National Conference. When Larry DiGiovanni decided to relinquish the girls' head coaching duties at Holy Spirit after a decade at the helm, he left a legacy.
The Spartans had won 10 Cape-Atlantic National Division titles, seven conference crowns, and four league championships.
"They're big shoes to fill," said first-year head coach Dennis Smith, who'd been an assistant at Cherry Hill East for the last eight years. "But the cupboard was not left bare when Larry left."
Holy Spirit returns with two of the best guards in the league: seniors Tenisha Mobley and Sarah Marakas. The Spartans also have enough depth to go 10 to 12 deep on a bench with talent.
St. Joseph, which won the National 2 crown last season, return just one starter. Jade Howard, a first-team all-conference player the last two seasons, averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds per game. The 6-foot senior forward/center is one of the best players in the Cape-Atlantic.
The starting lineup will be filled with newcomers up from the junior varsity team, transfers, and three freshmen.
Sacred Heart, which lost to Trenton Catholic in the South Jersey B quarterfinals last season, welcome back three starters: senior guard Ally Ferrucci and juniors Brittany Harden, a 5-8 forward, and Megan Petuskey, a 6-0 center. All are two-year starters.
Other letter winners add balance to the team. They are senior guard Tess Elder, junior forward Brandi Smith, junior forward Tay-Tay Loatman, and sophomore guard Mandy Burch.
Our Lady of Mercy Academy has two returnees: senior guard Lauren Hartman and junior forward Karli Ernst. They will be joined by Ali Dandrea, a sensational sophomore guard who sat out most of last season after tearing a ligament in her knee. To fill out the starting five and beyond, coach Steve Wescott has 12 letter winners, many of whom have played AAU basketball.
Middle Township, the South Jersey Group 2 runner-up, has one returning starter in Kelsey McCusker, a senior guard who averaged eight points per game and 3.5 assists last season. The starting lineup will be filled by players who logged significant time last season as reserves, including seniors Mariah Smolka and Morgan Anagnou, and juniors Kristina Startare and Anna Ay. Coach John Leahy can go four deep on the bench.
Two starters, seniors Carlie Senatore and Laura Martin, return for Wildwood Catholic. Senatore, a guard, averaged 8.5 points per game last season and had 36 steals. Martin, a forward, averaged 8.5 points per game and 9.8 rebounds.
Senior Lizzie McCallion, a 5-10 center, will start, along with junior point guard Kaci Youschak. The fifth starter is uncertain on a team with little depth.
American Conference. Atlantic City, the American Conference champions, defeated Holy Spirit, 53-50, in overtime last season for the league title and return with a new head coach and one returning starter.
Chris Ford Jr. will build around senior Amber Knox, a 5-7 forward who averaged five points, three rebounds and 1.3 steals a game last season. Knox will be surrounded by players with speed and athleticism.
Deaja Reynolds, a 5-6 sophomore guard up from the junior varsity team, will key the defense. Letter-winner Sarah Lopez, a 5-5 sophomore who won praise last season, is projected to be the starting point guard.
Vineland will challenge Atlantic City and Ocean City for supremacy in the conference with five returning starters and a bench that goes 10 to 11 players deep.
The guards are seniors Alicia Cox and Kyra Lunsford. Lunsford averaged 18 points and was a top rebounder despite her 5-4 stature. A good outside shooter, Rutgers-bound Lunsford averaged 8.5 points per game last season.
Senior Shavonne Davis, a 6-1 center, averaged 6.6 points and 10 rebounds, and 5-11 forward Janae Williams averaged eight points.
For Ocean City, Julia Duggan, a 6-1 center, leads a cast of four returning starters. The sophomore averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds last season and was named to the Cape-Atlantic American second all-star team. She is joined by juniors Emily Duggan, Reilly Larkin, and Emily Gillian. Letter-winners Kelsey Ladd, a 5-5 senior guard, and Samantha Robinson, a 5-10 junior forward, will compete for the fifth spot.
The Red Raiders start with a strong frontcourt and have a backcourt that will improve.
Absegami, described by head coach Meghan Tracey as a "work in progress," has a pair of returning starters and letter winners who go nine deep.
Junior MacKenzie Wimberg and senior Alexis Brooks are the leaders. Wimberg, a 5-10 forward, paced the team last season with more than 10 double-doubles. Brooks, a 5-10 forward, scored more than 100 points and grabbed more than 100 rebounds last season.
The Braves have good post players, but their guards need to develop.
Egg Harbor Township has a heavy senior presence that extends beyond the four returning starters: Gina DiDomenico, a first-team all-conference guard; guard Laura Phillips; 6-1 forward Karen Chikezie; and 5-10 forward Cherise Carter.
Senior forwards Taylor Reed and Rachael Scheiter also saw lots of playing time, along with Selena Santiago, a sophomore guard who made second team all-conference. Four letter winners and a freshman add depth.
Lower Cape May has switched conferences. Senior forward Marisa Staley, who averaged nine points and 14 rebounds last season, is out with a knee injury. So until her expected return in mid-January, two other starters will lead the team: Marissa McCorkel and Rylee Gould.
A junior guard, McCorkel paced the team with 10 points a game last season. Gould, a senior guard, averaged six points and four assists. The rest of the starters are letter winners. A .500 season or better is the goal.
For Mainland, senior guard Keelin McGee, junior guard Jillian Sandilands, and sophomore forward Alex Raring are the key players on a team that has experience and runs eight deep.
- Bill Iezzi