The third-seeded Ridgers, under third-year head coach Joe Mazzarella, delivered top efforts in the North Jersey Section 2, Group 1 state tournament and were rewarded with a trip to the final for the first time since 2003.
The Ridgers gave another tremendous effort, despite falling at top-seeded New Providence, 51-48, on March 10.
The Ridgers, after overcoming a 1-4 start to the season, finished with a respectable 14-14 mark.
In the sectional final, Glen Ridge trailed 15-11 at the end of the first quarter and 31-21 at the half. New Providence increased the lead to 44-30 at the end of three quarters.
But the Ridgers made a furious comeback, scoring the first 11 points of the fourth quarter to cut it to 44-41. The Ridgers again got within three points with a chance to tie it with seven seconds left. But New Providence held on to the victory to improve to 27-3.
For the Ridgers, senior Michaila Dowd and sophomore Elettra Giantomenico each scored a game-high 16 points. Senior Sarah Cullinan had six points; senior Hailey Pine and sophomore Amayah Melbourne each had four points and junior Jillian Goffe had two points.
Towards the end of the season, the Ridgers posted an impressive 50-46 win over a solid Group 3 team in Nutley on Feb. 20 in a Super Essex Conference-Liberty Division game, avenging 48-27 loss on jan. 21 at home. Nutley finished with a 19-9 record and won the SEC-Liberty title.
After dropping the next two games against Newark Academy and Payne Tech to finish the season, the Ridgers started the postseason, beating No 14 seed Dayton, 41-23, in the first round on March 2, No. 6 Shabazz, 39-33, in the quarterfinals on March 4, and No. 15 Arts, 37-32, in the semifinals on March 6, all at home.
A day after the game, Mazzarella expressed his elation for his team’s season.
“Without question, the most fun I’ve had coaching,” Mazzarrella said of the season. “To think where this team was in early January to where we ended up is storybook.”
Mazzarella expressed how proud he was of his team’s comeback effort in the sectional final.
“In last night’s sectional final, we never quit,” he said. “Down 14 points going into the fourth quarter and cutting the lead to two, and then ultimately being down three with the ball and a chance to tie the game with seven seconds left, is incredible for our 14-14 team on the road against a 27-3 extremely-talented New Providence team. I believe playing in the SEC-Liberty Division and scheduling hard out-of-conference games really prepared us for the moment.
“All year long, the girls fought and played hard and continued to push and never quit,” Mazzarella continued. “But what’s most important is that they believed. They believed in our coaching staff, they believed in each other, and they believed in themselves. And that belief started with the incredible leadership by our three senior captains, Haleigh Pine, Sarah Cullinan and Michaila Dowd. Their toughness, coupled with our sophomores Elettra Giantomenco and Amayah Melbourne’s ability and skill, really was the perfect recipe.
“It took a little while for us to finally hit our stride, but we played the right kind of basketball at exactly the right time, when it mattered most, leading up to and in the playoffs.”
Mazzarella will miss all the seniors, in addition to the captains. The other seniors are Macy Weber and Kaylie Koenig, both three-year varsity letterwinners; two-year varsity letterwinner Ava Rollo and first-year varsity letterwinner Angelie Roy.
“I’m just so proud of our girls and our program,” Mazzarella said. “Having just finished year three in the head-coach seat, I’m very pleased with what our program has been able to accomplish in this short time, and I will continue to believe that the sky’s the limit for Glen Ridge girls basketball.”
The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association on March 12 canceled the rest of the season due to COVID-19. That included all the public and non-public Group finals and state boys and girls Tournament of Champions.
The following GRHS players earned All SEC-Liberty Division honors:
Second team: Giantomenico
Honorable mention: Pine and Cullinan
Photos by Steve Ellmore
Glen Ridge (red uniforms) vs. New Providence (North 2, Group 1 final, March 10)