Hoops update

December 29, 2008

I couldn’t get to the WOBM Classic girls semifinals on Sunday thanks to the NFL, which moved the Jets-Miami game I attended from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and, in typical Jets fashion, they lost the game, the season and a playoff berth that they wouldn’t have claimed even if they won. At least Eric Mangini paid with his job. The two favorites, Southern and Rumson, took home victories and will meet in Tuesday’s final at the Ritacco Center at 5:30 p.m. Another team that continues to look solid early on is Toms River North, which beat Raritan in a consolation game on Sunday as well.

St. Rose and St. John Vianney will meet in the final of their tournament up at Marist, which is one of the best early-season match-ups in the Shore. SJV beat St. Peter’s and St. Rose handled Paterson-Kennedy to reach the final of the Lady Knights Tournament in Bayonne. Another good match-up you might want to check out on Tuesday night is Neptune vs. Cherokee in the final of the Mustang Invitational. That’s a good early test for Neptune and a team that is a perennial playoff contender. Both teams won big in the semifinals and were pretty much expected to reach the final.

Red Bank Catholic fell to Washington Township down at its tournament in Wildwood for its first loss of the season in another notable game.

I’ll be running around to various games in the next few hours and I will try to post some scores and details as soon as I can from the games I’m at and any others I track down, and then I’ll have another blog post (or posts) along with several stories from today’s action.


WOBM girls quarterfinal notes and more

December 27, 2008

Before I descend into full-on madness on the boys side among the 8,000 tournaments that are going on during Saturday, here’s some quick extras from Friday’s WOBM Classic quarterfinals and thoughts on some of the other girls tournament action.

  • Conditioning is going to be absolutely huge for Southern this season. Head coach Kathy Snyder did not make one substitution in the game until it was out of reach in the fourth quarter against Ocean. Not only that, Southern pushed the ball at every opportunity, so it’s not like the Rams were walking it up the floor and catching their breath. With two players who can seal off the defensive backboards in Kristen Sharkey and Avery Hodgson, it allows the guards to run out frequently and get easy points, so a fast tempo translated into some easy looks on Sunday. I guess we’ll find out if the Rams can maintain a fast pace for a whole season while only primarily using five players.
  • Kathryn Campbell‘s game looks more and more polished for Wall, as she has the ability to create her own shot off the dribble and pull up for mid-range jumpers. Also, sophomore Jessica Nevins showed the ability to hit some big shots from the field and the free throw line in the fourth quarter of a big game against Shore on Friday, which bodes well for the future. One of Wall’s top interior players, junior Ashley Noble, is also starting to get back in the swing of things after missing most of the preseason with illness, according to Wall coach Tom Westen. If Noble can become a consistent scoring threat off the lob in the paint, that opens everything up for Campbell, Nevins and the rest of Wall’s guards.
  • If Manchester ever puts it all together, look out. The Hawks couldn’t get a free throw to drop to save their lives, yet still hung on to beat Raritan. The big key is simply finishing around the rim because Manchester creates a lot of turnovers, and if it could just convert more of those into points by finishing lay-ups in traffic and hitting short jumpers, it would be very tough. Camille and Gabrielle Valmon have the ability to take defenders off the dribble at will, but sometimes dribble too much into thickets of defenders. A very underrated player is forward Ariele Parrish, who quietly goes about her business but does a solid job of finishing inside when one of the Valmons dumps it to her after drawing the defense. She also finishes well with people in her face. The one player who never really got rolling and is a big part of Manchester’s offense is guard Precious Allen, one of the best 3-point shooters in the Shore Conference. Raritan did a nice job of not allowing her to get any room behind the arc. As for the Rockets, Alexa Ryan played her best game of the season, draining threes and also scoring in the paint on her way to 23 points. Point guard Nicole Lentine also forced the issue offensively with success. Raritan just couldn’t get a key jumper to fall in the last two minutes or so and got baited into playing out of its element and playing at Manchester’s frenetic pace too many times.
  • I didn’t see most of the Rumson win over Toms River North, but it looked like typical Rumson. Occasional rough patches offensively, and stifling defense constantly. I kind of like the contrast in styles between Rumson and Manchester in the semifinals, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rumson actually run a little more than usual because the Bulldogs have some finishers and have some 3-point shooters for kickouts in transition. It’s not hard to imagine Kate Miller pulling up for foul line jumpers in transition until the cows come home.

As for some other tournament stuff from Friday, not a whole lot of earth-shaking stuff, although Monsignor Donovan did pick up a nice win over Lacey in the WOBM consolations that opened a few eyes. Congrats to Matawan, which gave new coach John Kaye his first win with a 37-30 victory over Hightstown in its respective holiday tournament. Also, it’s clear that Manalapan has improved, as we’re only a week into the season and it has already surpassed its win total from last season by picking up its third victory with a win over Red Bank. St. Rose and St. John Vianney just continue to drill teams by 40 or 50 every time out, and I hope that those two end up meeting in the final of their Christmas tournament up north for a great early-season match-up.

Also, real quick on the boys side, Henry Hudson gave new coach Doug Brustman his first win by knocking off rival Keansburg in the South Amboy Holiday Classic.


Boys/Girls Basketball Extras; Shore’s Corsi commits to Duquesne for baseball; Smith lands at Maine

December 24, 2008

Before we get to the basketball stuff from the beginning of this week, two quick non-basketball tidbits that I forgot to get to in my previous post.

Shore senior lefty Rob Corsi is headed to Duquesne.

Shore senior lefty Rob Corsi is headed to Duquesne.

Congrats to Shore Regional senior left-handed pitcher Rob Corsi, who has committed to Duquesne and received an academic and athletic scholarship. Corsi plays for Shore but attends Communications High School in Wall and carries a 3.7 grade-point average, according to Shore coach Jeff Karpell. Good to hear about Corsi, who went 8-1 with a 1.51 ERA last season for the Blue Devils, who won the Class B Central public title. Corsi has one of the best curveballs in the Shore Conference, a nasty 12-6 job that was his out pitch last year.

Also, I ran into former Lacey quarterback Warren Smith at the WOBM Classic over the weekend and am happy to report that he has landed at the University of Maine after spending his freshman season at Iona. Smith was the starting quarterback as a true freshman this past fall for the Gaels, who abruptly folded their program immediately after the season, sending Smith and numerous other former Shore players scrambling for a home. Iona had played Maine during the season and the Bears coaching staff was impressed with Smith, and Smith said he was offered a scholarship to join the team. He is immediately eligible because it is not a Division I-A program, and the Bears are a big step up from Iona, so congrats to Smith.

Now, on to some hoops, and I’ll start with the boys first. Scroll down if you want to jump right to the girls hoops news.

BOYS

  • The abilty of Lance McKenzie and others to break down their defenders off the dribble helped Freehold upend Neptune.

    The abilty of Lance McKenzie and others to break down their defenders off the dribble helped Freehold upend Neptune.

    I took in Freehold‘s 60-49 win over Neptune, and Christian Garcia was as advertised. He has packed on more size, which makes him much more trouble in the paint than he was a year ago, yet he still has retained enough quickness to beat people off the dribble. Neptune had no answer for him. Senior Andrew Gerbehy also did a good job slashing to the rim off the dribble as well. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well Freehold was breaking down Neptune off the dribble, which you don’t see a whole lot against Neptune’s quickness and trademark man-to-man defense, which is a little scary for the Scarlet Fliers because that’s not necessarily an easy thing to correct if Freehold is just quicker off the dribble. Neptune couldn’t hit anything from 3-point range and will probably just want to forget this one and move on, while Freehold, like I thought in the preseason, is a team with the potential to win the Shore Conference Tournament. The key is having guards who can handle pressure, and Freehold seems to have that with Gerry Plescia, Lance McKenzie and Gerbehy, plus Garcia can also handle the ball. Between Garcia and Gerbehy, the Colonials have two players who are match-up nightmares because of their ball-handling ability plus their height (Gerbehy) and size (Garcia). Will Howarth also is going to be a weapon for them because he is a forward with 3-point range and could be a good zone buster when they face teams that sit in a 2-3 or a 3-2 because they can’t match Freehold’s speed or quickness.

  • Jeez, isn’t varsity high school basketball supposed to be hard for most freshmen? A lack of experience hasn’t stopped Colts Neck from a strong 2-0 start, as the Diaper Dandy crew routed Marlboro on Tuesday night after closing out a 10-point win over the No. 4 team in the All Shore Media Top 10, Middletown South, in their opener. The highly touted trio of freshmen Hunter Wysocki, Brian Kenny and Sean O’Reilly has been strong so far, and Wysocki in particular has drawn praise. Cougars coach Lou Piccola told me he was excited about this group during the offseason but figured it might take a little time because they are so young. So much for that. Kyle Mobbs has also stepped right in as the team’s top scorer after seeing limited minutes behind a veteran group last season that all graduated, leaving the Cougars with no returning starters. It’s definitely interesting to see that freshmen trio choosing to go to Colts Neck when in the past you could’ve probably penciled them in at Christian Brothers Academy, so the Cougars’ recent success obviously has caught the eye of a sending district that CBA has mined for talent for years. As for Middletown South, I can’t say I’m entirely shocked because I had a feeling that the Eagles guards would struggle early on before new point guard Pat O’Connell, a Red Bank Catholic transfer, becomes eligible on Jan. 19. The good news is that some of the stuff that really hurt the Eagles, like an avalanche of missed free throws, can be corrected. Then it just comes down to finding a rotation of guards who can handle pressure and allow Kyle Cancillieri and Matt Callori to establish post position and go to work rather than having to handle the ball. If they don’t find that, they are in serious trouble. I had Garret Thiel as one of the top five players in the Shore last season because he did a lot more for that team than just stuff the stat sheet, so the real challenge is finding someone the team can lean on during critical times during big games. The Eagles did come back and knock off Middletown North on Tuesday to right the ship, so we’ll see where they go from here.
  • The newcomers combined with the returners on Point Beach are already paying dividends, as Jarelle Reischel and Jose Diaz each had 20 points in a 66-63 win over St. Rose on Tuesday night. First of all, when was the last time Point Beach beat St. Rose? Unless there’s a game slipping my memory, that might be the first time in like 10 years or more that that has happened. It certainly helps to have Reischel, a 6-5 sophomore swingman who is a transfer from overseas and was a starter on the U-17 national team in Germany. In a small-school division like B Central, Reischel should be able to have his way against most teams, which makes the Garnet Gulls a bona fide contender to win it all. A victory over perennial divisional standard-bearer St. Rose, which has already beaten Asbury Park, was a big one for Point Beach.
  • Holmdel is looking like a dark horse contender for Class A Central honors after escaping with a one-point win over Long Branch in their opener in a nondivisional game and then taking down Rumson-Fair Haven, 51-40, on Tuesday night. Junior guard Erik Shirvanian lit it up from behind the arc, while Rumson could not find any rhythm offensively. Holmdel is one of those teams that doesn’t necessarily have the firepower to blow many teams out, but they have the ability to win close games against favored opponents and are well-coached. They also have a nice inside-outside tandem with Shirvanian and forward Mike Kelly. Meanwhile, Rumson, despite returning a veteran cast, has not been able to get on the same page offensively early on and can’t get Matt Blumel and James LeCardi both going in the same game. I don’t know if there’s squabbling over who is getting touches or what, but things are looking a little ominous for the Bulldogs in a season in which they have high expectations after winning 17 games last season.
  • Lacey remained tied at the top of Class A South after pulling one out against Jackson on Monday, and the Lions have now won two overtime games out of their three games this season, so that shows some mental toughness from a group that is a mixture of seniors, transfers and a freshmen and sophomore who see significant time. Also, great job so far by new coach Ryan O’Rourke, and, as I’ve talked about here in a previous post, the addition of guard Mike Pierce from Lakewood has been paying dividends. Jackson Memorial continues to push teams to the brink and if the Jaguars can keep their confidence despite some close losses to Toms River North and Lacey, they could really be a thorn in the side of opponents in Class A South.
  • Just when everyone was starting to pile on Central, the Golden Eagles went out and took down Monsignor Donovan in overtime as Ibn Moye was spectacular as usual. That is quintessential Class B South – get too high on a team, and someone chops them down a day later. Start bagging on a team, and they surprise a favored team the next day. I still think that if Lakewood really plays up to its potential, it’s the Piners’ division, but they have to prove they can get it done night in and night out. Still, that’s a beastly combo between Jacob Grant and Jarrod Davis.
  • I thought the Asbury Park-Mater Dei game would be closer, but the Blue Bishops really took it to the Seraphs in an 82-54 win. It’s clear that Asbury has simply reloaded despite graduating nearly all of its offense, and Lamar Young, Joe Anderson and Darius Osborn have vaulted from role players to players who can take over a game. No team in Class B Central can match their speed, so it’s more shot selection and turnovers that will determine their fate.
  • Two teams that look improved from last season are Howell and Matawan. Both lost on Tuesday, but they pushed Freehold Township and Raritan, respectively, to the end, so they both are worth keeping an eye on. Raritan, which won six games all of last season, also already has two wins in its first three games. It’s clear that when senior guard Chris Monahan is hitting from outside and junior Bennett Jackson is finishing around the rim, this is a different team.
  • A team that might have been underestimated in the preseason was Shore, which looked like it lost a decent amount to graduation but pushed Manasquan to the end in its opener and then routed St. John Vianney on Tuesday night. The Blue Devils look like they have more scoring punch than in recent seasons, and they always dig in and defend, so they could be trouble in Class A Central after making the jump up from Class B Central. If players like senior Mike Pillari are going to put up 25-point nights, they will be trouble because junior Rich Vivian has proven to be a consistent scorer.
  • Southern is 3-0 after cruising past Brick as senior guard Joe Tomczuk had another strong game. Having some solid interior players has really opened it up for Tomczuk, who gets much more open looks because teams have to respect it when the Rams dump the ball into the post and can’t cheat out to the perimeter on Tomczuk.
  • You could tell Monmouth was champing at the bit to get its season started and did so with gusto, rolling past Red Bank in a 28-point win. With Neptune going down on Tuesday, the Falcons look like the new No. 1 in the All Shore Media Top 10, and we’ll see how they do in their holiday tournament as well as a rugged Class B North schedule that features two meetings apiece with Neptune and Freehold.

GIRLS

  • As I figured, Neptune cruised past Freehold in their Class B North game on Monday night. The Scarlet Fliers just have too many offensive weapons, plus they now have one of Freehold’s previous best weapons in junior Sehmonyeh Allen. Right now, you would have to say that the next best challenger after Freehold is Ocean, but I don’t think anyone can match Neptune’s offensive firepower. Unfortunately, word also traveled quickly about a fight between two parents of prominent players on either team after the game. That is just depressing. I can’t say I’m shocked, because that is the state of scholastic sports in 2008, but every time it happens you wonder what in God’s name people were thinking. I’ve always secretly considered filming some of the most abusive parents during games and posting it on YouTube, just so that they can see what they look like when they are screaming incessantly at the players or officials or threatening to kill the coach or someone in the opposing stands. I could edit it into a nice little montage with “You’re Crazy” by Guns ‘N’ Roses playing in the background, although I’m sure instead of having its intended effect of getting them to stop acting nuts, they would probably just sue me for defamation of character.
  • Colts Neck looks like it is going to run away with Class A North. I think I might be surprised if anyone in that division loses to them by less than double digits. The three-guard group of Brooke Hampton, Lauren Clarke and Tiffany DeTulio is just too much for anyone to answer in A North, and then you throw in a deep group of frontcourt players. The Cougars were wise to go out and seek a bunch of nondivisional and nonconference games against top teams because I don’t think they are going to get much of a challenge from A North, and that’s more being respectful to Colts Neck than disrespectful to the rest of A North, as Middletown South, Howell, and Freehold Township are all quality teams, but cannot stay with the Cougars offensively.
  • Speaking of teams that are way ahead of everyone else in their division, put St. Rose in that category as well. The Purple Roses routed a solid Point Beach team by 41 points on Tuesday. Theyare just way deeper at guard and way taller and more talented in the frontcourt than anyone. Come to think of it, if you’re looking for interesting divisional races out there this season, there’s not a whole lot of them. Colts Neck, St. Rose and Neptune look like they might run away with their respective divisions, and Manchester has the ability to do the same in Class B South. That leaves the best division in the state of New Jersey, Class A Central (RBC, SJV, RFH), as well as Class A South, as the only races with any potential intrigue. That also puts more of an onus on the nondivisional and nonconference games for St. Rose, Neptune, Colts Neck and Manchester because come Shore Conference Tournament seeding time, the teams in A Central will all be using the wins they had against one another to argue for a high seed, so those heavy divisional favorites may need some other wins over top opponents to bolster their case.
  • Southern junior center Kristen Sharkey now has two 40-point games in two seasons for the Rams after doing it against Brick on Monday. If she seals her defender on the block against most Ocean County teams, it’s a bucket, a foul, or both almost every time.
  • Marlena Klein and Ocean picked up a solid win over Wall on Tuesday as they continue to stifle opponents on defense.

    Marlena Klein and Ocean picked up a solid win over Wall on Tuesday as they continue to stifle opponents on defense.

    Finally, great win by Ocean over Wall on Tuesday night. Ocean’s defense has been tremendous so far, as no team has cracked the 40-point barrier against the Spartans. Wall’s Kathryn Campbell had another solid game, but that was all that Ocean allowed while getting a balanced scoring effort led by Marlena Klein. Ocean now assumes the mantle of the top challenger to Neptune in Class B North after the Scarlet Fliers dispatched of Freehold. Ocean’s victory also looks good in light of Wall’s victory over a well-regarded Jackson team in the WOBM Classic this past weekend.


Plenty of extras from opening weekend/WOBM Classic opinions

December 22, 2008

You know what’s really awesome? When you spend all day at a basketball tournament and then your Internet connection goes on the fritz on a Sunday night. You know what’s even better than that? When the Jets go out to the West Coast and lay their third egg to a horrendous team to do their best to blow their playoff chances. I was at Ritacco Center for the WOBM Classic first-round boys hoops action on Sunday refreshing the score in between watching games, doing interviews, etc., and I thought maybe the Jets would have some heart and pull it out late until I was doing an interview, got a text message in the middle of it and then checked it after I was done talking to a player. It was from my Dad: “Mangini must go!” That pretty much told me how the final outcome turned out for a team that I really question why I continue to root for. Then my phone exploded with about 8 million texts from my fellow Jets fans and friends.

But enough about that, you’re here to read about basketball, so I will get right to it. I broke it up between boys and girls, so just scroll to whatever you want to look at. This includes some thoughts on the WOBM Classic as well as stuff from Friday and Saturday’s regular-season action. I’ll promise to start blogging more in between everything else. This was just a hectic weekend with games all day and a mandatory family event on Saturday night.

BOYS

I’ll start with the WOBM stuff first because it was the most recent.

  • Toms River North was a little close for comfort with Jackson Memorial, but I’m never shocked early in the season when a team with a new coach and high expectations has a close game early on. The Mariners are still adjusting to Chris Kane, and the bottom line is that they got it done. The defending champs moved on, and if they continue to advance, no one will look back too much on this game. However, as I said in the season preview, I think new Jaguars coach Joe Fagan is going to do some good things with this program. He has some young guys to work with, particularly freshman point guard Elliot Bell, who can really help build a foundation at a school where the wrestling program dominates the news in the winter.
  • Good win for Toms River East against a frenetic Manchester team. I have a story coming up involving the Raiders that will be posted later today that you should definitely look out for, as it has been an emotional week for them. I saw some good things from Raiders junior guard Richie Suhr, who is a good rhythm shooter off the catch and does a good job of finding open space to get a good look on kickouts and skip passes against the zone. Manchester plays at hyperspeed, and if the Hawks could get a lot of their better looks to fall and play a little more under control, they would be a scary team. They can turn over other team’s guards quickly in their full-court press, but they have to convert more of those turnovers into points. Jermaine Jackson had 24 for the Hawks and can stick the 3 and put it on the floor and get to the rim while also adjusting his shot in midair. I don’t believe his brothers Tito and Michael were in attendance on Sunday, so maybe later in the season.
  • I liked what I saw from Brick Memorial’s Matt O’Brien in a lop-sided win over Wall. He plays very confidently and has range behind the arc and the ability to put it on the floor. Wall wasn’t very physical with him at all, so I’m interested to see how he will do against teams that lean on him a little more all game. Brick Memorial is a fun team to watch because it pushes the pace pretty relentlessly on offense. The Mustangs also used O’Brien up top in the middle of their 3-2 zone, which is what St. Rose is also doing with senior center Sean McPaul. With not many teams having a post presence to worry about, teams are taking their big guys and using them to harass shooters on the perimeter and prevent penetration up the middle.
  • Newcomer Mike Pierce makes a big difference for Lacey, which knocked off Raritan. He can consistently break his man down off the dribble, which gives Lacey two players who can do that, as senior John Pierce (no relation), a four-year varsity player, is another. That is huge when you have two guards who can handle the ball like that and create shots for themselves and others. They also have a good finisher in rugged senior forward Justin Smith, a junkyard dog who holds his own against bigger forwards. I also liked what I saw from Lacey freshman Logan McDonald, who came up with some big baskets and made some heads-up plays. This team has the ability to cause problems in Class A South. As for Raritan, 6-7 Rockets freshman Michael Aaman looks like he is going to be a good one because he already has one thing that most coaches usually have to beat into freshmen – aggressiveness. Aaman will get in there and mix it up with anybody and does not shy away from contact or taking a big shot. He has the potential to be a fearsome shotblocker because of his willingness to attack. As far as the game, the Rockets just didn’t shoot well from the field and missed 14 free throws. I still think this team has potential and will be one to watch in Class A Central, because it has a big frontcourt and guards who can shoot.
  • Not much to say about the Point Boro-Old Bridge game. Old Bridge played their jayvee in the first half, most likely for disciplinary reasons, and Point Boro was up 26-4. Not a whole lot you can learn from this one.
  • I caught parts of the Southern-Central game, and Southern’s size up front really changes everything. Sophomore Ray Darnell, junior Harry Givas, and senior Robert Kraft allow the Rams to play inside-out and for guard Joe Tomczuk to get more looks. Tomczuk also doesn’t have to worry about running the point thanks to senior Nick Nichols, who converted to point guard before this season. That frees Tomczuk up to run the floor and get in the best position to score. The Rams also have two of their top seven players out injured right now, so they should only get stronger from here. As for Central, the Golden Eagles are really searching for that second option after Ibn Moye. I’ll tell you one thing, though, and I was talking to tournament organizer Kevin Williams about this. Senior Tyler Palagonia is a tough, hard-nosed point guard, who, if he wasn’t asked to score a whole lot and just had to handle the ball against pressure, play tough defense, get the ball to open teammates and score occasionally, would be talked about a lot. It’s just that Central needs more scoring after Moye, so Palagonia and his teammates have that on their mind as well, but Palagonia would be the perfect point guard on a team with just a little more offensive talent.
  • Scott Nelson was as advertised for Ocean in its double-overtime win over Toms River South. They run a lot of double screens up top and Nelson does a good job of moving without the ball and reading the defender. TR South coach John MacIntosh told his team plenty of times that they had to fight over the top of those screens and couldn’t slide behind them because Nelson would get an open look from behind the arc and bury it. Nelson can drive opposing coaches nuts because they know he is a 3-point specialist but he still finds a way to get good looks from downtown. As for Toms River South, Tyler Gebler is just a tremendous all-around athlete who has a sense of when it’s time to take over. He hit two big threes in overtime, but Nelson matched them. What makes Gebler tough is that he is 6-5, so he can shoot over smaller guards trying to run out at him when he is behind the 3-point line. He also is closing in on 1,000 points, and a few of his buddies had a dry erase board in the corner that they kept erasing and adjusting every time Gebler scored a basket to read how many points Gebler had to go to get to 1,000. I’m pretty sure it was 104 by the end of the game.
  • St. Rose has a nice inside-outside combination with Joey Quinn and center Sean McPaul, as they rolled over Brick. Usually St. Rose is very guard-oriented, but the more attention McPaul commands in the paint, the more dangerous the Purple Roses will be, because teams will have to pick their poison. I think a big thing for McPaul is stamina and conditioning because he started last season very strong and faded a little bit at the end. If he is 100 percent the whole way, this team is going to be tough to beat because there aren’t many players McPaul’s size who can handle him in the paint in the Shore Conference.

OK, deep breath, and now on to some other stuff from the opening weekend of boys hoops.

  • Not the best debut for CBA in a lop-sided loss to state-ranked Union in the Tip-Off Classic. The Colts will have to come back to Class A North and regroup, and then they head to a Christmas tournament in Brooklyn, as they are not playing in the Holiday Jubilee at Neptune this season. If an athletic team like Union can give them fits, it will be interesting to see what happens when they face a team like Monmouth or perennial nemesis Neptune, although Neptune has a lot of inexperience in the frontcourt.
  • I’m pretty shocked that I wasn’t shocked this weekend. Usually opening weekend brings some eye-opening scores (like last season’s buzzer-beater win by Freehold over Neptune on opening night), but everything pretty much made sense this weekend to a degree.
  • I was a little surprised at how close the Manasquan-Shore game was, which means maybe Shore is better than we thought after graduating a lot from season’s team. Keep an eye on forward Rich Vivian. As for Manasquan, several opposing coaches are big fans of guard Matt Vadas, who looks like he could be something special if he can be consistent every night.
  • Great job by “The Pit,” the student section at Point Boro‘s home games. I took in the Panthers’ season-opening, 39-38 win over Central, and The Pit was in it from the opening tip and celebrated the win like it was a division title. They have some imaginative chants, too, not just the usual stuff. As for Point Boro, watch out for freshman guard Shawn Cooke. I thought the play picked up when he was in there, and he is a little quicker off the dribble than guards Ty Hughes and Shane O’Connor. He also was called upon to take two technical foul free throws at a crucial juncture of the game, which shows the confidence that coach Kevin Hynes already has in him. I wonder if anybody’s first career points ever came on shooting free throws from a technical foul whistled on the other team’s coach. That may have never happened before. Panthers senior Pat Hart had an off night from the outside and still battled, and senior forward Mark Ward picked everyone up with some big plays. He twice went left along the baseline for big buckets in the second half.
  • I had a feeling that Stephen Frost was going to be Red Bank’s latest stat sheet stuffer, and he dropped 22 points in a solid opening win against Ocean. The Bucs may not have the name players of the past few seasons, but they still have some talent there.
  • Jacob Grant had a monster game for Lakewood in its opener against Manchester, and I think he has the potential to make a dark horse push for first-team All-Conference honors if he can bring it every night.
  • Still trying to interpret Rumson falling in a 17-5 hole to Matawan and having to rally to win. Does that mean the Huskies are much-improved under Tom Stead? Or was it opening-night jitters for the Bulldogs, who only got a combined 10 points out of stars Matt Blumel and James LeCardi?
  • Freehold Township knocked off Marlboro in its opener, and Steve Talbott had 25 points. The senior forward is an athlete who drew high praise from Brian Golub and his staff over the summer and if he can become a Chris Ballester-type all-around player, but with more scoring punch, this team will be very dangerous because it already has a good scorer in Matt Devine.
  • Neptune has to be feeling good after a big second half led to a convincing win over Mendham, and that was without several players in the frontcourt rotation for the Scarlet Fliers. I have them at No. 1, and Tuesday should be a great test against No. 5 Freehold to kick off the Class B North wars.
  • Here is a fun stat: Raritan‘s bench players were a perfect 10-for-10 from the field in the Rockets’ season-opening win over Red Bank Catholic.
  • Still trying to get over the “postponed because of floor conditions” game between St. John Vianney and Holmdel. That’s supposed to happen when the air-conditioning breaks in the summer, not in December. That is bizarre. Actually, this is what I believe they waxed the floor with.

All right, now on to the girls side.

GIRLS

WOBM Classic thoughts:

  • It looks like Toms River North could do some big things in Class A South this season, and the Mariners meetings with Jackson Memorial could be good ones. They routed Lacey in the first round of the WOBM Classic, and with three solid scorers in Dana Coronato, Sam Heck and Maria Gerew, this team looks like it will be a solid contender. We’ll really see the Mariners possibilities when they play top-seeded Rumson, which rolled over Monsignor Donovan, in the quarterfinals. If TR North can show something against a perennial power like Rumson, that will make people sit up and pay attention.
  • Manchester vs. Raritan in the quarterfinals is going to be an interesting contrast in styles. Manchester is a run-and-gun, we-have-better-athletes-than-you-do team that attacks relentlessly. Raritan is a grind-it-out, defensive, slowdown team. Whomever controls the tempo will have a big leg up in this game. This also is a good showcase game for Manchester senior Camille Valmon to show she can get it done against a good defensive team from Monmouth County. The Hawks want respect beyond just their backyard, and this is one step toward earning it. As for the Rockets, the less said about their 31-21 win over Central, the better. A win is a win, and they’ll take it and move on to face the Hawks. Central battled hard defensively, but just couldn’t get anything to fall offensively. However, it did provoke a great quote from Central coach Meredith Parliman, who yelled out in the middle of the game, “You are playing beautifully on this end ladies, so just stop screwing it up on the other end!”
  • I watched Ocean‘s win over Point Boro, and the Spartans definitely feel a little underappreciated. They have four good athletes in particular in Gina Samples, Annie Farrow, Jennah Fisher and Marlena Klein. I think Farrow is the key, because if she can command a double team in the post and effectively pass out of it to find open shooters, this team will sneak up on some people. Klein and Samples can bury the three, so Farrow’s work in the paint is huge. Defense is this team’s calling card, and against high-octane running teams like division rival Neptune, they are going to have to do their best to slow the game down and dig in defensively. They face Southern in the WOBM quarterfinals, so if Farrow is matched up with Southern’s Kristen Sharkey, that should be an interesting match-up. Southern beat Ocean in the Shore Conference Tournament last season, and even though Ocean is a man-to-man team, you will probably see a lot of zone in order to collapse on Sharkey and force the Rams to hit jumpers.
  • Wall was one of my sleeper teams in the preseason, and the Crimson Knights arrived with a bang by knocking off a Jackson Memorial team that was coming off an impressive win over Southern in the season opener. Kathryn Campbell is one of the most underrated players in the Shore, and this team has the chance to be in the mix in Class B North. As for Jackson, sophomore center Christa Evans continues to draw raves, even in defeat, and could be a dominant post player before long. Wall plays Shore in the WOBM quarterfinals, and after surviving a meeting with Evans, the Knights now have to deal with Shore center Liz West, one of the better pure pivot players in the conference.
  • Now, as for regular-season stuff, from everything I’ve heard, Red Bank Catholic has the ingredients to once again be a factor in the postseason despite playing several freshmen and sophomores. Chyna Golden, a sophomore center, looks to be the key because if she forces teams to commit extra defensive help to stop her on the block, it’s bombs away from 3-point land from RBC’s array of guards. Six-footer Sam Guastella is also another one to watch, as she had 10 points against the Rockets. With Golden and Guastella in the middle, and a ton of young guards, this team should be in contention for the No. 1 spot again before long.
  • Sehmonyeh Allen looks like she has integrated nicely into Neptune‘s up-tempo system as the Freehold transfer scored 23 in a season-opening win against Brick in the Mustang Invitational. We’ll see what Neptune’s potential is if it runs into Cherokee in the final of that tournament, and the Scarlet Fliers also have a big Class B North game against Allen’s old crew at Freehold on Tuesday.
  • Brick Memorial continues to rise under coach Rayna Post, as the Mustangs upended a Hunterdon Central program that is always solid to advance in their own Mustang Invitational. After reaching the SCT for the first time ever last season, this group is not resting on its laurels and is off to a 2-0 start.
  • Marlboro pushed Freehold Township pretty good in the Patriots’ 7-point, season-opening win, which may bode well for the Mustangs’ chances of reaching the postseason.

Hoops on the way, some lingering football stuff, D’Elia commits to Monmouth

December 14, 2008

E-mail: stump@allshoremedia.com

OK, I just needed a little breather and then I will be knee deep in all of the basketball stuff, and I have had preliminary reports trickling in to me from various precincts as the scrimmages get played so the buzz is definitely building.

This is the deepest year I can remember in a while on both the boys and girls sides. I feel like seemingly every top player is back from last year. There are going to be some good teams that are not even ranked in the Top 10, and the Shore Conference Tournament should be electric on both sides this year. I’ll be launching full bore into all of that stuff on Monday. If I don’t get this Christmas tree and decorate it today, Miss All Shore Media is not going to be happy. Plus, I need a few hours to let the Jets spike my blood pressure and get high school football out of my head, although I will have a few more “Unsung Hero” features interspersed with all of the basketball and wrestling stuff on the way.

Also, a quick college commitment: Congrats to Brick Memorial offensive lineman Anthony D’Elia, an All Shore Media All-Conference first-teamer, who has verbally committed to Monmouth University. D’Elia chose Monmouth over Wagner, Princeton and a few other Ivies. That brings the list that I have so far of Shore Conference D-I commitments to Southern’s Glenn Carson (Penn State); Wall’s Blaze Caponegro (Temple); Marlboro’s E.J. Tucker (Army); Rumson-FH’s Taylor Brown (UPenn) and Toms River North’s Evan Regas (Temple). If I’m missing anyone, please let me know.

“I like the atmosphere, I like the kids, and it’s not as uptight as those other places,” D’Elia said.

As for more reactions to the selections on the All-Conference team, I received a not-so-happy e-mail from a Keyport backer arguing that junior two-way lineman Bryan Thomson should have been on the first team. I must admit this was the one that I agonized over the most. I think Thomson is an excellent player and will be one of the Shore’s top returning linemen next year, but defensive line was so deep in the Shore this season. Still, there is definitely an argument to be made for Thomson. One of the hardest things with these teams are the division winners and state champs arguing that they should have more players because of their success, and then the teams arguing that just because they were .500 or below, it doesn’t mean they don’t have players deserving of recognition. Hey, hard decisions are part of the job. You will know by the time you make your first all-star team whether you want to continue being a sportswriter.

OK, enough about that, and as my colleague Nep84 recently asked, “Is it finally basketball season yet?” The answer is yes, and it will begin in earnest tomorrow. I also will be compiling an alumni page for the former boys and girls players from the Shore Conference now playing in college and beyond, so feel free to e-mail me with any info you have on those grads.

I’ll even give you a few quick hoops stories to read as we get ready:


An All-New Look, Amabile Steps Down at SJV, Music Videos and Things I May Have Screwed Up

December 9, 2008

Well, I have joined the world of WordPress like any other self-respecting blogger these days, so hopefully this will streamline things and make it easier for you to read all of the posts and for me to blather on incessantly on a regular basis about football, basketball, baseball and a million other things.

I will be sprucing up the surroundings on this blog and adding more stuff once I get a few minutes to do it, as I am currently knee deep in writing a million things. I just wanted to touch on some stuff really quick. I also will be jumping into boys and girls basketball the minute the football stuff is dead and buried, so check back frequently as I try to burn through a ton of previews in the next week before I am driving all over the countryside for holiday tournaments.

As we know by now, legendary coach John Amabile has stepped down at St. John Vianney. I reached him yesterday at about 1 p.m. but he wouldn’t confirm it or deny it or talk about it, but obviously spoke about it to the APP because I guess he wanted them to have the story. They have been covering him for 30 years or so, so I won’t take it personally. Amabile ranks third all-time in victories among Shore Conference coaches with 252 career wins, trailing only Brick’s Warren Wolf (a state-record 361) and the late Vic Kubu of Manasquan (263). Talk about a changing of the guard. Since Kubu’s death in August of 2007, three coaches with a combined 876 wins are no longer coaching now that Wolf and Amabile have called it quits.

The Lancers went 3-7 this season and even in the preseason I could sense that the chemistry there was a little off and it looked like it could be an uphill battle. Amabile, who won five state sectional titles combined in stints at Wall and Neptune, was 22-38 with one state playoff appearance in his six years at St. John Vianney.

Amabile was able to attract some top players from his old stomping grounds in Neptune, but the Lancers just never seemed to be able to put it all together and depth always seemed to be an issue. Besides the search for the new coach, the real question now remains as to whether top players like sophomore RB Charles Davis and freshman RB/LB Jazzmar Clax stay at the school. If it really was about the whole institution and the academics, I would think they’ll finish their careers there. If it was more about playing football and playing for Amabile, you may see both hit the road. The rumor mill is already circulating that Clax will return to his hometown school of Freehold Boro, which would add another stud to the stable on the defending Central Jersey Group III champs, although I would think he would have to sit out his sophomore year under the new NJSIAA transfer rule. Same would go for Davis, a sophomore who is from Neptune.

I also don’t know what will become of Amabile’s staff, but if someone is smart they will snap up defensive coordinator Ed Lowe. I know the Lancers had a tough time defensively this year, but Lowe was also the D-coordinator on the 2003 Brick Memorial team that won it all so he has put together championship units.

I’ll tell you who has to be happy about this development to a degree, and that is Neptune coach John Fiore. The Scarlet Fliers were seemingly losing one top player a year to St. John Vianney, and those kids may opt to stay home now. It also can’t hurt that Neptune just went 8-3 and reached a state sectional semifinal.

In more low-profile coaching news, I have solid info that Nick Varanelli has resigned at Mater Dei after two seasons, I just haven’t been able to catch up with him yet. The Seraphs, who are really struggling to compete and build depth, went 0-20 the last two years.  Who knows what’s next for them.

Now on to the “Stuff I May Have Screwed Up” Department. I’ve gotten some e-mails and response on the All Shore Media All Conference teams, and there are a few players who deserve mention who didn’t make the team.

RBC senior defensive end Connor McHeffey was a standout for the Caseys but I just couldn’t seem to find a spot for him on a team where I already put a host of RBC players on the all-conference teams. Still, he definitely deserved consideration for a spot.

Another reader e-mailed me that I was shorting Monsignor Donovan by not having any Griffins on the team after they went 5-5 this year. I think junior wideout Kevin Carter was probably the most deserving, with All-Patriot Division selections Jon Curtin (QB/UT) and Chris Winn (OL) also in the mix. I had a handful of Barnegat players on there, and Mon Don beat Barnegat, so that is a fair point and I think the aforementioned players deserve some recognition as well from one of the Shore’s more prolific offenses this season. I also didn’t get many players from teams that were .500 or below, but I saw a ton of teams in person and on film, and that’s the way I felt. I thought Matawan DBs John Short and McArthur Underwood were also deserving but just couldn’t find a place for them. Both are potential stars, and luckily they’re only sophomores.

Finally, check out some music videos below celebrating the state champion teams from this season. Sorry we couldn’t get one done for Brick Memorial, as the recent widespread power outage caused a minor calamity. I have to say that the Freehold one is probably my favorite. Enjoy.