South Jersey Sports Report: CAL Girls Basketball Player of the Year and All-Stars
Ocean City girls basketball coach Paul Baruffi can finally get some good nights of rest now that Kylee Watson’s career at rival Mainland Regional is over.
Even though the Red Raiders probably had more success than anyone when facing Watson and the Mustangs the past four years, it was still a challenge every time when facing the now two-time Glory Days Magazine Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“First off, people really need to try to appreciate having somebody that talented in our area, to be able to watch her for four years and see all the things she accomplished. Someone like that doesn’t come around too often,” Baruffi said. “As an opposing coach, I can tell you, there were a lot of long nights and practices trying to prepare to play against her. She does a lot of things very well — I’m glad I don’t have to face her ever again.”
So, how does an opposing coach prepare his team to face a University of Oregon recruit, a McDonald’s All-American, the leading scorer in her high school’s history, and the 2019-2020 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year?
“You prepare your players the best you can. Sometimes it works better than others. But her game evolved as she went through her four years. She’s now a very good passer and I don’t think people saw that part of her game as much, but you definitely see it when you’re coaching against her. When you double- or triple-teamed her, she had the ability to get the ball to the right people,” Baruffi said. “And defensively, she’s very strong and versatile. There is so much to her. Sometimes you’d try to take one thing away and other things would open up because she recognized what was there — and not everybody can do that. It’s a tremendous thing to have somebody in the area like her. Plus, she’s very humble and a great teammate. You can see she really lifted up everyone else around her and she carried herself very well.”
Watson — the daughter of Cedar Creek football coach Tim Watson and Mainland girls basketball assistant coach Courtney Watson — may one day be considered the greatest girls basketball player in South Jersey history. She had major NCAA Division I offers before she even entered high school and is now part of one of the most highly touted recruiting classes at Oregon. Early in her prep career she earned a spot on the Team USA U16 team and competed in Brazil. Her list of accolades is long and her trophy shelf is overflowing.
“It’s impressive. A 2,000-point scorer, we haven’t seen that anywhere in awhile — I think (Lower Cape May’s) Lauren Holden was the last one,” said Mainland coach Scott Betson. “And 1,000 rebounds is something we’ve never had here, and the Gatorade Player of the Year kind of speaks for itself. I’ve said it a million times, she deserves all the accolades. She’s the hardest working kid out there, and I’m happy for her whenever she gets them.”
“The individual accomplishments are great and I thank all my teammates, coaches and everyone who has been a part of my life for all of that,” Watson said after a state playoff win over Absegami. “To be able to be blessed as the Gatorade Player of the Year is awesome.”
Watson led her team to Cape-Atlantic League and state championships during her junior year, and helped the Mustangs make it to four straight sectional finals. This year she averaged nearly 17 points per game, led the league in made free throws and blocked shots, was second in rebounding and third in assists, all while playing multiple positions, including point guard. But what she’ll be remembered most for is her ability to boost not only the play of her teammates, but their confidence as well.
“That’s the blessing about Kylee that most people don’t recognize unless you’ve watched her play a lot, is that for all the attention she gets she has no problem passing the ball. And, quite honestly, she has to a lot because she draws so much attention, and she knows that,” Betson said. “She really enjoys that part of the game. She thrives off making plays for other people, and that boosts everybody.”
Here’s a look at the Glory Days Magazine Girls Basketball All-Stars for the 2019-2020 season:
Kylee Watson, F, Mainland: Glory Days Magazine Player of the Year.
Madi Hafetz, G, Mainland: The senior nailed 62 threes but, more importantly, supplied steady leadership and consistency for a team that reached the sectional championship game for the fourth straight year.
Nay Nay Clark, G, Oakcrest: The Falcons had a tough year, going 9-17, but Clark was a huge bright spot as she led the Cape-Atlantic League in scoring with more than 24 points per game while also leading the league in steals with nearly 150, 31 more than Bridgeton’s Nijah Tanksley. She was also ninth in the league in assists.
Abbey Fenton, G, Ocean City: The Red Raiders captured their third South Jersey Group 3 title in the past four years thanks in large part to Fenton’s clutch outside shooting. She led the league in 3-pointers with 83, nearly 20 more than Kira Sides of Middle Township, who was second. With Fenton leading the way, Ocean City won 23 games, a share of the CAL National title and a sectional championship.
Marlee Brestle, PG, Ocean City: The junior didn’t score a ton of points, but ran the point and played tenacious defense for the South Jersey Group 3 champion Red Raiders.
Haleigh Schafer, G, Absegami: She was banged up a lot throughout the year but still managed to average about 18 points per game for a team that advanced to the sectional semis.
Gianna Hafner, PG, Absegami: A steady senior, Hafner didn’t light up the scoreboard but played a huge role in facilitating the Braves’ offense, and also was a solid defender at the point.
Marianna Papazoglou, G, Wildwood Catholic: Averaged more than 17 points per game and was fifth in the league in rebounds for a team that won 22 games and captured a share of the CAL United title.
Gabby Turco, F, Wildwood Catholic: Not only one of the toughest players in the league, but also one of the most versatile. She can play all five positions on the court, averaged nearly 16 points per game, was second in the league in field-goal percentage, made 48 threes and led the league in free-throw percentage.
Jaiden Harris, F, OLMA: Harris led the league in rebounds, was fifth in blocked shots and averaged better than 11 points per game for a surprising Villagers squad that went 19-9.
Kate Herlihy, G, Middle Township: Still just a junior, Herlihy has been one of the most consistent and productive players in the league throughout her career. This year she averaged 14.2 points per game, nailed 36 threes and was fourth in the league in assists.
Kira Sides, G, Middle Township: One day she’ll be remembered as one of the best all-around athletes ever to come out of Cape May County. This year she finished second in the league in scoring, 3-pointers and free-throw percentage and was ninth in rebounds.
Ciani Redd-Howard, F, Atlantic City: The senior was a force in the post, both offensively and defensively, and was named the MVP of the CAL Tournament as the Vikings took down Mainland Regional in the championship game.
Madison Brestle, PG, Atlantic City: The feisty 5-footer was one of the top defensive guards in the league, finishing third in steals, and also was in the top 10 in assists with 82 for a team that won 20 games and the CAL American title.
Quanirah Cherry-Montague, F, Atlantic City: She still has a ways to go offensively, but this freshman was a force on the defensive end all year. She finished second in the league to Kylee Watson in blocked shots and was sixth in the league in rebounds with more than 200.
Grace Speer, F, ACIT: Still just a sophomore, Speer finished in the top 10 in the league in scoring for a team that won 17 games and challenged for a conference title.
Cea’anai Jackson, F, ACIT: A matchup problem for most teams, Jackson helped the RedHawks to a 17-10 record by averaging 14.5 points per game while also finishing third in the league in rebounding.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
More from 97.3 ESPN:
These People Are Helping Keep South Jersey Safe