Cranford girls’ basketball captures 2nd UCT title and first since 2006; Team effort lifts Cougars past RC

Wilchens leads Cranford with 23 points, Hanner Roselle Catholic with 15

PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford senior Lyndsay Pace scored seven points and played well defensively.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford senior Lyndsay Pace scored seven points and played well defensively.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford freshman Lauren Williamson netted 18 points, including 5 3-pointers.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford freshman Lauren Williamson netted 18 points, including 5 3-pointers.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI - Cranford senior Cerys MacLelland poured in 17 points in UCT title game triumph.
PHOTO BY JR PARACHINI – Cranford senior Cerys MacLelland poured in 17 points in UCT title game triumph.

UNION – Cranford, a team known for winning big games because of the way the Cougars thrive defensively, found out that filling the hoop can also lead to mighty success.

Cranford wasted no time setting up and taking long-range shots to its liking. When they go in, it opens up the game in a positive way and allows a team to attack in different ways.

Whey they don’t go in, often one-shot possessions can lead to a team falling behind.

Not only were Cranford’s shots immediately going in, but because of the success the Cougars had hitting 3s, it allowed for everyone on the court to get involved.

As a result it was a true team effort that lifted third-seeded Cranford past fourth-seeded Roselle Catholic 71-63 in Sunday afternoon’s 41st annual girls’ basketball Union County Tournament championship game at Kean University’s Harwood Arena.

Cranford limited Dayton to 34 points, Summit to 44 and then New Providence – after losing twice to the Pioneers – to 39 in its first three UCT victories. You can say that this one was captured with the offense leading the way.

Just 6-18 overall and 0-10 in the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division a year ago, Cranford captured its second UCT title and first since 2006.

Roselle Catholic, which was upset as the top seed in the semifinals last year after a 21-1 start, fell for the first time in six tries in the final.

Also, just like 2006, Cranford won the junior varsity and varsity UCTs. Cranford’s top-seeded JV team downed seventh-seeded Roselle Catholic 49-25 in Sunday’s title contest at Kean.

Cranford improved to 15-8 with its third straight win and also went 3-0 against Roselle Catholic this year, including two Watchung Division wins.

Cranford stormed out to a 9-0 lead after freshman Lauren Williamson sandwiched 3-point baskets around one made by sophomore Camryn Wilchens.

Cranford made five of its first six 3-pointers and eight-of-13 in the first half. The Cougars finished with 10, total.

Wilchens led all scorers with 23 points, including four 3-pointers. Williamson was next for Cranford with 18 points, including five 3-pointers all in the first half. Senior guard Cerys MacLelland also produced a solid game, finishing with 17 points.

“We were switching screens and getting rebounds and then good looks,” MacLelland said. “Roselle Catholic is very good and very well-coached, so we knew we had to pressure them on defense.”

Roselle Catholic, which came back from a 20-9 deficit in the first quarter when it went on a 13-0 run bridging the first and second quarters, made four 3-pointers. Three of them were put in by senior Kamille Jacobs, who finished with 13 points.

The Lions had four players score in double digits, with freshman center Taniyah Hanner leading the way with 15. Unfortunately for RC, Hanner fouled out with 7:09 to go.

Sophomore Tyara McQueen scored 14 points and junior Jennifer McClave 12 for the Lions, who had one very short-lived lead of one point at 24-23 midway through the second quarter.

After Cranford scored its first 20 points in just 5:14, the Cougars did not score again until the 5:29 mark of the second quarter.

“We couldn’t rely all the time on our outside shot,” MacLelland said. “We had to work the give-and-go and find the open player. It was very exciting how we were able to do that.”

Williamson’s fourth 3-pointer – this one from the left side – gave Cranford its third lead and the advantage for good at 26-24.

All but two of the game’s points – a basket by Roselle Catholic reserve Ariel White in the second half – were scored by the game’s starters.

Cranford led by seven at the half at 35-28, which included a very late inside basket by MacLelland following a steal by Williamson.

“We were very motivated,” MacLelland said. “We wanted this very bad. The seniors wanted to go out on top.”

Cranford’s biggest lead in the game was 14 at 57-43 late in the third. Roselle Catholic closed the period on a 5-0 run to make the score 57-48 going into the final eight minutes.

One of two free throws made by Jacobs pulled the Lions to within three at 61-58 with 2:50 to go. However, that was as close as RC would get.

Cranford senior center Isabella Speer put in a shot after grabbing a big offensive rebound and then after another free throw by Jacobs, Cranford answered with a free throw from Wilchens and a inside basket by Williamson – her first points of the second half – to go up 66-59 with 47 seconds left.

MacLelland then made two big free throws, followed by two more by senior guard Lyndsay Pace. At 70-59 Cranford with less than 30 seconds to go, it was clear the Cougars had clinched their first UCT title in exactly a decade.

Cranford has now won nine more games than last year, with the state tournament still to go.

“We worked very hard in the summer and the hard work paid off,” MacLelland said. “I’m super proud of everyone.”

Present Cranford head coach Jackie Dyer led Cranford’s JV team to the 2006 title, while the UCT championship varsity team that season was guided by Brian Chapman.

Cranford’s present JV coach, James Brennan, has now led the Cougars to county championships twice, the first time in 2013. Like Cranford beating Roselle Catholic three times in three tries this year, Cranford’s 2013 JV team defeated Governor Livingston three times in three tries, including in the county final when the Cougars came back to win 34-30 at Kean. Pace and MacLelland were freshmen on that Cranford county championship JV squad.

When Dyer led Cranford’s JV team to the county championship in 2006 it was also against GL.

Now in her ninth season as the head coach at Cranford, Dyer is 1-1 in UCT finals. Her 2012 Cranford squad lost to GL in the final at Kean. Then the next season, Cranford won at GL in the 2013 North 2, Group 3 championship game.

Dyer also led Cranford to the 2010 North 2, Group 3 championship.

This year’s squad has rebounded in a big way from a rare under-.500 season a year ago.

“We graduated a lot of players and it took some time,” Dyer said.

Dyer is a 2001 Union Catholic graduate who played on UC’s last UCT championship team her senior season. She has now won a UCT title as a player and head coach.

Not many coaches can say that they beat Roselle Catholic and RC head coach Joe Skrec – owner of more than 300 wins and five UCT titles – three times in one season.

“We had to look at this game as if we had not played RC yet this season,” Dyer said. “I’m very happy for our players. They deserve this.”

NOTES: Cranford first defeated Roselle Catholic 52-38 at home back on Jan. 7 and again by the score of 44-40 on Jan. 30 at the Elizabeth Dunn Sport Center as part of the annual House the Homeless Classic Games.





4-Roselle Catholic (16-8)                   18     10     20     15 – 63

3-Cranford (15-8)                               20     15     22     14 – 71




5-Kamille Jacobs, senior, 2-2-3-13

23-Jennifer McClave, junior, 6-0-0-12

31-Anajah Williams, senior, 3-0-1-7

3-Tyara McQueen, sophomore, 3-2-2-14

25-Taniyah Hanner, freshman, 6-0-3-15

20-Ariel White, sophomore, 1-0-0-2

44-Jennisa Encarnacion, freshman, 0-0-0-0

Starters: Jacobs, Williams,

McClave, McQueen, Hanner.

Totals: 21-4-9-63.



10-Lauren Williamson, freshman, 1-5-1-18

13-Lyndsay Pace, senior, 1-1-2-7

33-Cerys MacLelland, senior, 7-0-3-17

32-Camryn Wichelns, sophomore, 5-4-1-23

24-Isabella Speer, senior, 2-0-2-6

15-Julia Schork, senior, 0-0-0-0

Starters: MacLelland, Pace,

Speer, Wichelns, Williamson.

Totals: 16-10-9-71.







1-The Patrick School

2-New Providence


4-Roselle Catholic



7-Gov. Livingston


9-St. Mary’s, Elizabeth

10-Scotch Plains



13-Oak Knoll


15-Union Catholic



18-Kent Place




Friday, Feb. 12

Dayton 59. Hillside 46

Oak Knoll 37, Plainfield 24

Saturday, Feb. 13

Elizabeth 74, Linden 50

Union Catholic 46, Kent Place 27


Tuesday, Feb. 16

Westfield 56, St. Mary’s 41

Patrick School 74, Elizabeth 39

Union 41, Rahway 40

Roselle Catholic 56, Oak Knoll 33

Gov. Livingston 54, Scotch Plains 37

New Providence 43, Union Catholic 32

Summit 57, Johnson 42

Cranford 59, Dayton 34


Friday, Feb. 19

At Johnson

Roselle Catholic 44, Union 36

Patrick School 60, Westfield 54

Cranford 55, Summit 44

New Providence 43, Gov. Livingston 23


Thursday, Feb. 25

At Rahway

Cranford 50, New Providence 39

Roselle Catholic 47, Patrick School 34


Sunday, Feb. 28

At Kean University

Junior varsity:

Cranford 49, Roselle Catholic 25


Cranford 71, Roselle Catholic 63





2016 – Cranford

2015 – Patrick School – first time

2014 – Roselle Catholic

2013 – Gov. Livingston

2012 – Gov. Livingston – first time

2011 – Roselle Catholic

2010 – Roselle Catholic

2009 – Roselle Catholic

2008 – Westfield – first time

2007 – Scotch Plains

2006 – Cranford – first time

2005 – Scotch Plains

2004 – Scotch Plains – first time

2003 – Roselle Catholic – first time

2002 – Roselle – first time

2001 – Union Catholic

2000 – Union – first time

1999 – Summit – first time

1998 – Union Catholic

1997 – Elizabeth

1996 – Elizabeth

1995 – Elizabeth – first time

1994 – Linden

1993 – Linden

1992 – Union Catholic

1991 – Linden – first time

1990 – New Providence – first time

1989 – Union Catholic

1988 – Union Catholic

1987 – Union Catholic

1986 – Union Catholic

1985 – Hillside – first time

1984 – Plainfield

1983 – Plainfield

1982 – Plainfield

1981 – Plainfield

1980 – Plainfield

1979 – Plainfield – first time

1978 – Mother Seton – first time

1977 – Union Catholic – first time

1976 – Benedictine – first time


Union Catholic 8

Plainfield 6

Roselle Catholic 5

Linden 3

Elizabeth 3

Scotch Plains 3

Gov. Livingston 2

Cranford 2

Benedictine 1

Mother Seton 1

Hillside 1

New Providence 1

Summit 1

Union 1

Roselle 1

Westfield 1

Patrick School 1