offered the first scholarship packages. McGuinness averaged 16.6 points, six rebounds and three assists per game on a 19-6 team that lost in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV finals for the second straight year to Neptune and was bounced from the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals by St. John Vianney. “It was a really tough decision, but I bonded with the coaches,” said McGuinness. “Once I saw the campus, it was easier to decide.” “It was her comfort level with the coaching staff,” said Brennan. “It’s not far, but not close. It’s a great school with a strong math program, which is good for her.” Brennan said McGuinness should have a chance to play “right away.” McGuinness took an ambitious approach, unofficially visiting about nine colleges, includingMAAC schools Iona and Loyola, and also Holy Cross, the University of New Hampshire, Brown, University of Pennsylvania and Mount St. Mary’s. For McGuinness, it’s her second trip to Florida this year, having gone there as a member of the Central Jersey Hawks AAU team that won the Classic Tournament championship in Walt Disney World. She hopes to be ready to play this week, as she recovers from an injured ankle, on a team hit with key injuries early. Kerry Kinsella, a 5- 9 senior forward who averaged nine points and six rebounds a game, is out indefinitely. “We look forward to her return soon,” said Brennan. Kelly Scheuer and Kathy Healy graduated from last year’s team, but point guard Kelly Haspel is back for her third season in the lineup. “Kelly has done everything asked of her at an extremely high level,” said Brennan. “She’s a really big part of the team. She worked hard in the offseason and improved,” said McGuinness. McGuinness and Haspel worked with many of the returning players in the off-season in some tournaments, most notably in July at Kutztown University, where they spent four days in the Athletes for Better Education team tournament, winning seven of 10 games in a demanding schedule. McGuinness and her high school teammates also competed well in a final team camp at Red Bank Regional High School in August. McGuinness and Haspel are pivotal to the Eagles’ doing well this season. It lost 13 games the past two years, all to St. John Vianney, Neptune and Colts Neck. The three teams had played in the Tournament of Champions finals the last two years. Colts Neck, a nemesis for the Eagles, has moved out of the Shore ConferenceANorth to B North. What also may help significantly is the return of Megan Gray from an anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered at the start of last season, and the continued development of sophomore 5-10 center Jackie Dluhi, who played a lot last year. Gray will be the sixth man. “She has a ton of heart with nuances to her game that are not statable,” Brennan said of Gray. “She’s an integral factor. We’ll be as effective as we can be if she goes past the first defender and gets to the second line and then puts up mid-range shots.” As for Dluhi, she can be the force underneath that can make the Eagles a contender again. “Teams will have to collapse on her, and then if she’s not open, she’ll kick it out to others,” said McGuinness. McGuinness said she has concentrated on shooting off the dribble “a lot in the fall.” “We talked after the season about that,” said Brennan. “And about her using a pump fake and one dribble or two to the basket and getting by the defender. It looks good.” Carissa Gray, a 5-foot-7 guard who is Megan’s sister, has worked her way into the stating lineup. “She will be the key to anything we’re trying to do on defense,” said Brennan. “She and Kiera Grant [a 5-8 sophomore guard] are the one-two punch of what we’re trying to do on defense. They’re long and quick. And Kiera is a slasher going to the basket.” Sophomore Lauren Van Exter also will see significant playing time. The 5-foot-7 guard/forward was the goalkeeper for the school’s girls soccer team that made the state tournament for the first time in recent years. The Eagles lost their first meeting with the Howell Rebels, the team picked with the Eagles to be the teams to beat inANorth this year. Howell won the game, 46-38, on Dec. 20. The next key game is Jan. 10 at home against another leading division contender — Freehold Township, which is off to a 4-0 start. The Eagles’ rematch with Howell is Jan. 18 in Howell. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent last_img