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Led by versatile Duggan, Ocean City is on the rise

She was Ocean City's top scorer in a win over a team widely considered one of the state's up-and-coming girls' basketball powers.

She was Ocean City's top scorer in a win over a team widely considered one of the state's up-and-coming girls' basketball powers.

But there was a 20-minute conversation after Ocean City's 43-37 overtime victory over Willingboro that, according to Red Raiders coach Paul Baruffi, told everything you need to know about Julia Duggan.

"She got into foul trouble in that game," Baruffi said. "And she committed some fouls that she understands she shouldn't be committing.

"So we sat down and talked about how she has to avoid those kinds of situations. And what really impressed me is just that she listens. She will really try to focus on improving or correcting the mistakes that she makes. And it's just enjoyable to coach a player that really cares about what you say and really wants to be better."

In three years of varsity play, Duggan, a 6-foot-2 junior center, has made enough of those small improvements to become one of the most well-rounded players in South Jersey.

She is the top player on a team that looks like one of the area's strongest, particularly after Sunday's victory over Willingboro, The Inquirer's No. 2-ranked preseason team in South Jersey.

"That win set the tone for the season," said Duggan, who, with 15 points, was the only Red Raider in double figures against the Chimeras. "Willingboro is very good. It was a tough game. Beating them gave us the confidence."

That's not to say that Ocean City didn't already have confidence.

The Red Raiders have all but two players back after winning the South Jersey Group 3 title last season. They have solid guard play and a dominant frontcourt, consisting of Duggan and her sister, 6-0 senior forward Emily Duggan.

Baruffi said confidence and experience allowed Ocean City to pull away after a back-and-forth game against Willingboro.

"The past couple of years, when we didn't have experience, we've lost games like the Willingboro game," said Baruffi, whose team is vying for its first back-to-back sectional titles since 2007-08 and '08-09. "So it definitely helps to have a team that's been in these situations before."

Floor generals. At Camden Catholic games, the Irish's two senior starters direct traffic like a symphony.

Nicole Angelo and Kelsey Kilpatrick are starting senior guards for a team that starts three sophomores in the frontcourt.

Both have extensive varsity experience, and both look like coaches-in-training on the court for the 2-0 Irish.

"We knew from the very beginning that we were going to have to talk the sophomore class through a lot of things to start the season," Kilpatrick said. "We just try to be leaders as best as we can."

Said Angelo: "As captains, as seniors, we try to help bring the younger players along, give them confidence, and let them know they can do it."

For their part, Angelo and Kilpatrick are two of the top shooters in South Jersey - particularly from long range. In a 40-37 win over Timber Creek on Tuesday, Angelo, who fittingly wears No. 3, went 3 for 3 from beyond the arc early in the first quarter, giving her team a lead it never lost.

"With our younger players, the team is still getting used to playing with each other," coach Chris Palladino said. "And Kelsey and Nicole already had great chemistry, great work ethic, and they've been great leaders for the younger girls."

Eye-opener. A season after finishing one game below .500, Shawnee (2-0) is poised to contend in the Olympic Conference Patriot Division.

The Renegades opened the season with a surprising and authoritative 59-48 victory over defending South Jersey Group 4 champion Washington Township.

"It was pretty amazing," Shawnee senior Erin Molina said. "The whole team met up afterwards and talked about how it was just a really good way to start the year."

Molina, a 5-11 forward, is a four-year starter closing in on 1,000 points. But the Renegades' greatest strength is its depth. Four players scored in double figures and another player had eight points against Washington Township.

The Renegades also are getting solid production from a strong freshman class, led by forward Nikola Williams and guard Taylor Ryan.

"It's nice having balance," said Shawnee coach Brian Anderson, whose team will face another big test against Seneca on Wednesday night. "We have a great leader in Erin. And the bottom line is that we have to make sure we keep playing smart and working hard."