The Lady Hawks bowlers once again proved that they are a state powerhouse as they took the top spot in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions last week.
Though the girls finished third in the Shore Conference A South during the regular season behind first place Brick Township and second place Brick Memorial, they bounced back to defeat the former during tournament play on Feb. 13. The Manchester team then swept Cardinal McCarrick in the finals to clinch their second championship title in four years, the last being in 2009.
"Nothing could be taken lightly," said head coach Mike McCrae, whose team won the Group II title from 2009 through 2011. "The five varsity starters stayed strong the whole day. It was a day of no mistakes, and their training and confidence showed."
That starting line up — freshman Julia Ott, sophomore Kelsey Krumeich, junior Tina Shahinian, and seniors Olivia Osterberg and Julie Taylor — was backed up by juniors Nicole Hodges and Jessica Picard, and freshman Kaitlyn Kettmann.
"This was an all-out team effort, built on hard work and confidence," McCrae said.
Prior to the championship tournament, the team won the Group II South Jersey championship on Feb. 4 — their sixth consecutive. Taylor and Ott helped to carry the team to victory that day, McCrae said.
The team was seeded second for the Feb. 13 Tournament of Champions, which is a best of five series played with Baker-style games. In the semi-finals, the Hawks faced Brick in a rematch of last year's final match. Though Manchester was defeated 3-2 then, this year the Hawks won 3-1.
In the finals, the team — "in true Hawk spirit," McCrae said — swept Group I winner Cardinal McCarrick.
Going into the state tournament, McCrae said that he was "confident" that his team could take the Group II title for the fourth year in a row.
"But, with the talent around the state, you still have to bring your best. And you have to hope, with all the school illnesses going around every year, that the team can stay healthy," he said.
The winning season also served as a fitting sendoff for two seniors.
"It made a nice set of bookends for seniors Osterberg and Taylor, who were freshman for the 2009 team title," McCrae said.
The team dedicated their championship run to sophomore teammate Justine Applegate, who underwent a double lung transplant in early February and is now recovering in a Philadelphia hospital, McCrae said.