Westwood opens the state tournament with a bang

WASHINGTON TWP – Second-seeded Westwood got off to a great start in the North 1, Group 2 state playoffs with a 70-38 victory over No. 15 Hawthorne at home on Tuesday night.

“I try not to take any opponent for granted,” said Cardinals coach Charles Collis. “We have fantastic senior leadership with Shannon [Monaghan] and Carlye [Danziger]. Rachel [Bussanich] has been a part of it as a freshman, as a sophomore and now as a junior. She’s come a long way. And we have some young kids. I always think that balance is fantastic. Five seniors, six seniors is always great but having some young kids chomping at the bit, trying to get on the floor, trying to make their moment, builds an awesome chemistry itself.”

“It definitely helped us to get the nerves out,” Danziger said of the opening night blowout. “We have a really young team. A game like this really helps us for the state tournament.”

Danziger and Monaghan are the lone seniors on the team, which also has junior Rachel Bussanich and freshmen Katherine Gashler and Meghan Riedel in the starting lineup. Bussanich and Gashler led the team with 16 points apiece.

“It definitely comes with its challenges,” Danziger said, “but this freshman group is always ready to learn. Shannon and I have had some experience on varsity so we try to give them tips when we can. They take it and use it. They’re amazing.”

“All the girls are really into it,” added Monaghan. “It’s really fun leading the team this year. There are a lot of freshmen and two freshmen starters have really stepped up this year. There is a lot of confidence coming off the bench. A lot of the girls are ready to play when they come off the bench.”

The Bears are a very young team too. The only senior is Alexandra O’Neill, who tallied a game-high 19 points. Three juniors and a sophomore round out the starting lineup and freshman Hava Senman and sophomore Alejandra Castillo are first off the bench.

“Going forward we’re losing our big, senior center (O’Neill),” said Hawthorne coach Jaclyn Peene. “But we have people that will be able to step in those shoes and fill them next year. We started the season 1-6 and then we went on an 11-6 run. We’ve definitely come a long way since Day 1.”

The Cardinals took control immediately, going on a 6-0 run to start the game. After the Bears made it 8-4 on a pair of free throws by O’Neill Westwood scored the final 11 points of the quarter to grab a 19-4 lead.
Bussanich was on fire, pulling down rebounds and scoring from in close. She scored six points in the first quarter and then eight more in the second quarter as the Cardinals took a 39-12 lead into intermission.

“She’s been a fantastic rebounder all season,” said Collis. “I think today was her 22nd double-double of the year.”

The Bears kept fighting, however, and they actually out-scored the Cardinals in the fourth quarter.

“That’s been our story the whole season - not giving up,” said Peene. “We’ve been in games where we’ve been down but we’re going till the end. As a coach that’s what I want them to do. I want them to keep moving forward. You have to keep going.”

Westwood will host the winner of Lenape Valley/Kittatinny in the next round on Thursday night. Last season the Cardinals made it all the way to the North 1, Group 2 section final, losing a heartbreaker to High Point on a buzzer-beating three-pointer.

“Any state tournament win is a good win,” said Collis. “If you’re playing in the tournament you try not to take those little things for granted. There are players and teams that would wish to get one win in the state tournament and that’s something we try to teach to the kids. Be happy, be grateful and enjoy the hard work that pays off here.”

“We’re ready,” Danziger said. “This is what we wait for all year. I think we just have to believe in ourselves and use everything we’ve been working for. We worked so hard over the summer. If we put that stuff on the court I think we can go far.”