Bulldogs beat Newton, 44-42, to take Group II title

By Brad Stratton
Staff Writer

EVERY season, Rumson-Fair Haven girls basketball coach George Sourlis ranks “qualifying for the Tournament of Champions” at the top of his season goals.

In that regard, the 2001-02 season was overwhelmingly a success.

But the Bulldogs’ 46-36 loss to Trenton in the Tournament of Champions semifinal didn’t hurt any less.

“It was unfortunate,” Sourlis said. “I don’t think we played to our potential (against Trenton). I would say that was due in part to Trenton’s pressure. But if we had played better and lost, it wouldn’t have hurt so much.”

Rumson’s loss to Trenton, the eventual state champion, March 19 at the Dunn Center in Elizabeth ended one of the Bulldogs’ greatest seasons ever. Their 27-4 record was the second-best in team history. They returned to the Tournament of Champions for the first time since 1996, and according to Sourlis, in doing so became the first public school from the Shore Conference to qualify more than once.

In 1996, Red Bank Catholic stopped the Bulldogs in the semifinals, defeating them 52-43. This year, it was Trenton.

The Bulldogs gave it all to stay close to Trenton, but they could not beat the Tornadoes, who had previously knocked Marlboro out of the Central Jersey Group IV tournament.

Mykeema Ford and Charnette Phelps guided Trenton into the state championship game at the Continental Airlines Arena with a combined for 36 points … Rumson’s total.

“Our foul shooting wasn’t where it had been all year, and that hurt a lot,” Sourlis said the day after the game. “Our foul shooting was at 70 percent for the year, and we shot 13 of 23 (against Trenton). If we shot 70 percent, the game goes down to the wire.

“(Trenton) has a great guard and forward. We knew they were quick and we knew they were big. I personally think they’re playing like the best team in the state.”

This season’s end meant the close of impressive careers at Rumson for two seniors … guard Amanda DeMartino and forward/center Chrissy Fisher.

DeMartino finished her career with 970 points and was the team’s second-leading scorer. She’ll continue her career at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where she will play for the Division III Judges.

“It was definitely awesome to win all of Group II and go to the ToC,” DeMartino said. “We worked so hard to get to that point. What a way to end my career. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

DeMartino will be missed. “We’re losing a steady ball handler, and we’re losing a leader,” Sourlis said. “She knew the game very well. It was like having another coach on the floor.”

And then there was Fisher. She committed to the University of Maryland before the season started, then averaged 17.3 points per game. She surpassed the 1,500-point mark Jan. 29 in a 52-46 win against Point Beach. and on Feb. 27, passed Erinn O’Neill (1,658 points) for second place on the Bulldogs’ all-time list with her first bucket in the second half of a 50-31 win against Colts Neck in the Central Jersey Group II quarterfinal.

Fisher finished her career with 1,775 points, second only to Virginia Sourlis’ 2,112. She also set a school record with 1,265 career rebounds.

“I’m losing the best player I’ve ever coached,” Sourlis said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to watch Chrissy play next year.”

“The real reason I went to Rumson was to play for coach Sourlis,” Fisher said. “He’s a great coach, and playing for him has been a great experience. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

The loss of players such as Fisher and DeMartino could drop a team out of contention the next season. Rumson has eight months until then, but the future already looks solid.

“We’re definitely going to miss both of our seniors, and we’re going to have to rely a little bit on teamwork,” said junior Lauren Pappa. “We’re going to be fast and we’re going to be capable of doing things on defense. We’re definitely going to miss Chrissy a lot, but we can make up for it in other ways.”

Pappa (8.5 ppg) and fellow junior Amy Dykstra undoubtably will shoulder more responsibilities in their senior seasons, while sophomore Gately Golden (6 ppg, 9.5 rpg) will be expected to continue her development.

And freshman point guard Carly Golden, whom Sourlis pegged as a future star, will look to build on the foundation she set this season.

“We put a lot of responsibility on her as a freshman, and she did a very admirable job,” Sourlis said. “She should be proud of herself.

“If we can get five or six kids to improve, we’ll be in in good shape. There’s no reason why we can’t be back in the hunt. We’ll be different, but we’ll still play defense hard.”

When a season ends, some coaches say the next season starts immediately. It is never too early to start preparing for next season, but the Bulldogs will take a break first.

“You have to shut down for a little bit,” Sourlis said. “From a personal standpoint, I’m tired. And I didn’t even play, so I can imagine the girls need a break.

“This was one of the hardest working teams I’ve ever coached. They battled; they were warriors. They may have been the least rah-rah team I’ve ever had, but when they got between the black lines, they always played hard.

“They overcame a lot of pain and gained a championship. They were a true champion.”

Asbury Park Press (Red Bank Reporter) – March 28, 2002