MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Maplewood Travel Basketball program recently concluded its most successful season since the inception of the Suburban League in 1974.
Sponsored by the Maplewood Recreation Department, the program consists of eight teams ranging from grade 4 to grade 8. That includes 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade boys’ teams, and 6th, 7th and 8th grade girls’ teams.
Of the eight teams in the program, seven qualified for the playoffs. Of those seven, six advanced to the championship game of their respective playoffs. And of those six championship games, four of the teams won their league championship. Those teams were the 7th Grade Girls, 8th Grade Girls, 5th Grade Boys, and 7th Grade Boys.
The 7th Grade Girls have a record of 48-0 in three seasons of suburban league play. They are led by the dynamic frontcourt of Madison Stevens, Summer Lonning and Kayla Butler, with Jaime Levi and Skylar Gilliam anchoring the backcourt. The supporting players are just as strong and provide depth that most teams cannot match. Talia Baptiste was a new addition who came in and immediately impacted the make-up of the team with her hustle, hard-nosed play and intense competitive spirit. Lily Westhelle, Mackenzie Williamson, Kyla Coley, Reagen Powell and newcomer Mariam Abbas were also key contributors to the team, which won all of their games by a margin of more than 10 points.
The 8th Grade Girls captured their second straight league title, behind the leadership and stellar play of Ciera Cevallos and Shana Desir. Allie Harris, Leah Connell and Bella Galatt were also part of the starting five that would often open games up with big leads, allowing key contributions from a second wave of players equally as strong and effective. Ruby Alyward, Jamie Fardin, Avery Territo, Rian Baluyut, Georgie Gassaro and Eleanor VandeVusse were able to rotate throughout the season and always provide energy and relief when it was needed. Again, the team’s depth would overwhelm teams thus resulting in many games being won by favorable margins.
Both girls teams are coached by Erin Tuck and Nijah Richardson, who in just three short years have guided the girls’ teams to five league championships, and have turned around the girls’ basketball program in Maplewood-South Orange.
The 5th Grade Boys, which features both players from Maplewood and South Orange, finished the season with a record of 14-1, capturing the league title in convincing fashion over West Essex. With a mix of returning players and new players, the boys hit the ground running, starting the year 11-0 before taking their only loss. They bounced back and ran the table, finishing strong in the regular season and playoffs. Devin Aiken and Alex Ante were often too much for teams to handle in the frontcourt, and Will Kostka, Nate Chou were complimentary players on the perimeter, which would leave teams scrambling trying to get stops on defense. Ryan Fay and Joaquin Hargrove ran the show at point guard and just when teams thought they might get a break, the coaches were able to go to the bench with a “line change” of subs that were fresh and ready to keep up the level of play set forth by the first unit. Mason Wolpov, Harry Laskowski, Sean Hayes and Dara Corr kept the strong play going, often putting the game out of reach by halftime. Ryan Leibensperger, Jack Cartania and Adam Carlucci were also key contributors throughout the season.
The final team of the program that was able to capture the championship was the 7th Grade Boys, who actually captured their second title in three seasons, beating Caldwell by 12 in the championship game. Samaj Long was the leader of the team that finished the season 13-2, averaging double-digit points and nearly double digit assists over the course of the season. Noah Roberts, Jalen James, Adler Cleghorn and Julien Leveille rounded out the starting five to form a formidable group that was tough to beat. Key contributions off the bench came from Isaiah Oliver, JB Mischel, Luke Knezovic, Ali Coleman, and John Pirone. Tyler Williams was a late addition, but stepped right in, ready to compete and do whatever the coaches asked of him.
The bar was certainly set high by the Maplewood program this season, as the suburban league has never had one town win as many championships prior to this season. Even more, no team has ever advanced to the championship game in six of the leagues. The final records for all teams were as follows:
4th Grade Boys – 7-3
5th Grade Boys – 14-1
6th Grade Boys – 5-8
7th Grade Boys – 13-2
8th Grade Boys – 14-1
6th Grade Girls – 5-6
7th Grade Girls – 14-0
8th Grade Girls – 13-1
The Maplewood Travel basketball program is staffed with volunteer coaches who devote and commit much of their time to the teaching and development of players throughout the year. While games are only played in the winter season, training and skill clinics take place all throughout the year. The coaches are always working to improve the players’ skills and abilities to prepare for the season and next level after each season. Any player who has an advanced knowledge of the game and is looking to do high level training or play on one of the highly competitive travel teams, should contact Program Director Coach Eddie Starzynski via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For beginner players in grades 2-5 who are interested in getting introduced to the basic skills and learning team game play, Maplewood Rec offers recreational programming throughout the winter from December to March. Information on that can be found on the recreation department website via www.maplewoodnj.org.
And finally, for any adults age 30 and up who still have the energy and desire to get some run in, Maplewood Rec offers an adult open gym on Sunday mornings throughout the school year. Information for that can also be found on the recreation department website via www.maplewoodnj.org.