Kylee Watson cradled the basketball as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the state Group III title game last March.
Moments after the final buzzer sounded, Watson was mobbed by her Mainland Regional High School girls basketball teammates.
With their 42-35 win over Chatham, the Mustangs became state champions for the first time in program history. They jumped around the 6-foot-4 Watson in celebration, creating one of the most memorable images of the 2018-19 high school sports season.
Mainland’s win was a big part of a theme for the past high school sports season, as several Press-area girl athletes delivered remarkable and, in some cases, historic performances.
On a hot day in May, the Millvillle girls track and field team needed to finish at least third in the 4x400-meter relay to clinch the first South Jersey title in the program’s history.
Millville’s anchor Bryanna Craig got the baton in fourth place about 30 meters behind the third-place runner.
Her dad, Millville coach Raffael Craig, had his doubts his freshman daughter could make up that ground.
Bryanna surprised her dad and ran her 400 leg in 56.1 seconds. The Thunderbolts finished third and earned enough points to outscore Rancocas Valley Regional 92-91 to win the South Jersey Group IV girls championship.
Bryanna went on to cap a remarkable spring by winning the heptathlon at the New Balance High School National Championships with a national freshman record of 4,958 points.
On a rainy day in April, officials weren’t sure if the javelin would be held at the Woodbury Relays. There was a puddle in the middle of the runway.
The conditions didn’t bother Brielle Smith. She broke the state javelin record that day with a throw of 168 feet, 6 inches. In June, Smith won the javelin at the Meet of Champions for the second straight year. She is the first Cape-Atlantic League girl to win back-to-back outdoor MOC titles in the same event.
If Brielle Smith wasn’t making history during the track and field season, Claudine Smith (no relation) of Atlantic City was.
Few athletes, male or female, in Atlantic City history accomplished what Smith did her senior year.
She won the 55-meter hurdles at the indoor MOC. She won the triple jump at the outdoor MOC. In her outdoor career, Smith won three state, seven South Jersey, six Cape-Atlantic League and six Atlantic County championships.
There were plenty of other standout female athletes.
Kira Sides of Middle Township excelled at soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
The Buena Regional and St. Joseph softball teams reached state finals. It was the first time in coach Pam Pickett’s 32 seasons Buena reached the state final. Buena junior standout Bridgette Gilliano finished the season with 151 career hits — two away from the school record. Senior shortstop Emily Jost batted .451 for St. Joe.
The high school season began in the fall with Ocean City sophomore Alexa Palmieri winning the South Jersey Group III cross country title. Palmieri’s effort propelled the Red Raiders to their second straight South Jersey Group III championship and their 10th sectional title overall.
In the winter, Mainland sophomore swimmer Katie McClintock established herself as one of the country’s best when she broke the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association girls public school record in the 200-meter individual medley.
Brielle Smith will continue her career at Stanford University. Claudine Smith will compete for Rutgers. A number of the region’s top female athletes will return next season.
It will be interesting to see what impact this season’s historic performances have on local girls sports in the future. How have these girls inspired each other and future female athletes?
After a brief summer break, the answer will come in late August when the 2019-20 high school sports season begins. See you then.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.