SOMERDALE – The history of the Sterling girls’ basketball program is etched out in detail in the northwest corner of their home gym.
Sterling has a long history of success and this year’s team, the top seed in South Jersey Group 2 tournament, is set to start next week with a visit from Delran. The Silver Knights (21-3) dispatched Highland 50-22 in a nonleague game on Monday in large part due to their dominance inside by junior center Latanya Berry – a game high 15 points and four blocks - and senior point guard Imani Holloway with 13 points.
Still, if Sterling is to win its first sectional title since 2016, a year before Kylie Marchese took over, it will need more than just points. Marchese, who when she was still Kylie O’Donnell in 2011 got her name added to the long list of 1,000-point scorers at Sterling, knows more than anyone how important role players can be and in fact knows just the young lady that fits that bill for the Silver Knights.
“It’s invaluable,” Marchese said of sophomore Tatiana Johnson’s contributions. “It’s just she does everything quietly. I compare her to offensive linemen in football, they do all the hard work but go unnoticed. They do everything for the scoreboard and to make sure the right team has more points.
“If we need rebounding, she rebounds. She’s a great passer, she talks on defense, she fights for loose balls and when she needs to score, she can do that too.”
On a team with just one senior, a lot has been asked of underclassmen and Johnson admits that she’s just happy to do whatever she can on the court. As a freshman, she saw limited time but that has made her hungrier to contribute.
“I saw time last year, but it went back-and-forth,” said Johnson, who led the Knights with nine first half points but didn’t score in the second half as Berry and Holloway took over. “There is a role for me to play and I really love doing it.
“I just want to be on the floor and if you look at our team, we have an inside presence that I’m more than willing to work around. Whatever coach wants me to do, that’s what I’ll do.”
With the Colonial Conference Liberty title locked up, Sterling clearly has its sights set on South Jersey as the top-seed, a chance at defensing champion Manchester Township currently the second seed.
“I think I learned from last year, I learned my spacing and my role,” Johnson said. "We have two quality big girls inside, so I understand I don’t need to score. I don’t need to be hogging the ball.
“I learned how I fit in and where to be. If I’m on the court and we win, is there really anything else I can ask for?”
A good place to start would be with a Group 2 title and for that, Johnson is willing to do whatever is asked of her on a nightly basis.