BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer BY TIM MORRISStaff Writer Brookdale’s baby program is all grown up. The women’s basketball team, the youngest of the junior college’s athletic programs at nine years, has become the school’s newest Region champion. The Blues won their first-ever Region XIX championship on March 5, beating Passaic, 60-46, in Carney’s Point, and advancing to the National Junior College Athletic Association Division III National Tournament that begins tomorrow and runs through Saturday in Corning, N.Y. It was a particularly satisfying championship for the veteran Blues, who had advanced to the Region final last year and had built an 18-point lead on Gloucester, only to see the game and the championship slip away. The March 5 final provided the chance for the Blues to put that game behind them for good and do something no other women’s team had done in school history. “It was wonderful to see the look on their faces,” said Joanne Cobb, co-head coach of the Brookdale women along with Marianne Campacci. “It was super, especially after last year.” “They knew they could do it and they were just thrilled,” she added. “They were on a mission. They had a motto: ‘Find a way.’ They rode it into the tournament and they rode it out.” Sophomore guard Becky Piper (Colts Neck) was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She scored 15 points in the final, and did her usual strong job on defense and the boards. Danielle Vitalone (Middletown South) also put in 15 and pulled down 10 rebounds, while forward Amy Gaudious (Long Branch) contributed 14 points and 11 blocked shots. As the top seed, Brookdale received a bye to the semifinals, played on March 3. The Blues won their semifinal, 49-31, over Cumberland behind Tammy Wood’s 18 points, and advanced to their second straight final. Brookdale, 20-9 overall, battled through adversity and a tough schedule this year, both of which made them a better team. Back in December, Campacci and Cobb didn’t have enough healthy bodies to field a full squad for practice. Add to that, the team went to Las Vegas, where it played a trio of top Division I teams, and it made for a very difficult December. “The trip to Las Vegas was a big help,” said Cobb. Piper and Gaudious, who earned All-Region First Team honors, were the cornerstones of the team. Piper leads the team in scoring at almost 14 per game and is tops in steals (84). She also rebounds well for her position (6.0). Gaudious had 14 double-doubles during the season and two triple-doubles. The 6-foot-1 Gaudious, who has Division I schools looking at her because of her versatility on both ends of the floor, averaged 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds a game. Defensively, she was a shot-blocking force. Maybe her biggest contribution was as a passer. The sophomore led the team in assists with 116 during the season. Vitalone (11) and Wood (13), from South River, also averaged double figures, giving Brookdale a balanced attack, inside and outside. Vitalone, Piper and point guard Stephanie Brady provided the three-point shooting, with Gaudious, Wood and freshman Ashley Healy forces in the paint. As the newest program at the school, the women’s basketball team was the only one without a Region crown. Under Cobb and Campacci, the Blues were a team on the rise with three Garden State Athletic Conference titles in the last four years. The Region title was all that was missing, and they put that behind them in Carney’s Point. “We felt we did arrive two years ago,” said Cobb. “But we were not finishing off. We decided to change things, and emphasize attacking and staying focused on certain things.” That focus translated to the team’s first trip to the junior college national championships. “This is gravy,” Cobb said of the team’s trip to the nationals. “Just to be representing the region is great.” The Blues were seeded seventh for the NJCAA championships and will play the No. 2 seed Joliet, Ill., (24-8) tomorrow night at 8 p.m. in their first game. Mohawk Valley, N.Y. (32-1), Anoka-Ramsey, Minn. (24-1), Monroe, N.Y. (30-1), Bunker Hill, Mass. (23-3), Montgomery, Md. (16-6) and Madison Area Technical, Wis. (21-7) are the other teams in this year’s tournament. Cobb said her biggest concern at this week’s championships will be her lack of depth. The Blues will be facing teams that can go 12 and 13 deep. Having gone up against top Division I teams, they are ready for any style of play, she added. It’s a question of overcoming the opposition’s depth.