Unbeaten Haddonfield banking on 'will to win'

Haddonfield guard Nick DePersia (21), with teammates Tom Kadar (rear) and Teddy Stavetski, stretches defenses with his shooting range. The 26-0 Bulldogs begin the S.J. Group 2 tournament Tuesday against Deptford.
Haddonfield guard Nick DePersia (21), with teammates Tom Kadar (rear) and Teddy Stavetski, stretches defenses with his shooting range. The 26-0 Bulldogs begin the S.J. Group 2 tournament Tuesday against Deptford. (APRIL SAUL / Staff)
Posted: March 03, 2014

At first glance in the layup line or even in the games, this appears to be a very beatable team.

The only problem is that any team that thought it had a chance to defeat the Haddonfield boys' basketball squad this season so far has ended up frustrated.

The Bulldogs are 26-0 and the only unbeaten team in the state. Throw in the fact that Haddonfield is The Inquirer's No. 1-ranked South Jersey team, and there will be a big enough bull's-eye when the Bulldogs begin the South Jersey Group 2 tournament with Tuesday's opener against Deptford.

Imposing?

Not really.

Tough to beat?

Absolutely.

"Even though we are ranked No. 1 in South Jersey, you don't see much flash and dash from us," veteran coach Paul Wiedeman said. "What we have is a will to win."

As the state tournament is about to begin, few teams will get the spotlight more than Haddonfield. This is the second straight year the Bulldogs are the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group 2. Last year, Haddonfield advanced to the semifinals before losing to Colonial Conference foe Sterling.

"That game is in the back of our mind," 6-foot-4 senior forward Teddy Stavetski said. "That was one of my toughest losses I have ever experienced."

He hasn't experienced much losing since.

Stavetski and fellow frontcourt starters Abby Bah, a 6-6 senior, and Jake Robinson, a 6-3 junior, were key performers on Haddonfield's 10-2 football team that won the South Jersey Group 2 championship.

That team had an opposite path from this season's basketball squad. The Bulldogs were seeded only fifth in football but beat three consecutive unbeaten teams - West Deptford, Camden, and Woodstown - in the postseason.

The frontcourt trio joined the team late because of the extended football season, but Wiedeman was more than happy for the delay.

"They were on a big stage and had a great coach in Frank DeLano," Wiedeman said. "When they came to us, they came with the mentality that they would play strong defense and do anything it took to win."

That trio is teamed with one of the more exciting and efficient backcourts in South Jersey, junior twins Rob and Nick DePersia.

Rob DePersia is a classic pass-first point guard who can hurt teams in a variety of ways, especially with a strong midrange game.

Nick DePersia has range that seemingly extends to Grove Street in Haddonfield. He can stretch defenses with his shooting but also can drive or dish.

And where the DePersias are most destructive is on defense. They are relentless pests who never let up.

"I think we have a team with great toughness," Nick DePersia said. "And it's a real close group, and that really helps."

This is also a mentally tough team, one that, for instance, had to overcome a 16-point halftime deficit to beat Paulsboro.

What also helps is that Wiedeman knows how to navigate his way toward the finish line. Among the best coaches in South Jersey, he is 348-82 with five South Jersey championships and three state titles. Wiedeman also earned a state title as a senior point guard at Haddonfield in 1989.

So he understands how difficult the path to a sectional or state title is, especially this year. Two-time defending South Jersey Group 3 champion Camden is now in Group 2.

The field also includes defending sectional champ Medford Tech, the No. 3 seed, along with second-seeded Pemberton, perennial contender and No. 6 seed Middle Township, and No. 5 West Deptford, which scored the first seven points before losing, 58-48, Thursday at Haddonfield.

"Group 2 is loaded," Wiedeman said.

Still, Haddonfield obviously is up for the challenge, intent on showing that the regular season was a prelude to a potentially lengthy postseason.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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