This has been a season of milestones for South Brunswick High School senior Danielle Padovano.
Earlier this year, the Lady Vikings basketball star earned a scholarship to play hoops at the next level for Fordham University. After the season began, Padovano became the sixth girls basketball player to break the 1,000 point mark.
And on Feb. 2 in a 59-50 win against Cranford, Padovano etched her name at the top of the SBHS record books as the leading scorer in the program's 48-year history, breaking Jessica Mastronardi's (2006) record of 1,170 points.
"It's very exciting for me. I've been working hard for a long time so to have that accomplishment is very big for me," Padovano said. "I knew I was getting close when I scored 1,000 points and someone mentioned something to me about the record, but it wasn't running through my mind. I just knew we had a big game to win."
Beyond Padovano's exploits on the court, it's been her leadership and work ethic that helped drive the program to a which was South Brunswick's first appearance in the GMC Tournament final since 1976.
"(Padovano) leads by example, which I think is probably the biggest compliment I can give as a coach," said SBHS Head Coach Beth Barrio. "The best players are usually the best by their ability alone, because they know at 75 percent effort they can still be the best at their position. But Danielle knows how good of a player she is, and she's the first one to practice and the last one to leave. She talks girls through drills, talks to the younger players, pulls them aside and explains what they're doing wrong. Her leadership by example, being such a good player, is what makes her stand out."
Barrio said that Padovano came into the program as a heralded player, exhibited by her status as a four year starter, but it was the forward's growth that helped set her apart during her SBHS career.
"Over these four years she's improved as a leader emotionally for the team and a leader physically on the court," Barrio said. "She's much more vocal now. Younger players usually leave it to the older girls and wait their turn, but last year Danielle really stepped up as a leader and became more vocal, motivating the girls and picking them up when they were down. As far as her growth physically, she's a gym rat who just loves basketball."
Padovano certainly has the athletic pedigree, as the younger sister of former SBHS track star Dominick Padovano, who made The Meet of Champions three times and finished as high as fourth in the state in the discus.
"I grew up seeing how hard he works and seeing him achieve his goals," Danielle said. "I did my best to take after him and worked as hard as I could."
Padovano also credited her teammates, a group including Danielle Roberts and Ashley DeGroff, who have been at her side since elementary school.
"It means a lot to me to do this with them. We started in the fifth grade and were all on the same travel teams and middle school teams," she said. "They've always been there for me growing up, they're all very competitive, they work hard and we all do the best we can. It's been so great having them here."
With a 14-4 record, the Vikings are poised to make another run at a state title after coming so close last year. The Vikings were stopped in the with the squad hoping to take the final step to a state title this year.
SBHS will next be in action on Feb. 9 at South Plainfield (weather permitting), as Padovano will look to add to her school record, now up to 1,200 points.
Once her senior year is complete, Padovano will move on to Fordham University on a basketball scholarship.
"When I was looking through schools it was a stressful process, but Fordham had great academics and I bonded with the staff," she said. "I believe in the same things they believe in and what they're trying to build. The tradition there is the same thing we do in South Brunswick and I'm really looking forward to that."
For her coach, the impact of Padovano's career at SBHS will resonate with the program for years to come.
"It's been wonderful seeing Danielle on and off the court shine as an exceptional student athlete who's known and respected all over the school," Barrio said. "She's a really great kid from a wonderful family who works so hard to achieve her goals. I can point to her when I go back to the team and say that hard work really does pay off. That's the legacy she will leave for the kids who come after her. She's leaving more than her name on a banner, she's leaving a legacy of how to work hard, be a good role model, captain, and student athlete for everyone who comes after her."