Now that Tara Booker and Sara Mostafa have signed with George Washington University, the Absegami girls' basketball team can get back to the business of winning a Group 4 state title.
Booker, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, and Mostafa, a 6-5 senior center, helped lead the Braves to a state championship as sophomores. Absegami also won the crown the previous season with Booker in the starting lineup and Mostafa coming off the bench.
Last season, Booker played with an injury in the postseason, and her effectiveness was compromised during the final four games. Absegami lost to Trenton Central, 58-36, in the state semifinals.
This season, the Braves' dominating frontcourt is just fine. Add in two more returning starters - junior point guard Ty Abilla, who averaged 6.3 points per game, and senior forward Dana Keister - and the Braves could improve on last season's 24-5 campaign.
Senior Jess Sartorio, a shooting guard, provides additional firepower for the defending Cape-Atlantic League American Division I champions. The Braves go eight deep, and begin the season ranked No.1 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.
Willingboro, ranked No.2, won the NJSIAA Group 3 state championship last season and returns with a cupboard filled with delights, led by sensational senior guard Jasmine Rich. With even more depth this season, the Chimeras are expecting to do well in the postseason.
Ranked No. 3, Cherokee bowed to Absegami, 43-36, in last season's South Jersey final. The Chiefs have three starters returning: guards Tara Mangold and Stacy Wicksted, and 6-2 forward Laura Sweeney, the school's all-time leading scorer among girls and boys.
Eastern, which begins the season No. 4 in South Jersey, confirms the Olympic American as the strongest division in South Jersey. The Vikings have a star in sophomore center Genevieve Okuro, along with junior returnees Morgan Halbruner and Barrie Cohen. Okuro and Halbruner both stand 6-1.
Ranked at No. 5, Lenape is a defending Olympic American cochampion. Lenape, which lost to Absegami in the sectional semifinals last season, welcomes back sophomore guard Christina Foggie and two other starters, senior point guard Kendra Johnson and junior forward Danielle Woll. In all, nine players will see action.
Washington Township, which tied with Lenape for the Olympic American title, is ranked sixth. Township, which lost to Cherokee in a sectional semifinal, returns seasoned junior twins Dana and Shawna Wert, as well as Gina Turdo, a 6-0 senior post player. Add senior point guard Allie Bassetti and sophomore forward Ashley Giedemann to the mix, and the Minutemaids field a formidable starting five.
No. 7 Holy Spirit is the defending Cape-Atlantic National Division I champion. The Spartans feature three starters returning and add 6-2 sophomore transfer Hillary Drinovsky.
No. 8 Holy Cross, which has played in the shadow of Burlco Patriot champion Cinnaminson the last five seasons, has five veterans returning and should be the team to beat in the division.
Defending Olympic Conference National Division champion Camden Catholic, ranked No. 9, has a young but talented team and a veteran coach. Center Serifat Junaid returns.
No. 10 Collingswood has a trio of returning starters, including swingman Lauren Gregg, who signed with Rider University, plus the Crites twins, Brielle and Aja. Expect the Panthers to make a run for the Colonial Conference championship and beyond.
The Inquirer GIRLS' TOP 10
Team Record Comment
24-5 Powered by the best frontcourt in South Jersey.
23-10 Loaded with talent, namely point guard Jasmine Rich.
21-8 High-scoring Laura Sweeney makes Chiefs tough to beat.
19-8 Center Genevieve Okuro and the Vikings will blossom.
23-5 Christina Foggie will lead Indians to new heights.
21-7 Good depth, plus the Wert twins in the backcourt.
21-8 Depth, experience and shooting guard Danielle Wessler.
15-2 It is the season for the Lancers to lead the Burlco Patriot pack.
23-4 Tall, quick and athletic team that will dazzle opponents.
17-10 Swing forward Lauren Gregg and Crites twins are superb.
Under consideration (listed alphabetically):
Bishop Eustace (16-9), Cherry Hill East (10-14), Middle Township (17-11), Palmyra (22-7), Sacred Heart (24-5).
- Bill Iezzi