MONMOUTH – If you just keep your eyes on the basketball, you can’t help but find Cortney Barrett.

The Monmouth Academy senior forward bounces from defending a player on the perimeter to guarding the post, almost as quickly as the entry pass travels from one spot to the other. Then, just as quickly, she’s spearheading a transition up the floor on a fast break.

Where the ball goes, Barrett is soon to follow.

“Me, I’m just crazy,” says Barrett. “I love intensity. That’s my No. 1 thing.”

Barrett is back in the lineup for the Mustangs this season. She joins Jill Armstong, a junior guard, who also returns from injury. Both bring a little extra energy and incentive to a Monmouth club that suffered through a disappointing 5-13 campaign a year ago.

While the Mustangs endured a difficult year, they’re rejuvenated and hope to make up for lost time. Barrett and Armstrong are leading that charge.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Armstrong. “We have a great team this year.”

Barrett injured her knee during practice just two games into the season. Armstrong was plagued by a leg injury. In a year’s time the Mustangs had nearly as many surgeries as they did wins.

“It’s really nice to see Cortney come into the gym,” said Monmouth coach Rick Amero. “She’s worked really hard to get back here. We were excited and nervous to see her play soccer this fall. She hadn’t played any basketball since last December.

“Jill, she’s not 100 percent yet, but hopefully, as the season goes on, she’ll get stronger.”

The Mustangs are one of the early favorites in the Mountain Valley Conference and could be a contender in Western C. That’s after a year in which Monmouth watched its high hopes in preseason dissipate in a hurry.

After going from two wins to 10 and reaching the quarterfinals in 2005, a young Monmouth team was excited about its future.

Monmouth split the first two games but injuries quickly took their toll, and the Mustangs could never right the ship, finishing with just five wins and missing the playoffs.

“I went up for a rebound, and I think I landed flat-footed,” said Barrett, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus on her left knee. “That’s when my knee popped out.”

Armstrong had been bothered by burning in her legs since playing soccer her freshman year. It had intensified during summer basketball. She skipped soccer her sophomore year, but still missed time during basketball season. She had compartmental syndrome and an artery condition. It took four surgeries between February and August to correct the problem.

“I haven’t run in a long time,” said Armstrong. “So I’m really out of shape. I have a couple of pulled muscles, but I don’t feel that same burning that I had.”

The addition of Barrett and Armstrong to the Mustang lineup makes Monmouth a strong contender. Barrett could be a force in the post for the Mustangs while Armstrong provides talent and experience on the perimeter.

“Cortney brings such an intensity when she plays,” said Amero. “I think a lot of kids feed off her. Regardless of what she does offensively and defensively for us, the key for us is that intensity that she brings.”

Barrett was so primed to return, the coaching staff, which includes Scott Wing and Ray Convery, had to pull her out of a preseason game to settle her down.

“In the first game, Coach had to take me out in the first quarter because my eyes were so out of my head,” said Barrett, who said she learned so much about the game from the coaches by observing from the bench last year. “It’s so good to be back. Every practice, it’s so good to shoot and run and everything.”

It is an enthusiasm that is contagious in the Mustangs lineup. Jenn Lola, Moe Beaulieu and Samantha Fairchild join Barrett in the post, giving Monmouth a formidable group in the paint. Brittany Scirica, Brittany Hilton, Lindsay Scirica and Katie Woodman are all experienced players on the perimeter.

“Now they’re catching the energy that I bring out, me and Jill,” said Barrett. “It really helps. We really want it this year. We want to get to the Civic Center. We want to go further than the first round at the Civic Center.”

Alyssa Morin and Bethany Neal are the only new players on the roster. Between last year’s injuries and the summer season, the Mustangs have made the most of their misfortune and hope it pays off.

“It made those other kids learn how to help us,” said Amero. “It allowed them to step in and play different roles. It’s certainly made them stronger.

“I think our depth is better. We’re looking on any given night to change our lineup depending on the other team. We have a luxury of being able to do that because I don’t think we have a lot of drop-off. When we substitute, we’re not losing a whole lot on the floor. So hopefully we can play with intensity for four quarters.”

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