For the last two seasons, the Class A North race has been a battle between five teams competing for supremacy of one form or another. Two years ago, Freehold Township and Marlboro set the pace with Christian Brothers Academy, Colts Neck and Neptune not too far behind. Last year, it was Neptune edging out CBA for the title and Colts Neck pushing the top two teams.

With the Shore Conference realigning this season, that pack of contenders has changed pretty significantly, with division champion Neptune and Colts Neck moving out to Class B North. That leaves CBA, Marlboro and Freehold Township – all of which return a significant portion of 2017-18 production – to compete for the top spot in the division, with new members Middletown South and Long Branch hoping to compete despite heavy losses, Howell also looking to overcome a big graduation hit and Manalapan and Freehold Boro looking to climb up the standings.

Even with Neptune and Colts Neck out of the picture, A North figures to be as competitive as ever, with at least three teams that look to be top-10 quality.

 

In predicted order of finish

Christian Brothers Academy

Head Coach: Geoff Billet, 12th season
2017-18 Record: 17-8 (12-2, second in A North)
Key Returners: Josh Cohen (Sr., 6-11, Center), Stephen Braunstein (Sr., 6-3, Guard), Liam Kennedy (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Peyton Boesch (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Paul Waraksa (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Harry Braniff (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Jack Casey (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Tim Murray (Sr., 6-2, Guard)
Key Losses: Rob Mahala (6-4, Guard/Forward), Nolan Madden (6-3, Forward), J.P. Harvey (6-4, Forward)
Newcomers: Ryan Mabrey (Fr., 6-3, Guard),  Mike White (So., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Colin Farrell (So., 6-0, Guard), Ryan Cremen (So., 6-2, Guard), Charlie Ruoff (Jr., 6-4, Forward)

CBA senior Stephen Braunstein. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

If not for two of the top players in the country playing at another Shore Conference school, CBA might be entering this season as the favorite to win the Shore Conference – which it has not done since 2010. The Colts made it back to the SCT semifinals last season after a one-year hiatus, where they lost to Ranney in what was probably the toughest challenge Ranney got during its overwhelmingly dominant tournament run. Although versatile wing Rob Mahala and knockdown shooter Nolan Madden graduated from last year’s starting lineup, CBA returns three quality starters and will have some depth with which to surround them.

The headliner on this CBA team is 6-foot-11 center Josh Cohen, who recently committed to St. Francis. Cohen was one of the Shore’s top big men in 2017-18, posting 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game as a junior and has grown two more inches over the last year. CBA also has a formidable, experienced backcourt tandem in Stephen Braunstein and Liam Kennedy. Braunstein was an All-Shore selection thanks to 16.3 points per game while Kennedy led CBA with 3.5 assists per game to go with 10.4 points. The Cohen-Braunstein-Kennedy triumvirate is among the Shore’s top returning trios behind Ranney’s top three and will represent the core of a competitive CBA team.

With that trio intact, CBA’s aspirations this season include reaching the finals of both the Shore Conference and Non-Public A Tournaments. To get to one or both, the Colts will need a supporting cast to emerge around its three returning starters. Seniors Peyton Boesch and Paul Waraska each saw some minutes last season and figure to be in that mix. Freshman Ryan Mabrey – the youngest brother of former Shore standouts Roy (CBA), Michaela, Marina and Dara (all Manasquan girls and high-major college players) – will make an immediate impact as the rare freshman to scoop up varsity playing time at CBA. A deep group of sophomores led by Mike White and Colin Farrell will also give coach Geoff Billet some options around Cohen, Braunstein and Kennedy, but it will be that trio that ultimately takes the Colts where they want to go in 2019.

 

Marlboro

Head Coach: Mike Nausedas, seventh season
2017-18 Record: 12-12 (8-6, fourth in A North)
Key Returners: Dylan Kaufman (Sr., 6-6, Forward/Center), Alex Ratner (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Ramon Fontanes (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Anthony Brienza (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Kyle LaRocca (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Chris Lesnik (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Justin Marcus (6-5, Forward), Brian Levine (5-9, Guard), Eddie Paladino (5-9, Guard), Andrew Rimland (5-6, Guard), Emmanuel Coffy (6-0, Forward)
Newcomers: Jonathan Spatola (Fr., 5-6, Guard), Anthony DeSimione (Sr., 6-3), Aleksy Friedman (So., 6-0), Carson Friedman (Sr., 6-1), Mark Capel (So., 6-0), Alex Schutzer (Sr., 6-1), Nick Lugo (Sr., 6-1)

Marlboro senior Dylan Kaufman. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Two years removed from a trip to the Shore Conference Tournament championship game, the Marlboro basketball program is out to prove that it is in position to be a perennial contender for a division title and mainstay in the conference and state tournaments. In the past, the Mustangs would have a big year, rebuild for a few seasons before re-emerging on the Shore Conference landscape. After a solid 12-12 showing last year, Marlboro appears poised to make it four straight solid seasons under coach Mike Nausedas and this one might better resemble the charmed 2016-17 season than the other two, more run-of-the mill showings.

Senior center Dylan Kaufman and junior guard Alex Ratner are back as one of the Shore’s top returning duos. Kaufman is the lone holdover from the SCT finalist squad of 2017 while Ratner is coming off a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Mustangs with 15.9 points per game. Kaufman was right behind him at 14.5 per game and also hauled in 7.8 rebounds during another strong varsity season for the fourth-year starter.

Replacing point guard Brian Levine and power forward Justin Marcus – a freshman on Monmouth University’s football team – represent Marlboro’s greatest challenges this season. Junior Ramon Fontanes and seniors Kyle LaRocca and Anthony Brienza will help in the back court while senior Chris Lesnik returns to the front court with some experience. Freshman Joe Spatola and sophomore Aleksy Friedman will be two of Marlboro’s younger contributors and 6-3 senior Anthony DeSimione will provide some more size to the lineup when he is on the court. There are some critical holes to plug, but the stability and production provided by Kaufman and Ratner make Marlboro a team to watch in 2019.

 

Freehold Township

Head Coach: Brian Golub, 24th season
2017-18 Record: 9-13 (5-9, tied fifth in A North)
Key Returners: Greg Billups (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Seth Meisner (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Zack Barilka (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Zach Orrico (So., 5-7, Guard), Cristian Corcione (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Matt Santangelo (Sr., 6-2, Guard)
Key Losses: Ja’Zeem Foster (6-1, Guard), Joe Gargiulo (6-1, Guard), Doug Kneipher (6-0, Guard)
Newcomers: Kevin Kilinskas (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Greg Solla (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Max Gluck (Sr., 6-5, Center), Jayce Schapiro (So., 5-7, Guard), Joe Lardaro (So., 6-5, Forward/Center), Ben Tirabassi (Sr., 6-1, Forward)

Freehold Township senior Greg Billups, pictured during his sophomore season. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Last season was a rebuilding effort of sorts for Freehold Township, which reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III title game in three straight seasons from 2014-15 to 2016-17. Last year was set to be a challenge to begin with and when returning starter Greg Billups injured his ankle during the preseason, it set the Patriots back even further and left them without a returning starter from the previous year. Billups is back for one more year and is aiming for a healthy senior season as Freehold Township’s top all-around talent – but not its only all-around talent.

With Billups plagued by injuries last year and four other starting spots open, a wave of young players got valuable playing experience in a tough Class A North division. Seniors Seth Meisner and Zack Barilka both stepped to the forefront for Freehold Township as juniors and current sophomore Chris Orrico contributed immediately as a freshman, particularly as a knockdown shooter. That trio, plus Billups, is likely to account for a large share of Freehold Township’s scoring, which should be among the improved aspects of the team.

Seniors Cristian Corcione and Matt Santangelo also got some varsity last year and each brings energy on both ends. Senior guard Greg Solla is ready to get back on the court after missing his junior year due to a knee injury. Max Gluck will also provide some size off the bench at 6-foot-5, which is the one element Freehold Township might lack to some degree. The Patriots are always a defensive-minded team under coach Brian Golub and that mentality should help overcome some size disadvantages and keep them competitive in a talent-rich Class A North.

 

Long Branch

Head Coach: Sean Fitzgerald, second season
2017-18 Record: 10-14 (7-7, sixth in B North)
Key Returners: Marc Dennis (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Latrell Bennett (Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), Tyrone Hastings (Sr., 5-8, Guard)
Key Losses: Tyree Morris (6-1, Guard), T.J. Fosque (6-4, Forward), Kevin Porch (6-2, Guard/Forward), Kaymar Mims (6-5, Center), Mark Hill (Guard), Juwan Wilkins (5-10, Guard)
Newcomers: Jayon Ferrar (So., 5-10, Guard), Devyn Blount (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Lucas Telles De Sa (Jr., 6-0, Forward), Matt Clarke (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Sir Josiah Hayes (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Elijah Jenkins (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tamir Reed (Jr., 5-9, Guard)

Long Branch returns just one starter from last year’s 10-14 squad but if the Green Wave could only pick one player to keep, it would likely be senior Marc Dennis. After quarterbacking the Long Branch football team to a 12-1 season and a second straight NJSIAA sectional title, Dennis will run the point for a Green Wave basketball team that is going to have to lean on some youth and inexperience in its first season in Class A North. Dennis was among the Shore’s top guards in 2017-18, when he averaged 14.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals per game.

Like Dennis, most of Long Branch’s roster contributed to the Green Wave’s successful football season, with all but two projected varsity players contributing on the gridiron this fall. Latrell Bennett and Tyrone Hastings each saw some time as juniors last year and Devyn Blount, Lucas Telles De Sa, Matt Clarke and junior Tamir Reed all figure to see increased roles. At 6-3, Clarke is the Green Wave’s tallest player on the roster so Long Branch will be relying on its speed and athleticism to swarm on defense and some shooting on the offensive end.

Sophomore Jayon Farrar will step in to a significant role as a sophomore and will headline the next wave of Long Branch talent. Ferrar is another player coming off of football season, with starter Sir Josiah Hayes and Elijah Jenkins the only players who did not play football in the fall. That might make the early part of the season difficult, but with Dennis running the show and a group that is used to winning, there could be better days ahead.

 

Middletown South

Head Coach: Jim Anderson, ninth season
2017-18 Record: 15-13 (8-6, tied third in B North)
Key Returners: James Anderson (Jr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Ryan Purcell (6-4, Guard), David Gervase (6-3, Forward), Nick Unrath (6-3, Forward), James Baldo (5-8, Guard), Jack Anderson (6-4, Forward/Center), Matt Laudisi (6-3, Guard/Forward), Dillon Connelly (6-2, Forward), Cam Lenhard (6-3, Forward)
Newcomers: Dan Mitchinson (Sr., 6-4, Center), Luke Albrecht (So., 6-0, Guard), Jack Sheridan (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Michael Dabas (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Bobby Pirie (Jr., 6-4, Center), Richie Boyko (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Jake Brown (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Mike Smiley (Sr., 6-0, Forward)

Middletown South’s senior-laden team from 2017-18 is now a junior-heavy roster that will try to build on the season their predecessors had last season. It took last year’s group four years to put together a winning season and while there may be some work for this year’s team to put in, there is a fair amount of talent on hand to keep the arrow pointing in the right direction.

Junior James Anderson – son of coach Jim Anderson – is the lone returning player who saw meaningful minutes last year and showed good touch from out to the three-point line. He is part of a group of six juniors looking to make an impact over the court of the season, led by Jack Sheridan in the back court and Michael Dabas and Bobby Pirie in the front court. Richie Boyko and Jake Brown are two more juniors who can contribute as well.

Sophomore Luke Albrecht is a well-regarded young talent who will get his first varsity look this season and should make an impact similar to the one he made as a starter on Middletown South’s football team – if not even more of one. Forwards Dan Mitchinson and Mike Smiley are the two seniors who could figure into the rotations, with Mitchinson, in particular, serving as a valuable player down low at 6-4. With some success over the summer and into the fall, Middletown South has a solid foundation to compete again in 2018-19 despite a lot of inexperience. With most of A North facing a similar challenge with their rosters, the Eagles should not fall too far.

 

Howell

Head Coach: Patrick Ramsay, sixth season
2017-18 Record: 13-12 (5-9, tied fifth in A North)
Key Returners: Matt Ganter (Sr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Nasiem Brantley (6-3, Guard), Brandon Wilson (6-2, Guard), Eddie Morales (5-11, Guard), Alex Morton (6-1, Guard), A.J. Yaegel (6-3, Forward), Dante Lanzetta (6-1, Guard)
Newcomers: Nick Hornung (Sr., 6-7, Center), Jake Vesce (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Jason Tango (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Cooper Vogel (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Tommy Talbot (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Chris Acampora (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Dakota Connor (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Mitch Ritter (Jr., 6-5, Center), Matt Sgroi (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Chris Onesti (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Joe Dupois (Fr., 6-1, Guard)

Howell senior Matt Ganter. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Like Middletown South and Long Branch, Howell has a lot of volume to replace from last year’s roster, which helped the Rebels finish the season above the .500 mark despite taking some lumps within divisional play. The Rebels resemble Long Branch more than Middletown South because they will be building around one of their most productive players from last season. Point guard Matt Ganter was arguably Howell’s best all-around offensive players last year because of his ability to shoot from distance, handle the ball and find open teammates – evidenced by his 20 three-pointers, shot better than 80 percent from the free-throw line and handed out 3.6 assists per game.

Ganter’s return should keep the offense running but Howell will have to replace three standout athletes in Nasiem Brantley, Brandon Wilson, Eddie Morales and Dante Lanzetta – all of whom could hit the three as well. The Rebels are unlikely to match that level of athleticism again this year, but they will have some size to complement Ganter. Senior and 6-7 center Nick Hornung will lead that effort after getting some passing playing time last year. Senior Jake Vesce played a similar role to Hornung last year and will provide some more size in the lineup.

The junior class will also provide some size as well with 6-5 center Mitch Ritter and 6-2 forward Cooper Vogel. Tommy Talbot, Chris Acampora and Matt Sgroi will be juniors joining the back court with Ganter as the Rebels try to form a cohesive unit around Ganter on the perimeter and Hornung down low. If CBA, Freehold Township and Marlboro are the three established rosters in A North, Howell will be part of that race for the other spot in the top-half of the division standings.

 

Manalapan

Head Coach: Rick Garretson, 25th season
2017-18 Record: 8-15 (3-11, seventh in A North)
Key Returners: Ryan Knorr (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Ryan Szatkowski (Jr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Blake Henis (Jr., 6-6, Forward)
Key Losses: Justin Lynch (6-1, Guard), Brian Broderick (6-4, Forward), Alex Purzynski (6-4, Forward), Colby Howard (6-3, Guard), Andrew Longovich (5-10, Guard), Vincent Piper (Guard)
Newcomers: Ryan Dawe (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Jason Junquet (Sr., 5-9, Guard), Nick Cusumano (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Tomas Bublis (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Matuesz Zielinski (Jr., 6-7, Center), Dan Kamen (Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Nick Chan (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Ryan Lazar (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Chris Frontera (So., 6-0, Guard), A.J. Mancusi (So., 6-0, Guard), Dan Polishchuk (So., 6-0, Guard)

After leaning on a senior-heavy core during an eight-win season, Manalapan will try to improve its standing this year behind a handful of players who saw time last year. Just one of those – junior Ryan Knorr – was a starter so the Braves will be looking for a breakout season for Knorr, particularly as a scorer. Knorr averaged just under 10 points per game in a balanced scoring attack for Manalapan last year and while coach Rick Garretson would certainly take another balanced effort, Knorr stands out as a No. 1 scoring option.

Knorr leads a solid group of juniors that will help to establish Manalapan’s identity for the next two seasons. Ryan Szatkowski and Blake Henis are two more juniors who saw time off the bench last year and will provide the Braves with some size down low to complement Knorr’s perimeter game. Tomas Bulbis and Dan Kamen are two more juniors that will join Knorr in the backcourt depth chart and 6-7 Matuesz Zielinski is yet another junior with size for Manalapan to play.

Jason Junquet, Ryan Dawe, Nick Cusumano and Nick Chan all got quick looks as juniors last year and, along with Ryan Lazar will form the senior core. Chris Frontera, A.J. Mancusi and Dan Polishchuk are three sophomore guards that will also have a chance to make an impact for a Manalapan team that will have some quality players to replace but has a nice base of talent to build upon over the next two seasons.

 

Freehold Boro

Head Coach: Ben DiBiase, ninth season
2017-18 Record: 2-19 (0-14, eighth in A North)
Key Returners: Quincy Davis (Sr., 6-6, Forward), Lucas Bruckmann (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Liam Feuster (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Jiasion Carpenter (So., 6-6, Forward), Jack Bisaha (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Makhi Theosmy (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Rich Vingelli (Sr., 6-1, Forward), Bekim Krkuti (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Ryan Neely (So., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Ashante Worthy (5-9, Guard)
Newcomers: Justin Quiles (Sr., 6-0, Guard) – transfer from Phelps School; Michael Spatola (Sr., 5-10, Guard) – transfer from Marlboro

While Freehold Boro has a long way to climb from the bottom of the A North standings, the Colonials have as much of their roster back as any team in the division. Losing an athletic dynamo like Ashante Worthy will present a challenge, but Worthy is the only starter Freehold Boro will have to replace. The Colonials return two 6-6 big men that should give them an advantage against most of the division. Senior Quincy Davis but on muscle for the football season and should be a handful in the paint and sophomore Jiasion Carpenter will continue to emerge as a building block for the next three years and is a potential breakout player to watch for this season.

With two prominent front-court players in place, Freehold Boro will look to senior returnees Lucas Bruckmann, Jack Bisaha and Makhi Theosmy to fill out the back court spots in the lineup, with sophomore Ryan Neely and senior transfers Michael Spatola and Justin Quiles also factoring into the picture at guard. Senior forward Liam Feuster is also a key piece returning to the lineup and senior Rich Vingelli and junior Bekim Krkuti will also provide some versatility and depth in the front court. With so much talent back from last year and coach Ben DiBiase back for his second year of his second stint as head coach, the Freehold Boro program should be in for a significant step forward this year after last year’s struggles.

 

Players to Watch

Josh Cohen, CBA – One of two returning players at the Shore to average a double-double last year (Shane Williams of Brick being the other), Cohen put up 15.8 points and 10.8 boards as a junior and committed to St. Francis University in the fall.

Stephen Braunstein, CBA – During an All-Shore junior campaign, Braunstein averaged a team-best 16.3 points per game while developing his offensive game beyond just the precision shooting he showed as a sophomore.

Marc Dennis, Long Branch – Dennis will have to carry the load for an otherwise inexperienced Long Brang team, but that is nothing new for the four-year starter. As a junior Dennis averaged 14.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals for a Green Wave team that could not overcome a slow start to its season.

Dylan Kaufman, Marlboro – The Mustangs big man was a huge contributor on Marlboro’s Shore Conference Tournament finalist as a sophomore and now that he is a senior, this year’s team will be his to lead. Kaufman is coming off a junior season in which he averaged 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Liam Kennedy, CBA – Now in his third season as CBA’s starting point guard, Kennedy will run CBA’s dynamic offense after averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 assists as a junior – giving the Colts their three top scorers back from 2017-18.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Matt Ganter, Howell – Already an established starter, Ganter should see a major spike in his scoring this season after averaging under 10 points as a pass-first point guard during his junior season.

Ryan Mabrey, CBA – The youngest sibling in the First Family of Shore Conference basketball, Mabrey is in line to become only the second CBA freshman to start on opening night, joining all-time leading scorer Pat Andree. The 6-3 guard will run the point – if not right out of the gate, then at some point in his CBA career.

Zach Orrico, Freehold Twp. – Although he was a mere 5-7 freshman last season, Orrico showed off his toughness and shooting ability over the course of his rookie season and will be even better prepared to light it up for the Patriots this season.

Ryan Knorr, Manalapan – Manalapan’s lone returning starter stood out as a sophomore on a senior-heavy team last year with his 5.6 assists per game and is now a strong candidate to be among A North’s top scorers as well.

Luke Albrecht, Middletown South – The junior-heavy Eagles will have a balanced roster this year and the player to watch could be its sophomore guard Albrecht, who is a well-regarded young player among the area coaches who have seen him play outside the realm of high school varsity basketball.

 

Burning Questions

What is CBA’s ceiling in 2018-19?

With its top three scorers back from last year, a promising freshman in Ryan Mabrey in the fold and a nice collection of depth, CBA could be looking at its most promising roster since reaching the Non-Public A championship game in 2015. Ranney is a national power standing between the Colts and a Shore Conference Tournament title and a handful of North Jersey Non-Publics figure to be favored in the NJSIAA Tournament, but CBA has a great chance to play in three championship games this season.

Will Freehold Township return to its championship form of recent years?

Last year ended a run of three straight trips to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game for Freehold Township as the Patriots could not overcome a large wave of graduations and an injury to its lone returning starter, Greg Billups. With a healthy Billups and a roster with far more experience under its collective belt, Freehold Township should again be a factor in the Shore Top 10 and a threat come March.

Can Marlboro once again crack the Shore’s top five?

The Mustangs are two years removed from a trip to the SCT final and a No. 5 finish in the Shore Sports Network Top 10. Last year’s follow-up was solid but did not result in a deep tournament run, which the Mustangs will try to rectify this year. With its top two scorers – Alex Ratner and Dylan Kaufman – back from a year ago, Marlboro is positioned to challenge for the Class A North public division title and maybe even make another run at an SCT final four.

Which team best overcomes heavy graduation losses?

Half of A North teams – CBA, Marlboro, Freehold Township and Freehold Boro – bring back most of their production while the other half has a lot to replace. Long Branch returns its top player in Marc Dennis, but lost every other starter and some depth. Howell returns talented point guard Matt Ganter but lost the rest of its athletic rotation. Middletown South lost the top seven players in its rotation. Manalapan returns one junior who started last year. It stands to reason one of those teams is going to finish in the top-four in the division and at least one more is going to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament.

Is Freehold Boro ready to return in A North?

With Howell, Long Branch, Middletown South and Manalapan all losing a fair amount of production from last year, Freehold Boro is positioned to make a leap forward after going winless in A North play and 2-19 overall in 2017-18. The catch will be whether or not the returning crop can continue to grow under coach Ben DiBiase, now in his second stint as Freehold coach after a successful first run. The Colonials have a nice blend of size, athleticism, shooting and now some experience to go with it, which should make them much more competitive this season.

 

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