UNION COUNTY, NJ — For the longest time, the banner stood by itself in New Providence High School’s gym, designating the only girls basketball Union County Tournament the Pioneers won in 1990.
That was until two years ago, when New Providence defeated defending champion Westfield High School in the 2022 final to capture its second county championship and first in 32 years.
The Pioneers won again in 2023 and, again, beat Westfield in the title contest.
Could we see a third straight New Providence vs. Westfield final? Because of its record at less than .500, Westfield will have to get there as a much lower seed.
On the other hand, New Providence was expected to earn the top seed at the seeding meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The Pioneers began the week at 16-3 overall and only had losses to out-of-county foes Ewing, Bayonne and Morris County power Chatham High School in overtime at home last week.
Once again, with New Providence seeking a third straight division title, the Pioneers began the week leading the Union County Conference’s Watchung Division standings at 9-0. They are 30-1 in their last 31 division games, splitting with Westfield last year to win the division at 11-1 after claiming it two years ago at 12-0.
New Providence had three games scheduled this week, including Westfield at home on Tuesday, Jan. 30; at Cranford High School on Thursday, Feb. 1, at 5:30 p.m., and at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Saturday, Feb. 3, at 12:30 p.m. Those are New Providence’s final three Watchung Division contests.
The Pioneers are to close their regular season on Monday, Feb. 5, at 5:30 p.m., at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
The defending Group 2 and Central Jersey, Group 2 champions are once again sparked by the outstanding play of junior Brenna Slattery, who began the week leading the team in scoring with 259 points.
Next was senior Grace Kinum with 245 and then sophomore Annie Conover at 219. Jasmine Miller, another senior, was leading the team in rebounding with 130 boards.
Perhaps New Providence’s biggest challengers for a third straight UCT crown this year are fellow Watchung Division foes Cranford, Roselle Catholic and Elizabeth high schools. The closest division games the Pioneers played this year so far were their first two on the road, a seven-point win at Roselle Catholic High School on opening night, Thursday, Dec. 14, and then one week later at Elizabeth High School at Frank J. Cicarell Academy, an eight-point triumph.
Cranford began the week second in the Watchung Division at 7-3 and were owners of a 12-5 record. The Cougars took a three-game winning streak into the scheduled division game at Elizabeth on Tuesday, Jan. 30, and were winners of 10 of their last 11. The only setback in that surge was a 48-20 division loss to New Providence in Investors Bank Scholarship Games at Kean University on Sunday, Jan. 14.
The Cougars are lifted by the stellar play of junior Bella Curanovic, who began the week leading the team in scoring with 258 points, rebounding with 102 boards and blocked shots with 23. Second in scoring was sophomore Lily Costello with 126 points.
Kristina Lowe, a senior, was leading the Cougars in assists with 45 and steals with 50.
Roselle Catholic began the week third in the Watchung Division at 6-4 and sported an overall record of 10-5. Junior Jasmin McKay leads the Lions with 209 points.
Elizabeth and Scotch Plains-Fanwood both began at 11-6 overall, with each 5-5 in the division.
States begin in just three weeks
For a change, state tournament play will commence on a Wednesday this year, instead of it normally starting on a Monday. That Wednesday is just three weeks away on Feb. 21, which will be after the UCT is concluded.
Initial dates for the UCT should be disclosed at the seeding meeting. The boys and girls championship games should take place sometime during the third weekend in February, with Kean University a possible site. Earlier round games usually take place at Roselle Catholic, Rahway and Arthur L. Johnson high schools.
The sectional playoffs for public schools Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 and Group 4 are scheduled from Wednesday, Feb. 21, to Thursday, Feb. 29. The sectional finals are set for Friday, March 1, and Saturday, March 2, with all of those games set to be played at the higher seed.
The public school state semifinals will be contested on Tuesday, March 5, and Wednesday, March 6, at predetermined sites and the state finals for Groups 2 and 4 on Saturday, March 9, at Rutgers University and for Groups 1 and 3 on Sunday, March 10, at Toms River North High School.
Non-Public Tournament first-round games at the higher seed are set for Friday, Feb. 23; Monday, Feb. 26; and Thursday, Feb. 29. Sectional finals are at a predetermined site on Monday, March 4, and the state finals for Non-Public A and Non-Public B are at Rutgers University on Friday, March 8.