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Youngsters line landscape of S.J. girls' hoops

There were times during the 2010-11 girls' basketball postseason when you felt as if you were looking into a crystal ball.

There were times during the 2010-11 girls' basketball postseason when you felt as if you were looking into a crystal ball.

There was the South Jersey Group 4 title game, when identical-twin freshmen Kelly and Kylie Giedemann willed Washington Township to an out-of-nowhere sectional title after a below-.500 regular season.

There was the look of awe on Khahliq Lewis-El's face after Rancocas Valley's 6-foot-2 freshman center, Lauren Moses, burned his Trenton Catholic team for 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 blocks in the Tournament of Champions.

All of it served to open some eyes around the state. More than that, it set the stage for a South Jersey season that just might be the year of the underclassmen.

"I've never believed that just because you're older, you're better," Rancocas Valley coach Anthony Corrado said. "For us, what separates Lauren is her desire and her love for the game. When you step in and play as a freshman, aside from having the skills, you have to have that love of the game, and the dedication necessary to succeed."

The Red Devils opened the season as The Inquirer's No. 1-ranked team in South Jersey. And besides relying on Moses, who is set to take her place among the area's dominant players, Rancocas Valley is counting on a big contribution from 6-0 freshman center Kristen Smith.

But RV and Washington Township are far from the only teams in the Inquirer Top 10 leaning on younger players.

In fact, almost half of the starters on the preseason top-three teams are underclassmen.

No. 2 Willingboro will rely on one of the shiftiest guards in South Jersey, sophomore Kara Cezar, who averaged almost 15 points as a freshman.

And the most heralded group of youngsters play for No. 3 Holy Cross. Aliyah Jeune, a 5-11 freshman forward; her sister, 5-8 sophomore guard Ashli Jeune; and sophomore point guard Alliya Butts form a dynamic young core for the Lancers.

Talent and a love of the game might be the seeds of success for an underclassman, but according to Corrado, Moses was able to break out down the stretch because of a quality often lacking in even the most talented freshmen and sophomores.

"It was confidence," Corrado said. "As the year went on, you could see her confidence growing. And, just as much, you could see that the other girls started to have more confidence in her. They started to see the potential she had.

"And by the end of the season, she was able to take things into her own hands and assert herself as a dominant player."

Before the season, Ashli Jeune echoed Corrado, saying that she regularly tells her sister to play with confidence - to not be afraid to be on the floor with older players.

For her part, even though she had success as a freshman, Ashli Jeune looks back at the season as something of a learning experience.

"I think I'm more mature this year. I'm more ready for what the season is going to bring," she said.

It's likely the attitude that many of the area's sophomore stars had entering their season openers. This area's top sophomores also include Jada Matthews, a Paul VI guard; Woodrow Wilson guard Chanelle Perry; and Audubon center Maddie Lord.

The list is long. The potential is limitless.

And, though coaches such as Holy Cross' Fred Philipps express justified concern over the expectations placed on the young players, for most of these great, young players, success is just a matter of time. For some, that time will come sooner than later.

Cezar put it simply when she said, "I'm a sophomore now. I'm more comfortable this year, and I'm just ready to play."