Maura Carney, Hailey McGee and Kayla Nelson play sports together all year–basically.
Girls’ soccer in the fall, girls’ basketball in the winter, girls’ lacrosse in the spring and basketball again in the summer.
Carney does not play soccer. But other than that, the trio plays together in all four seasons.
They are all in different classes at Jackson Liberty High School. Carney is a sophomore, Nelson a junior and McGee a senior. But despite being different ages, they have been playing together for years now, and they understand each other’s tendencies.
That chemistry has manifested itself on the basketball court this winter.
With Carney, McGee and Nelson leading the way, Jackson Liberty is 8-7 and in first place in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 sectional tournament power point standings with 229. If the season ended today, the Lions would be the top seeded team in the state sectional tournament.
Carney is averaging 11.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. McGee is producing 8.7 points and three rebounds per contest. And Nelson is filling the box score across multiple categories.
“They complement each other. If one drives, they know the others will stay out for shots,” said Jackson Liberty coach Sam Savona. “They also know when to connect backdoor. That’s hard to figure out with somebody.”
“When you play multiple sports, you bond,” Savona added. “Especially on an all year basis.”
Jackson Liberty won just six games last year. So, it did not improve this much on the strength of only three players.
Amber McGee, Ashleigh Tavaska and Jessica Cannestro have rounded out Savona’s six player rotation.
Amber McGee is a very unique player. She grabs rebounds (5.7 per game), sets up scorers (3.5 assists per contest) and steals the ball (2.2).
Tavaska can score and get rebounds. Cannestro also cleans up on the glass.
“Amber McGee and Ashleigh stay under for boards. Jess has given us some height. She is tuning up her skills and power moves,” Savona said. “We never had height before. We always had small, fast, scrappy players. But we still have the fight. They have that no matter what. Winning or losing, we never stop fighting.”
To stay on top of the power-point standings, Jackson Liberty will have to fight its way out of a current three-game losing streak. The Lions have lost all three games by double digits, too.
They are still playing good defense. But they are struggling to score. Opponents are using a box and one defense against Carney, defending her one on one and playing a zone against the rest of the Lions.
“That’s a huge compliment to her,” Savona said. “But it’s a process.”
The Lions are confident that they can solve the problem like they solve problems in other sports: with chemistry.
“We’ll be ok because the chemistry we have is great,” Carney said. “We know how each other plays. I can tell when they are about to cut.”
“It helps to know each other’s weaknesses and strengths,” Kayla Nelson said.
“It helps that we’re used to playing with each other,” Hailey McGee added.