The graduation of Emily, a player Ocean City coach Paul Baruffi called "by far the best defender I've ever coached," speaks to Julia Duggan's importance to the Red Raiders this season.
Julia Duggan is helping pick up the slack left not only by her sister but also by the graduation of five seniors. And Baruffi is looking for the 6-foot-2 center to teach the Red Raiders about the importance of the close, family-type atmosphere that helped bring Ocean City so much success over the previous three seasons.
"That's one of the most special things about Julia," Baruffi said. "As good as she is, and she can do everything for us on the court, she's willing to bring the other girls along, and kind of show them the way."
Duggan, a Rider recruit, was a starter on the Red Raiders team that won the South Jersey Group 3 title in 2011. Last season, Ocean City dropped a classic on its home court in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals to eventual sectional champion Seneca.
Duggan returns this season as the top scorer on her team, averaging 15.6 points, and arguably the best rebounder in South Jersey.
She's complemented by a fairly young but deep and talented supporting cast. Ocean City is 8-1 despite a challenging early-season schedule. The Red Raiders have already defeated defending state Group 1 champion Cedar Creek and defending South Jersey Group 2 champ Middle Township and gone 2-1 at a three-day Christmas Tournament at Disney World.
The start has helped bring the team closer, Duggan said. And it helped the players believe that their lofty goals are well within reach.
"This year, I just want to win it for my team," Duggan said. "I already won a South Jersey title. I already scored my 1,000th point. I've already hit a lot of milestones. So I want to get this South Jersey and state title for our team. I want them to know that feeling, too."
Program on the rise. Just nine games into the season, Cinnaminson is on the verge of matching its win total from last season.
The Pirates (6-3) dropped their opener to Northern Burlington but have now won six of eight, with two losses coming to powerhouses Rancocas Valley and Willingboro.
"A lot of it is just playing with confidence," said first-year coach Bret Jenkins, who took over a team that went 9-14 a season ago. "Winning brings confidence."
Jenkins began his tenure after a six-year stint with the Cinnaminson boys' team.
He said his goals are to build up the program; bring back energy to the team on and off the court; and, in terms of playing style, stress a defensive mind-set.
"We've definitely picked up the tempo, have focused on defense, and have been playing a much more physical style of basketball," Jenkins said.
Cinnaminson is led by seniors Naja Treadwell and Jamie Campbell, both proven scorers.
Jenkins said that having players such as Treadwell and Campbell has made his switch from coaching boys to girls much smoother than he expected.
"It makes it a lot easier when you have a team that works hard every practice and plays hard every game," he said. "We still have a long way to go - we're not where we want to be yet - but we're improving, and, hopefully, we keep improving."
Contact Chris Melchiorre at email@example.com.