Immaculate Conception High School (Lodi) beat all the odds to earn second place for the second consecutive year in the Bergen County Tournament.
Last year Immaculate Conception (IC) graduated McDonald’s All-American Samantha Fuehring. Many naysayers stated that IC would have a losing season without their dominating forward. This was an understandable statement because most of IC’s offense revolved around the 6’3″ Fuehring. Fuehring was a 2,000th point scorer who attracted much D1 attention before deciding to play for Lousiville. In addition to Fuehring, Immaculate Conception graduated three other seniors: Leah Georgatos, Erin Baker, and Samantha Krakower.
Knowing who they would have returning to the floor for the 2015-2016 season gave IC some direction. They would need different offensive objectives and different defensive strategies. However, right when they thought they were done losing players… they lost some more. Forever Toppin, starting guard for IC transferred out to attend Queen of Peace. Sarah Chisolm, a center from IC’s JV Team during the 2014-2015 season had the potential to contribute more on the varsity this year, but she too transferred out, but to attend DePaul Catholic High School.
Immaculate Conception had seven freshmen who play basketball come into the school for the 2015-2016 school year. Four played straight JV, one of which was learning to play for the first time. Two were able to split their time between JV and Varsity: Mollie Brueggemeier and Jaelyn Wohlrab. Freshman Jaayden LaFontant was chosen as full-time Varsity player.
After needing to take a medical leave of absence last year due to a concussion suffered at practice, junior Indya Akbar transferred from Lodi High School to IC. Akbar picked up a basketball for the first time in August 2015 after being cleared to play after her December 2014 injury. Julia Mordecai transferred from the Academy of the Holy Angels to IC. These two players also split their time between JV and Varsity.
This meant that IC would have a starting line-up of Jordan McLemore, Khay’la Latimer, Breyenne Bellerand, Autumn Webster, and Jasmine Gee. Jaayden LaFontant and Nickey Melie would both play the sixth and seventh man roles depending on what the team needed. Brueggemeier, Wohlrab, Mordecai, and Akbar would gain more experience in the JV games so they could help in the Varsity games when needed. These 11 players packed a powerful punch together. They complimented each other’s abilities:
- McLemore has a quick first-step and can explode to the basket. She is a great on-the-ball defender.
- Latimer has excellent court vision and knows how to set up teammates for shots. She is a great scorer.
- Bellerand is strong, aggressive, and can defend both guards and posts. She has an equal left and right hand and can go to the basket.
- Webster is an outside shooter who can also take it to the basket. She is also solid on defense.
- Gee is one of the best post players in New Jersey. She has a variety of post moves and can pop outside for three-point shots.
- LaFontant is great at driving baseline and goes strong to the basket.
- Melie is a shot-blocking machine who is great at getting rebounds and passing.
- Brueggemeier knows the game very well. Like a Chess game, she thinks of the game two steps ahead. She has a good outside shot.
- Wohlrab is lightning fast. She can beat anyone down the court and can play strong on-the-ball defense.
- Mordecai is a fundamentally sound player who is good at set shots.
- Akbar is a 6’2″ center who can alter player’s shots. She has a nice jump shot from the elbow.
On paper this team looked good and in person they looked even better. Unfortunately, IC’s plans changed again. Senior center Nickey Melie suffered from an injury she developed in the off-season and was not able to play. During the very first game of the season freshman guard Jaayden LaFontant experienced a season-ending injury. During the eighth game starting junior combo guard Khay’la Latimer suffered the same fate.
At this point IC had now lost a collective nine players. Shortly after this happened Devyn Dash transfered from Saddle River Day to IC. Because she came from a JV team Dash was able to play immediately on IC’s team without having to sit out. Dash was a welcome addition to the McLemore, Bellerand, Webster, and Gee combination that was already on the floor. Dash is a strong three-point shooter who knows how to pass to the post player after driving to the basket.
With the team dynamics and structure very different from last year the IC players had to take on roles they did not intend prior to the season starting. However, they did this with courage and enthusiasm. They put the team goals first before their individual goals. They worked hard, kept their eyes focused on the goal, and returned to the Bergen County championship game.