I stressed about final rankings in the boys' post, no need to repeat. The bright side: the girls cooperated with expectations to the point that doing this was a cakewalk compared to the boys.
THE TOP 20 GIRLS BOWLING TEAMS IN NEW JERSEY
FOR THE 2017-18 SEASON
1. WARREN HILLS
TOC champ, State Group III champ, North Group III champ
Brick Memorial's full season numbers are still considerably better, but Warren Hills outscored their rivals each of the three times both teams were at the same event, and put up the state's highest sectional score to boot. Undefeated in Skyland Conference, broke 3000 at conference tournament, won CJWC, took Group III at states by over 300 pins, and went 6-1 in Baker games to take the TOC. Each of the starters, Jenna Henderson, Katie Winch, Kelcie Mannon, Jessica Yerance and Elizabeth Hudock, made huge contributions at one time or another. After finishing second at States the last two years, this was a well-earned victory at the end of a dream season for the Blue Streaks and coach Greg Rottengen (who also coached the WH boys to a sectional title).
2. BRICK MEMORIAL
State Group IV champ, South Group IV runnerup
Avenged sectional loss at states despite missing one of their best, senior Sarah Pitcher. 196 season GA easily the best in New Jersey. Undefeated in matches in Shore South A, 1st or 2nd (among NJ teams) in each of nine tournaments. Shore tournament champs, Brick champs, Bob James champs. A deep, powerful team including three bowlers besides Pitcher that averaged 197+: Amanda Shelters, Jillian Stuart and Victoria Bird.
3. BRICK TOWNSHIP
State Group III runerup, South Group III champ
Clearly the third strongest team in the state, just had the misfortune to be in the same Group as #1 and same conference & division as #2. Won Wheeler, top qualifiers at RWTI, 3rd at James, CJWC and Shore. Shot as high as 2956 in regular season. Led by senior Victoria Gray and two underclassmen, Caylin Ryan (195 avg) and Julianna Forbes (3rd at Individual TOC).
4. HOLY ANGELS
TOC runnerup, State Group II champ, North Group II champ
I had this team underrated all year. While their GA never quite reached the heights (finished 8th at 169), they were building depth and peaking at tournament season, taking the state title by an impressive 100 pin margin. Third at the season-opening Crusader, and dominant at the Bergen and in Big North regular season (16-0 / 102-10). Tiffany Sucero and Alexa Hernandez were the biggest stars, but this team was always more successful than a look at the numbers might indicate.
5. TOMS RIVER NORTH
State Group IV runnerup, South Group IV champ
Pulled off the upset of the postseason in defeating Brick Memorial for the sectional crown, and made a serious run at repeating the act at states. The Mariners' growth over the season was a great story, and when Cassidy Syrdale and her teammates started joining Kamerin Peters' big scores, they were as big a threat as anyone. Not great tournament results until the last two, the ones that mattered the most: TRN had the second highest sectional score in the state and fourth highest total at states.
6. OCEAN TOWNSHIP
State Group II runnerup, Central Group II champ
Thoroughly throttled Shore Central A (45-0), Ocean Twp was one of the top-scoring teams all season, finished fourth in GA. Jenn Ingulli and Dana Henry bowled like stars all year, leading their team to wins at the LB Wave and the Monmouth and fourth in a crazy-deep field at CJWS. When impressively improved Alexa Tieto joined them with big scores, this team could fire with anyone. Top overall score at the Central regional, but came up just short at states. Very strong season.
7. MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP
State Group II third place, South Group II runnerup
When you consider their youth (all underclassmen) and the fact that their top bowlers averaged 186-182-178, the Hawks had a really amazing season, hanging in the top five nearly the whole time. Manchester is used to titles, we understand, but a 42-3 regular season and several strong tournament performances in a "rebuilding" year? Fantastic. And the result of the rebuild will no doubt be one of 2018's best teams, as Theresa Bedaro, Kimberly Wolf and Mackenzie Weber all seem more than capable of making a jump to another level.
State Group III third place, Central Group III runnerup
At the end of the day, the Eagles were just a bit behind Brick & Warren Hills in firepower, but this team had a tremendous season, dominating the GMC as few have ever done (16-0 regular season), and, as I've remarked several times, showing up and putting up a strong number every single match. These girls were a machine. Samantha Salzone grew into a star, runnerup at GMC individual and making the cut at TOC, and Touri Holmes finished off a very solid career.
9. TOMS RIVER SOUTH
State Group III fourth place, South Group III runnerup
Another team where a look at the averages doesn't tell the real story. This team took a lot of lumps in Shore South A and a tough tournament slate, and it was unlikely that one of their starters would go out and shoot 650 to carry them, so instead, every single bowler produced nearly every day, and they were still beating their averages at sectionals and states, breaking 2500 in each. Natalie Swindell led with a 184 average, but showed the ability to make a big jump in 2018.
State Group III sixth place, North Group III runnerup
With all due respect to Warren Hills, Teaneck was the best team story of 2017-18, coming from absolutely nowhere to wreck the Big North conference (16-0 / 108-4), post a GA over 170, win the Crusader and put a legitimate scare into the #1 team at sectionals. Teaneck's top two averages belong to freshmen Margaux Lesser and Mia Aish, so they're gonna be around for a while, too. By the way, that's five Group III teams in the top ten.
State Group II sixth place, South Group II champs
I think all writers, even at the bowling-blog level, look for narratives. Lacey sure provided a great one, with its constant chase of Manchester, and I had fun with it. Lacey finally captured the white whale, pulling off the upset to win a well-deserved sectional title. They also finished with a strong 166.5 GA, threw a four-game set as high as 2764, and bring back the entire starting lineup next year: Autumn Laird and Liz Schreier may be heading a top-five team next December.
12. (TIE) HOWELL
State Group IV third place, Central Group IV champs
12. (TIE) FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP
State Group III fifth place, Central Group III champs
We all kinda knew this was going to happen, right? Same school district, GA within half a pin. Freehold took the regular season 36-9 to 35-10. Howell finished higher at the county and conference tournaments. Each won their sectional, Freehold scoring higher. Each was just off the pace at states, Howell scoring higher. Postseason pin totals: Howell 5021, Freehold 5042. Each has a clear pair of very talented leaders: Clare Chaffer and Sarah Orensky at Freehold, Amanda Dorner and Madison Gibson at Howell. Flip a coin, if you like, but this has been a legitimate tie all season long.
14. WAYNE VALLEY
North Group III 3rd place
The first of the hard-luck teams from sectionals, stuck in a spot where they had to beat a state top-10 team just to qualify for states. Wayne Valley did well, shooting 2533, but Group III was just brutal this year. They still had a great season, winning the Passaic County title, second at the Crusader, and going 80-4 (only points allowed were in a 3-4 loss to Holy Angels) in conference play before a couple of post-sectional matches. Better news: three of their top four return next year, including average leader Marissa Cosentini (188), who had a phenomenal freshman year.
South Group IV 3rd place
Speaking of hard luck, asking even a team as talented as Eastern to beat either Brick Memorial or TRN is a tall order. I'm not a conference historian, but Anna Hileman and Kristina Scimone must graduate as one of the most successful one-two combinations in Olympic history, making states as juniors and finishing off their careers as regular-season and tournament conference champs, and the #15 team in New Jersey.
Central Group III 3rd place
Another victim of the Group III talent swarm, please know that this Monroe team was very, very strong all season. They went undefeated in conference play, 14-0 / 53-3, and made it stick by winning the GMC team tournament, defeating Edison in the finals. Monroe's 159.6 GA was 14th in the state and they went as high as 2632 in the regular season, and 2716 in the GMC finals. And they did it all without a single bowler averaging over 180; Bridget Bolan is a good bet to change that stat in 2018.
17. WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP
South Group IV 4th place
Another squad with a strong regular season (10-1 / 40-4), solid numbers (157.1 GA) and an impressive season-high: 2632. While they didn't perform as well as they would have liked at sectionals, this team started three sophomores (Patricia O'Neill, Shannon O'Neill and Diana Chan) that averaged over 160, which marks them as a team to watch very closely in 2017-18.
18. PARAMUS CATHOLIC
North Group III 4th place
PC's 157.9 GA is significantly higher than anyone else not ranked ahead of them. Join that with second place at the Bergen, fourth at the Crusader and a solid performance at sectionals, and I think it's clear I was underrating them all season. Went 68-23 against a brutal Big North schedule (3 matches against AHA & Teaneck). Kristen Kane put an exclamation point on her excellent career with 299/760 at the Bergen.
State Group I champs, North Group I runnerup
I should have known better than to underestimate Kristen Benavente and Coach Daniel Rattacasa. The Cardinals shook off a tough start that included ninth at the Crusader, and ran a wave of team-wide improvement all the way to another state title. Benavente finished off the most successful career in program history, including winning two state titles, by firing a 592 at states to lead her team to the win. Yes, I believe in the regular season, and I believe in the overall stats, but a team that wins a state title is wholly deserving of a spot in the top 20.
State Group I runnerup, Central Group I champs
This could have gone a number of ways, but Carteret was the closest to a state title among the contenders for #20, and probably had the best regular season as well, going 15-3 / 60-12 in the GMC. With no true "star" to rely on (Ashley Espy led the team at 162), this was a team that needed everybody to fire to win, and they did it successfully all season long, coming up just 45 pins short of a state championship.
THE NEXT TEN (ALPHABETICALLY)
Bergen Tech (North Group IV champs)
Colts Neck (Central Group II runnerup)
Demarest (North Group II runnerup)
Ramsey (State Group I 3rd place, North Group I champs)
SPECIAL MENTION OF TEAMS THAT MADE STATES
Matawan (Central Group I runnerup)
Kearny (North Group IV runnerup)
East Brunswick (Central Group IV runnerup)
Donovan Catholic (South Group I champs)
Collingswood (South Group I runnerup)