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Newark Tech head coach Keith Jefferson is animated as he directs his Terriers during regular season game at Newark Academy. The Brick City school is one of the state's top Group 2 teams this season as ECT and state tourney play take center stage. (Photos by Gene Nann-nannphoto)

Newark Tech senior Jayla Thornton (1) starts fast break for the Terriers at Newark Academy

Newark Tech's Caitlin Townes (3) battles inside for rebound in SEC game at Newark Academy

Sophomore Nia Mallette (10, left) is one of the young, up-and-coming Newark Tech Terriers

Newark Tech senior Jayla Thornton (1) shows good form as she releases her jump shot

Newark Tech junior Abbey Lawrence, one of the SEC's top all-around players, hauls in rebound

Coach Keith Jefferson feels he has a Newark Tech team that is ready for a big stretch run

Newark Tech Welcoming Challenges
In Pursuit Of Both ECT & CJG2 Titles
By Steve Tober

Keith Jefferson knows the immense challenge ahead in Central Jersey, Group 2 when the NJSIAA state tournament gets underway Feb. 27, and also in guiding his Newark Tech Terriers to a first-ever Essex County Tournament crown.

Yet, he welcomes the challenges ahead for his girls in pursuit of both titles over the next couple of weeks.

“We want to be a top program in the state and to do that we have to welcome competing with the best teams out there,” said Jefferson, whose Terriers defeated eighth-seeded Orange, 64-30, Saturday and now advancein to Wednesday night’s (Feb. 22) ECT 5 p.m. semifinals vs. East Orange Campus at Weequahic. “As far as the counties go, to be the first team from our school to win an ECT championship is very important, and when it comes to our state section we feel we’re ready to battle against some of those very good teams should we keep advancing.”

Newark Tech has risen quickly on the New Jersey girls hoops scene under Jefferson and reached an ECT final last year, losing to EOC in highly-competitive final. This time around, as the top seed, the Terriers are most people’s favorite to take home the top prize in Essex if they can advance through the quarters and semis and make it to championship Saturday, 1 p.m., at Essex County College in Newark, just down the block from the Terriers’ own gymnasium.

“We feel we’re playing pretty good basketball right now and the girls are meshing well as a unit,” said Jefferson. “We have to continue to perform at a high level, but we feel we have the talent and depth to come out on top if we play our game.”

Newark Tech (19-4) has tried to play a strong independent slate outside the Super Essex Conference-American Division where it has beaten its top rival, University, twice, including 65-53, Friday night (Feb. 17) and also 68-59 back on Jan. 12 at the home of theh Lady Phoenix.

The Terriers have also faced Blair (53-52 NT win, Dec. 17), Staten Island Academy (77-68 loss, Dec. 26), Lodi Immaculate (61-30 loss), Regis Jesuit of Colorado (70-42 loss, Jan. 14), St. Joseph (N.Y.) Hill (55-51 win, Jan. 20) and longtime Shore Conference power Red Bank Catholic (53-50 loss, Feb. 3).

Leading the way for Newark Tech is returning first-team Sideline Chatter All-Essex selection Abbey Lawrence (15.1 points, 6 rebounds per game), a 5-9 junior swing, who surpassed the coveted 1,000-point plateau in Friday night's win over University. Colleges from both the Division 1 and D2 levels are beginning to express interest in the Terriers’ versatile performer, including Manhattan College.

“Abbey has been doing her thing which means being one of the top all-around players in the county and has been very instrumental in our success the past two seasons,” said Jefferson. “She’ll definitely make some college very happy in a couple of years.”

Another holdover is impressive 6-1 sophomore center Mariah Perez (10.7 ppg, 9 rpg, 1.6 blocks per game), who keeps improving with her very effective inside game rebounding and blocking shots while also providing interior scoring.

Junior Jaylah Bennett and sophomores Nia Mallette and Zianna Goda are other young prospects who have contributed to the depth this season, while the team has been further fortified by the arrival of a pair of impact Shabazz transfers in senior Jayla Thornton and junior Caitlin Townes (9.4 ppg, 5.4 assists per game)..

“Jayla and Caitlin have been great additions for us and have fit in very nicely while meshing well with the other girls,” said Jefferson. “We’re certainly happy to have them on our team this season.”

Once the Terriers move past the ECT there is the loaded Central Jersey, Group 2 bracket in the state tourney where the Brick City team is the fifth seed and opens up action Monday, Feb. 27, hosting 12 th-seeded Spotswood.

Lincoln is the fourth seed and state power Manasquan the No. 1 seed on the upper side of the bracket, while third-seeded New Providence and second-seeded Rumson Fair-Haven, another state-ranked squad, are on the bottom side of a very strong bracket.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, but we welcome the chance to hopefully be facing some of the best Group 2 schools in the state in pursuit of that title,” said Jefferson. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point as a solid program and we have played a strong schedule in preparation for this point of the season which hopefully helps our girls the rest of the way.”

Essex County Girls Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, Saturday, Feb. 18:

(1) Newark Tech 64 (8) Orange 30

(4) East Orange Campus 61 (5) Bloomfield 48

(3) West Orange 45 (6) Montclair 42

(2) University 76 (7) Millburn 35


Semifinals, Wednesday, Feb. 22, at Weequahic:

5 p.m.: East Orange Campus vs. Newark Tech

7 p.m.: West Orange vs. University


ECT Final, 1 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25, at Essex County College in Newark


Central Jersey, Group 2:

First Round, Monday, Feb. 27: (Quarters-March 1, semis-March 3, final, March 6)

Upper Bracket:

(16) Monmouth Regional at (1) Manasquan

(9) Delaware Valley at (8) South River

(12) Spotswood at (5 Newark Tech

(13) Bernards at (4) Lincoln

Lower Bracket:

(14) Bordentown at (3) New Providence

(11) Holmdel at (6) Robbinsville

(10) Delran at (7) Point Pleasant Boro

(15) Johnson at (2) Rumson Fair-Haven

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Talented junior guard Caitlin Townes is on the way upcourt for Newark Tech Terriers

Newark Tech junior Jaylah Bennett (21) has added to the solid depth for Terriers

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