Boys Basketball – 2015-16 Preview: Class A South
There was a four-year period from 2008 to 2011 in which no Class A South team qualified for the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals, but since that drought, the division is back to making regular appearances in the late stages of the SCT. There has been some real depth to the division over the last three years and the two programs that have had the most success in that span have been Jackson Memorial and Toms River North.
While Jackson Memorial embarked on a rebuilding mode last year, Toms River North reclaimed the Class A South title for the second time in three years, outlasting Southern. Despite a run of success under sixth-year coach Eric Fierro, the Rams have come up short in the division title race each year and will once again try to run down the Mariners this season. Those two traditional A South powers return as the favorites in a division that took a big hit to graduation across the board and could be in for a more top-heavy season if the teams hit the hardest by graduation take a full year to acclimate new starters and those that have been at the bottom can’t make significant strides.
Whatever happens with the depth of the division, there are two rosters among the A South teams that look strong enough to contend for a spot in the Shore Conference quarterfinals again in 2016.
In predicted order of finish
Toms River North
Head Coach: Rory Caswell, fifth season
2014-15 Record: 21-6 (12-2, first in A South)
Returning: Pat Marinaccio (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Darrion Carrington (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Nyisztor (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Hunter Petrick (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Husni (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Anthony Storino (Sr., Forward), Quintin Alex-Manning (Sr., Forward)
Key Losses: Jordan Craig (6-6, Forward), Evan Martin (6-2, Guard), Ted Thelemaque (6-5, Guard), Kevin Blum (6-2, Guard), Brian Brannagan (6-3, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Jaden Rhoden (Jr., 6-0, Guard; transfer from Central), Chris Dimopoulos (Jr., Forward), Robert Bernath (Jr., Forward)
In his first four seasons at the helm, Rory Caswell has led his Toms River North squad to two 20-wins seasons and two Shore Conference Tournament semifinal appearances – all of which came in the 2012-13 season and 2014-15. After a slew of graduations following the first of those banner seasons, the Mariners reloaded and made it back to the SCT final four last year as part of a 21-win campaign and a Class A South championship regular season. While graduation will drain the roster to some degree, Toms River North has a trio of returning starters, a capable returning collection of bench talent and an impact transfer to make a run at two straight A South titles and three in the last four years.
Pat Marinaccio, Mike Nyisztor and Darrion Carrington all return to the starting lineup this year after playing major roles last year. Nyisztor was the team’s top shooting and scoring threat (12.2 points per game) and won the WOBM Christmas Class MVP as a sophomore last year, while Carrington will be back to run the point after leading the Shore Conference in assists per game (6.9). Marinaccio battled an ankle injury for latter part of the season, but still managed to average 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds as one of the Mariners’ top all-around players. Senior Hunter Petrick gave Caswell important minutes off the bench – particularly when Marinaccio was out – and he, along with junior Mike Husni, will be important role players for the Mariners. Husni just finished leading the Mariners to a South Jersey Group IV football championship as the team’s quarterback and brings the same toughness to the basketball court.
The challenge for Toms River North will be to replace the size it lost from a season ago, which will be particularly important when dealing with Southern’s length in the two key head-to-head showdowns during the Class A South schedule. The guard play will be there for the Mariners, especially considering that Central Regional transfer Jaden Rhoden (10.2 points per game with the Golden Eagles as a sophomore) will be joining the backcourt. If the Mariners can make that small lineup work and overcome some size that they might give up against certain teams, they will have a shot to contend with the top teams in a deep Shore Conference once again.
Head Coach: Eric Fierro, sixth season
2014-15 Record: 20-7 (11-3, tied second in A South)
Returning: Peyton Wejnert (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Ethan DuBois (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Mark Valeriani (Jr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Jake Logue (6-6, Guard/Forward), Zac Halliday (6-1, Guard), Eric Ray (6-6, Forward/Center), Dylan Clark (6-1, Guard), Mike Adragna (6-4, Forward)
Key Newcomers: Scott Hill (Sr., 5-10, Guard), John Keizer (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Matt Mershon (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Sean Clayton (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Bill Howard (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Connor Ciliberto (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Anthony Cipriani (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Jake DuBois (So., 5-10, Guard), Austin Gugliemini (So., 6-1, Forward), Conor Feeney (Fr., 6-0, Guard)
When it came to the head-to-head matchup with Toms River North, Southern got the split with the division champs, but the rest of the schedule did them in during their pursuit for an elusive outright A South title. The goals remain the same for the Rams this season, as they return the second-leading scorer in the Shore Conference in 6-foot-6 senior Peyton Wejnert to go with junior point guard Ethan DuBois. While Wejnert grabbed most of the accolades last season as a top scorer and a second-team All-Shore forward, DuBois finished second in the conference in assists and came into his own as a true point guard on a team with a lot of offensive weapons.
Replacing a few of those weapons will be a challenge for Southern, which said goodbye to 1,000-point scorer and four-year starter Jake Logue. Center Eric Ray also became an important two-way player for Southern and the Rams will have to account for the loss of his physicality on defense as well as his offensive production. While Southern will still have a size edge over rival Toms River North, the Rams will not have the same size advantage that they have enjoyed in recent years, with a 6-5 wing in Logue and a 6-6 super-athlete in Mike Gesicki before him. Juniors Matt Mershon and Bill Howard each bring a 6-3 frame to the frontcourt with Wejnert, but other than those three, this Rams team will be more guard-oriented.
DuBois’s younger brother, Jake, will be an impact sophomore in his first varsity season and fellow junior Austin Gugliemini could see some time in the front court. Freshman Conor Feeney also cracked the varsity roster and is capable of contributing, especially considering coach Eric Fierro has not been hesitant to turn to freshmen when they have proven they can help on the varsity squad. After some close calls over the past several seasons, Southern remains hungry for a Class A South title and if the Rams can check that accomplishment off the to-do list, they will remain a dangerous postseason team, especially if they can earn a few home games in front of ‘The Herd.’
Toms River East
Head Coach: Jim Dempsey, third season
2014-15 Record: 8-13 (6-8, fifth in A South)
Returning: Ryan West (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Phil Lingat (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Bailey Engelhard (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Carlos Lingat (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Pat Saunders (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward)
Key Losses: Nat Amadeo (6-1, Forward), Jon Meola (6-2, Forward), Justin Gant (5-10, Guard), Justin Nicol (6-1, Forward), Vito Gearity (5-3, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Connor Robbins (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Tim Cook (Sr., 6-6, Forward/Center), Zyaire Dorn (So., 5-8, Guard), Ryan Allender (So., 5-11, Guard), Nick Silvia (So., 6-1, Forward), Jack Goodall (So., 5-8, Guard)
After a couple of seasons to bring along the young talent, install the style of play and the new culture, third-year coach Jim Dempsey has himself a roster ready to give Toms River North and Southern a battle this season in the chase for the A South crown. The Raiders did not get to the .500 mark last season and finished just short of qualifying for the Shore Conference Tournament, but they did make headway in their climb up the standings in Class A South and also qualified for the NJSIAA Tournament in a deep South Jersey Group IV field.
Senior Ryan West leads a long list of returnees after averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game as a junior, including 59 three-pointers. In addition to the size the 6-3 West brings to the wing, the Raiders offer plenty of height across their lineup. Bailey Engelhard returns and Pat Saunders return to the front court and 6-6 senior newcomer Tim Cook will bring an element of athleticism to the rotation to go along with his pure size. Junior guard Phil Lingat – the second-leading scorer on the team last year at 12.1 points per game – also returns to lead the backcourt, along with older brother Carlos.
Dempsey will also have a chance to incorporate a sophomore-heavy bench, which includes point guard Zyaire Dorn. Senior Connor Robbins will also come off the bench to give the Raiders a more defensive-minded lineup, which could come in handy with all of the guards Toms River North and likely Southern will be featuring. After fielding young teams in each of the last two seasons and despite the implementation of a strong group of sophomores, this is a “now” year for Toms River East as the Raiders try to take advantage of new players across the division and make a move up the standings.
Toms River South
Head Coach: Curt DeFillippo, first season
2014-15 Record: 18-9 (11-3, tied second in A South)
Returning: Tyler Fall (Sr., 6-3, Forward), R.J. Laing (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Matt Shiffer (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Tymere Berry (6-1, Guard), Khaleel Greene (5-8, Guard), Francis Hearne (6-1, Guard/Forward)
Key Newcomers: Nykie Lofton (Jr., Guard), Denzel Wilson (Jr., Guard)
No team in Class A South – and perhaps the entire Shore Conference – lost as much with the graduation of one player than the Indians did with the graduation of Tymere Berry. Berry averaged a Shore-Conference-leading 25 points per game last year in guiding the Indians to an 18-win campaign and a trip to the South Jersey Group III semifinals, and now, the Indians will try to build off that without the luxury of one player to pick up a large chunk of the production.
The Indians will likely have to revert to more of a half-court style with a slower pace as scoring figures to be harder to come by this season. There are, however, enough pieces to make it work, and chief among those pieces is senior Tyler Fall. After averaging 12 points and seven rebounds as a junior playing off Berry and Khaleel Greene, Fall will be more of a focal point of the offense this year as the Indians look to become more balanced. Senior R.J. Laing also enjoyed a breakout junior year before a hand injury prematurely ended his 2014-15 season. Junior Matt Shiffer is the other returnee with experience, and while Shiffer did not have a whole lot of it, he did have one seminal moment as a sophomore when he came off the bench to bury four first-quarter threes in a Shore Conference Tournament loss at Freehold Township.
Junior guards Nykie Lofton and Denzel Wilson will also join the lineup as the Indians attempt to move on without its All-Shore guard. There is enough youth and inexperience around the division to set Toms River South up for a solid follow-up to 2014-15 and if the new starters can quickly assimilate and the new starting five jells, the Indians should be in the top half of the division once again.
Head Coach: Mike Gawronski, fourth season
2014-15 Record: 3-18 (3-11, seventh in A South)
Returning: Kenny Buell (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Noah Buono (Jr., 6-3, Guard), Joe DeStefano (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Anthony DeStefano (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Brandon Williams (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Jasir Taylor, (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Nick Kozak (Sr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Brian Oehme (6-5, Forward), Dan Berg (5-10, Guard), Greg Buono (6-2, Guard), Jaquez Johnson (6-0, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Shane Williams (Fr., 6-2, Guard), Dan Venezia (So., 6-0, Guard), Mike Mellito (So., 5-10, Guard)
While Brick does not stand to benefit from all of the rebuilding in the middle of the division as much as Toms River East does, the Green Dragons do have a chance to make up the most ground between them and the top in 2014-15. Unlike Toms River East, Brick is among the many teams in the division that has to replace a top scorer from a year ago. Brian Oehme was double-double machine last year, churning out 14.6 points and 13.4 rebounds per game for a three-win Brick team.
So how does Brick improve off a three-win season and the loss of its top scoring and rebounder? In addition to playing in a division with less overall varsity experience from top-to-bottom than a year ago, the Green Dragons relied on a lot of sophomores in role positions and will now turn to them as juniors to help lead the way. Junior guard Noah Buono leads the group and is in line for a breakout season after averaging eight points and seven boards as a sophomore. Classmates Joe and Anthony DeStafano will also take on bigger roles this season, as will fellow juniors Brandon Williams and Jasir Taylor in the backcourt.
While the juniors make up a large portion of the roster, senior Kenny Buell figures to lead the way for Brick after putting up better than 10 points, three rebounds and three assists per game in his first season with the Green Dragons since transferring from Toms River North. Freshman guard Shane Williams also figures to make an early impact, while senior Nick Kozak and sophomores Dan Venezia and Mike Mellito offer fourth-year coach Mike Gawronski some depth as well. Brick has endured some serious struggles over the last eight or so years, but if there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel, it should begin to shimmer this season.
Head Coach: Kevin McQuade, second season
2014-15 Record: 7-17 (4-10, sixth in A South)
Returning: Chris Hawryluk (Sr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: C.J. Blue (6-1, Guard), Jimmy Markham (6-1, Guard/Forward), Eddie Landi (5-9, Guard), Andre Davis (6-1, Forward), Ryan Omslaer (Jr., 6-10, Center; transferred to St. Peter’s Prep), Parker Omslaer (Jr., 6-9, Forward/Center; transferred to St. Peter’s Prep)
Key Newcomers: John Pitlak (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Nick Barba (Jr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Ryan Lucas (Jr., 5-10, Guard/Forward), Andrew Trent (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Calvin Blue (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Austin Boyle (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Malcolm Johnson (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Mike Allen (Sr., 6-3, Forward)
If returning a leading scorer means anything, count Jackson Memorial among the fortunate in A South. Chris Hawryluk was a bright spot in a rocky season for the Jaguars, averaging 13.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a junior in his first season as a starter. He also happens to be the lone returning starter on the Jaguars, who have experienced more than their fair share of turnover in each of the past two seasons. Coach Kevin McQuade took over the program last season after Joe Fagan left for Neptune and after trying to overcome the loss of some significant pieces from the year before, he is in for a lot of the same this year.
Hawryluk will have plenty of junior help around him and the bonus to a bounce-back season for the Jaguars would be that they would also have a good foundation for next year as well. Nick Barba and Andre Trent are both 6-foot-5 juniors who will join Hawryluk in the front court, while classmates John Pitlak, Calvin Blue and Ryan Lucas will figure into the backcourt rotation. The Jaguars also have a trio of senior newcomers in guard Austin Boyle and forwards Malcolm Johnson and Mike Allen. With so much turnover in the division, the Jaguars are not that far off from getting back into the top half and setting up a run at a division title next year, but the junior class and its performance this season will be the key to that march back to the top of the A South.
Head Coach: Jason Bloom, first season
2014-15 Record: 10-14 (7-7, fourth in A South)
Returning: Darius Richards (Sr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Aaron Scheiderman (6-1, Guard), Scott White (6-5, Guard), R.J. Hernandez (6-4, Forward), Joe Hans (6-4, Forward), Mike Manso (5-8, Guard)
Key Newcomers: Billy Porter (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Elie Lavarin (Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Dave Clark (Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Dominic Scardilli (Jr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Colin McMahon (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Rob Manso (Jr., 5-9, Guard), Cody Curran (Jr., 5-8, Guard), Matt Panuska (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Anthony Argondizzo (So., 6-4, Forward), Vin Vecchione (5-10, So., Guard), Justin Hans (So., 5-10, Guard/Forward), Vincent Hernandez (So. 6-1, Forward), Dan Lahey (So., 5-10, Guard)
The Mustangs have been a perennial contender in Class A South, but coach Ed Sarluca Jr. has moved to the administrative side of the operation as athletic director and new coach Jason Bloom takes over a team that graduated its entire starting lineup from a year ago. Even with a quality starting five in 2014-15, Brick Memorial could not reach the .500 mark for the season and finished fourth in the division with an even 7-7 record, so this new rotation of players is in for a challenge.
Senior guard Darius Richards is the lone returning player from last year’s rotation and will move into a starting role after averaging five points per game off the bench as a junior. The senior newcomer trio of guards Elie Lavarin, Dave Clark and Billy Porter has helped out in the leadership department and will look to contribute on the floor alongside their classmate, Richards. The Mustangs will be able to work in some size with 6-3 junior Colin McMahon, 6-2 junior Matt Panuska and 6-4 sophomore Anthony Argondizzo, while junior guards Dominic Scardilli, Rob Manso, and Cody Curran all vie for time.
Even without much experience back, the Mustangs are still committed to an up-tempo, pressure-oriented game-plan under Bloom, who served as an assistant under Sarluca. An adherence to that identity has a chance to make Brick Memorial a tough matchup in A South, so if the pieces happen to fit, the Mustangs should remain competitive as they work in a new wave of talent.
Head Coach: Ryan O’Rourke, eighth season
2014-15 Record: 3-16 (2-12, eighth in A South)
Returning: Robert Biele (Sr., 5-10, Guard), George Gartner (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Mark Sheppard (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Geoff Fairclough (Jr., 6-4, Forward)
Key Losses: Chris Iapicco (6-4, Center), Connor Davies (5-10, Guard), Kipp Hopper (6-4, Forward), Nick Koenig (5-9, Guard), Isiah Brown (6-0, Forward), Matt McGillivray (6-0, Senior)
Key Newcomers: Vinnie DellaVola (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Mike Clarkson (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Kyle Priebe (So., 6-3, Forward), Cole Gudzak (Fr., 5-11, Guard), Corey Gudzak (Fr., 6-0, Forward), Kevin O’Rourke (Fr., 6-1, Forward), Carl Swenson (Fr., 5-11, Guard)
If any team leaned on one player as much as Toms River South leaned on Berry last season, it was Lacey with senior standout Chris Iapicco. The Lions center and current Rowan University forward averaged 23.6 points and 11.5 rebounds before a knee injury ended his season in early February. At that point Lacey got an early look at life without their top player and it was not pretty, as the Lions lost their final five games without Iapicco as part of a 12-game skid to end a 3-16 season.
The silver lining to that ending, of course, is that this returning group got an early start on preparing for this season, which will feature a lineup that will be more balanced and reliant on the guard position on the offensive end. Senior guard and returning starter Robert Biele is coming off an All-Shore season on the soccer field and will look to carry that leadership and high-energy play over to the court this winter. Senior returnees George Gartner and Mark Sheppard also return from a year ago and senior Vinnie DellaVola will reclaim a spot in the lineup after missing last year with an ankle injury.
The Lions also have a wave of freshmen who will help out right away and start them on their way back to contention. While the Lions could be in rebuilding mode, the middle of the division is wide-open enough for the young Lions to contend if they learn quickly.
Players to Watch
Peyton Wejnert, Southern – A versatile 6-foot-6 stretch-four at the high-school level who practically lives on the free-throw line (more than 13 attempts per game), Wejnert put up 24-plus points and nearly 10 rebounds last year in his first season at Southern.
Pat Marinaccio, Toms River North – An ankle injury interrupted an otherwise strong year for Marinaccio who put up 10 points and seven boards per night as a versatile, hard-nosed, two-way player for the Mariners.
Mike Nyisztor, Toms River North – When he catches fire, few shooters in the conference are as dangerous as Nyisztor, who averaged 12 points per game and hit 52 threes on a balanced Toms River North team.
Darrion Carrington, Toms River North – The Shore Conference’s premier assist man, Carrington handed out nearly seven per game while orchestrating that balanced Mariners attack. According to coach Rory Caswell, he is generating interest from multiple Ivy and Patriot League schools.
Ryan West, Toms River East – A shooter with some size and ability to mix it up down low, West enjoyed a breakout season in which he averaged nearly 16 points per game and connected on 59 attempts from behind the arc.
Chris Hawryluk, Jackson Memorial – Although the Jaguars return only one starter from last year, it is Hawryluk, who led the team in scoring at just under 14 per game and is one of four returning players in the division to lead his team in scoring last year.
Breakout Players to Watch
Noah Buono, Brick – After a solid sophomore season in which he averaged eight points and seven boards, Buono will take on a bigger role for a Brick team that is looking to break out despite the loss of leading scorer and rebounder Brian Oehme.
R.J. Laing, Toms River South – A hand injury cut his junior campaign short, but Laing showed an ability to stretch the floor with his shot while also making use of his 6-4 frame and athleticism on the glass and on defense.
Darius Richards, Brick Memorial – Richards showed some upside as a role player off the bench and should thrive as a senior in Brick Memorial’s up-tempo brand of basketball as the Mustangs look to turn over the program to a host of new players.
Can Southern overtake Toms River North and break through in the Shore Conference Tournament?
Over the last three years, Southern has put together quality season after quality season and has had good showings in the NJSIAA Tournament, but the Class A South title has eluded the Rams. Toms River North has won the division title two of the last three years and the Mariners figure to be Southern’s main roadblock in its latest pursuit of a Class A South crown. A byproduct of falling short of the division title over the years has been difficult draws in the Shore Conference Tournament, which could be part of the reason the Rams have not been among the parade of teams that has been to the SCT quarterfinals in recent years.
That doesn’t mean Southern hasn’t been close either: the Rams lost on a last-second shot to Wall in the SCT round of 16 last year and took a lead into the fourth quarter against top seed and eventual champion Point Beach the year before. With a premier scorer like Peyton Wejnert back, the Rams will be as hungry and as capable as ever in their chase for an A South crown.
How will Toms River South and Brick Memorial handle significant hits to their respective rosters?
Both the Mustangs and Indians are in different situations and both have been different about how the programs have operated from year-to-year. Brick Memorial has consistently relied on its pressing, up-tempo style regardless of program turnover and new head coach Jason Bloom has committed to continuing the style of play that the Mustangs executed so well under predecessor Ed Sarluca, Jr.
Toms River South, meanwhile, has changed styles in recent years based on personnel and last year were as wide open as ever with Tymere Berry and Khaleel Greene in the backcourt. Coach Curt DeFellippo is in his second year at the helm and while the Indians will likely look to play in the halfcourt more this year, one of his goals in taking over last season was to speed up the tempo of play. How that looks without Berry remains to be seen, but with two relatively new coaches and so many new players, it will be interesting to see how each program handles the task of repeating recent success.
Is Toms River East ready to make a run at the top of the division?
The Raiders made great strides last season and essentially return an entire lineup of experienced varsity players to go with a few intriguing newcomers. With Toms River South, Brick Memorial and Jackson Memorial addressing a large number of losses from last year’s rosters, the Raiders are in prime position to climb up the standings and if they can feast on those inexperienced rosters, they will be in position to challenge the incumbents at the top of the division.
The challenge for Toms River East – other than remaining consistent enough to win night-in and night-out against the middle and bottom of the division – will be matching up against Southern and Toms River North. The Rams are a handful on their home floor and have a strong backcourt-frontcourt combination in Ethan DuBois and Peyton Wejnert, while Toms River North is talented and deep in the backcourt. The Raiders went 0-4 in their head-to-head meetings with the two A South favorites last year, but played both much tougher in the second meeting – both at Toms River East. If they can build on those two games, the Raiders could potentially make this a three-team race.