South Jersey Group 3 Girls’ Basketball Preview: Mainland Looking to Repeat

South Jersey Group 3 Girls’ Basketball Preview: Mainland Looking to Repeat
A year ago, Mainland won its first ever girls’ basketball state championship, beating Chatham, 42-35 in the championship.
 
The Mustangs will look to get back to the state title game, but first comes the business of winning South Jersey. Mainland will be the favorite to win its South Jersey title as the tournament gets under way in less than two weeks. Here is our look at the South Jersey Group 3 field.
 
South Jersey Group 3
First tournament game: March 2
Sectional championship: March 10
State semifinals: March 12
State championship: March 15
 
Defending South Jersey champion: Mainland beat Ocean City, 41-27 in the final.
 
What stands out: Mainland McDonald’s all-American Kylee Watson, a 6-foot-3 senior who will go down as one of the best to play in South Jersey.
 
Outlook: Not surprisingly, Mainland has earned the No. 1 seed. Watson is averaging a double-double, 18 points and 10 rebounds, despite facing double and triple teaming on a nightly basis. She is also an adept passer. With point guard Camryn Dirkes out for the season with due to injury, Watson has had to take up more of the ballhandling duties.
 
During a recent 66-44 win over Ocean City, Watson showed her all-around game with 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. That win avenged an earlier 51-49 loss to Ocean City, Mainland’s Cape Atlantic League and Group 3 rival.
 
She will have to carry a heavy load in the state tournament, but is capable of doing so.
 
Now the question is whether anybody in South Jersey can challenge the Mustangs.
 
Ocean City is the No. 2 seed and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Red Raiders once again meet Mainland in the championship. Abbey Fenton, a 5-8 senior, is Ocean City’s leader, averaging nearly 12 points per game. A player to watch is 5-7 sophomore Marin Panico, who had 18 points in the Red Raiders’ win over Mainland.
 
Ocean City played a difficult early season schedule and even though the Red Raiders began the season 1-5, they played several tough Group 4 teams including Cherokee.
 
The Red Raiders learned from the losses and it will have them ready for the tournament.
 
The question is whether any other team can interrupt this supposed Ocean City-Mainland final?
 
No. 3 Toms River East bears watching. Absegami, the No. 4 seed, is 0-4 against Mainland and Ocean City this season, with one close game, a 41-37 loss to the Red Raiders.
 
Could another team sneak in?
 
Sure, but it would be surprising. The two that met in last year’s South Jersey final, are likely to be there again.

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Author: Marc Narducci; Photo by Marc Narducci

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