Talent and coaching.

In the Italian capital, they say all roads lead to Rome.

In South Jersey, all arteries are aimed at Ocean City when it comes to Cape-Atlantic League girls' basketball.

Most coaches agree that the defending South Jersey Group 3 champion Red Raiders have the talent and coaching to run the table again in American Division 2 and win the overall conference title for the third consecutive year.

Holy Spirit coach Larry DiGiovanni said Ocean City is the best team in the Shore area.

An Ocean of optimism.

Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi begins his eighth season at the helm with much optimism.

Most of the starters have returned to a team that went 8-0 in the division and 27-5 overall. Included are two players who form one of the best backcourts in the conference, seniors Sarah Gibbs and Liz Ker.

Baruffi, younger cousin of Vineland girls' coach Rich Baruffi, says his frontcourt is comparable to those of Atlantic City and Absegami.

Seniors Meredith Schoyer, Kelly Brady and Shannon Lane lead the charge.

A loss and a gain.

Laurie Carter also starts her eight season as Atlantic City head coach but with a big hole in the lineup. Junior guard Joanna Persiano transferred to Holy Spirit.

However, Carter gained a starting guard from Egg Harbor Township, sophomore Amber Knox. Junior Bria Hill is the other guard.

Junior forward Tiana Cannon leads a frontcourt that includes center Kenzi Johnson, who saw limited action last year off the bench.

This year's bench is strong with two freshmen likely to see lots of action, forward Ta'yon Morgan-Jones and point guard Evyn Humphries.

New world.

Absegami (8-0, 26-4) returns without two of the top frontcourt players in South Jersey – Sara Mostafa and Tara Booker, who graduated – and a new coach, Meghan Tracey.

Tracey, an assistant to former coach Greg Goodwin for the last four years, is familiar with a program that produced 11 division, nine conference, five South Jersey and two state championships under Goodwin.

And she has some good players returning.

The Braves' nucleus is made up of seniors Ty Abilla, Lydia Jackson and Dana Kesiter. Guards Abilla and Jackson averaged 8 and 7 points per game, respectively.

Keister, now a center, averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds as a forward.

Sacred Heart's streak.

Defending National 2 champion Sacred Heart is favored to win its seventh straight divisional crown.

Senior Ashley Durham, who led South Jersey in scoring with 25.4 points per game last season, returns at guard. Paired with senior spark plug Wonje Lungu, Durham gives Sacred Heart the best backcourt in the division.

Forwards Nicole Conroy and Leah Braidi and center Tyesha Simmonds return to the starting lineup with improved skills.

Transfer complete.

Holy Spirit is the defending National 1 champ. The Spartans have an excellent backcourt and frontcourt that includes four returnees. A transfer student from Atlantic City completes the starting lineup.

Sophomores Taneshia Mobley and Sarah Marakos are the returning guards. Seniors Jesse Frazier and Kristen Polisano are the returning forwards.

Junior transfer Joanna Persiano, a guard, is an excellent three-point shooter. She will be eligible to play in January.

- Bill Iezzi