Kristina Donza wants to play collegiate basketball on the Division 1 level.
She has known that since her freshman year of high school two years ago.
With that goal in mind, Donza approaches every offseason like a higher level basketball player. She trains hard, takes care of her body and adds one new skill to her game.
Last offseason, before her junior year at Jackson Memorial High School, Donza added the one offensive skill she was lacking: a jump shot. It has made a huge difference this winter.
Donza is scoring 17.1 points and making more than one three pointer (15 total in nine games) per contest.
The 5-9 guard plays off the ball, but she scores in every conceivable way, on outside shots, drives and even offensive rebounds, especially offensive rebounds. Donza has an unusually strong post game for a guard.
“She has developed consistency and the right mentality,” said Jackson Memorial coach Rachel Goodale. “Kristina is strong and can attack the rim. She can shoot it now too. She’s just hard to defend.”
The junior is so good in the paint that Goodale will isolate her against taller defenders.
“She has developed post moves, so when we isolate her low, she is versatile and can score against anybody,” Goodale said.
But Donza’s jump shot has taken her game to another level. Defenders sagged off her last year. Now they can’t do that, which creates space for Donza to drive the lane.
Her game has really come together this winter. She is playing, as pundits often say about the Golden State Warriors, with joy.
“Her mentality is at another level,” Goodale said. “She can be loose and just play the game.”
The coach is confident that Donza will become a Division 1 player. The junior is already getting recruited by a bunch of colleges.
“Her mentality and skill set are at that level,” Goodale said. “She does everything right in the offseason.”
Next offseason, though, or perhaps this winter, Donza has to add one more thing to her game: defense.
“She definitely has to develop defensively to get to that level,” Goodale added.
Donza’s big picture focus is on playing college basketball. But her micro focus is on helping the Jaguars improve this year.
Jackson Memorial is 5-4. It started 3-0, beating three opponents by a wide margin, 218-105.
But the Jaguars dropped their last two games in the KSA tournament in Orlando, Fl., over the holidays. Then, back in New Jersey, they lost to Toms River High School East, 59-50, on Jan. 3 and to Donovan Catholic High School, 46-29, on Jan. 7.
“We went out to Florida and played major powerhouses from other states. That beat us up mentally,” Goodale said. “Then we didn’t play for 12 days, which was tough.”
Jackson Memorial bounced back on Jan. 8, topping Toms River High School South, 49-34. Donza posted 16 points and 16 rebounds.
More importantly, though, Donza had help. Rachel Capua recorded 22 points, six boards and six steals. The Jaguars also played great team defense in holding the Indians to 34 points.
They used the same formula to win their next game, too, 45-37, over Southern Regional High School on Jan. 11. Donza grabbed 10 rebounds but didn’t have to score, recording just one point. Dani Evans (25) and Bianca Giordano (13) combined for 38 of Jackson Memorial’s 45 points.
The Jaguars again played excellent team defense, holding another opponent under 40 points, blocking the ball 12 times and stealing it six times.
That formula, multiple scoring options and consistent defense, could take Jackson Memorial deep in the Shore Conference Tournament and in the Central Jersey, Group 3 state sectional tournament.
“We have to get better defensively to win games. And if we get other girls going like that, we’ll be pretty good in the postseason,” Goodale said. “I think we can go far for sure. We just have to play better basketball and peak.”