For the second straight season, there is a clear favorite in Class A Central after Manasquan won the division by two games in 2013. Although the Warriors eventually finished off the division, the race was not a runaway and this year’s favorite should expect to meet some resistance as well.

Shore Regional is coming off a 20-win season and returns its top two scorers, which gives the Blue Devils a decided advantage on paper. There are, however, as many as five other teams that appear like possible serious competition for that top spot and three of those teams should be better than their 2012-13 versions.

 

Shore

Head Coach: Dave Emery, second season
Record Last Year: 20-7 (11-3)
Returning Players: Dan Pillari (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Kevin Bloodgood (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Jack Byrne (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Matt Cosentino (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Dan Largey (Jr., 6-4, Forward/Center), Matt McCarthy (Jr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Clayton Coffey (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Billy Deerin (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Rob Gialanella (Jr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Bryan DuBois (Forward), Ben Hess (Forward), Connor Rogers (Guard), Tyler Vivian (Forward)
Newcomers: Alex Mango (Jr., 5-6, Guard), James Kelly (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Tom Treshock (So., 6-2, Forward)

In his first season at the helm, coach Dave Emery guided the Blue Devils to a 20-win season after the team hovered around .500 for several years prior. After a first season that was an unquestioned success, Shore enters the 2013-14 season with expectations as high as they have ever been. Defending division champion Manasquan graduated two 1,000-point scorers while the Blue Devils return four key players - Dan Pillari, Kevin Bloodgood, Jack Byrne and Matt Cosentino - from a very balanced rotation from a year ago, including its top two scorers in Pillari and Bloodgood.

Not only is Shore the best team on paper this season, but with only three seniors – Pillari, Matt Cosentino and Clayton Coffey – looking at significant playing time, the Blue Devils are built to put together a two-year run. That will start this season if juniors Dan Largey and Matt McCarthy can step in and fill the void left by Bryan DuBois and Ben Hess while some of the other juniors in the program step into varsity roles. Class A Central appears to be deeper than it was heading into last season, so don’t expect the Blue Devils to simply run away with the title. With that being said, last year’s success was enough to make Shore this year’s heavy preseason favorite in A Central.

Jack Byrne (2) and Dan Pillari (12) hope to celebrate many more wins in 2013-14. (Photo by Cliff Lavelle)

Red Bank Catholic

Head Coach: James Catalano, first season
Record Last Year: 15-10 (7-7)
Returning Players: Quenton Nelson (Sr., 6-6, Center), Kyle Jeffrey (Sr., Guard), Eddie Hahn (So., 6-2, Guard), Joe Montano (Jr., 5-9, Guard), T.J. Verdiglione (Sr., 6-2, Guard), Tim O’Hara (Sr., 6-5, Center)
Key Losses: James Taylor (Guard), Chris Calandrillo (Guard), Pat Drum (Forward), Jesse Flaherty (Forward), Cal Whaley (Guard)
Newcomers: Tommy Montano (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Kevin Fazio (Jr., 6-4, Forward)

Any one of four teams could end up as the primary challenger to Shore for the top spot in the division, all of which had some measure of success last year. The Caseys made strides last season after a down year in 2012 and will look to take a big leap forward under new coach James Catalano, who previously coached at Boonton High School and New Jersey Institute of Technology. RBC returns with a nice mix of size and athleticism that should put them right in the A Central mix.

It’s not just the size of Red Bank Catholic that makes the Caseys stand out on the court, but the ability of their bigger players. Senior power forward Quenton Nelson – a Notre Dame football recruit on the offensive line – can play to his size, but he also has an ability to distribute the ball out of the post. Eddie Hahn proved as a freshman last year to be one of the more exciting players in the impressive Class of 2016 in the Shore Conference, while seniors Kyle Jeffrey, T.J. Verdiglione and junior Joe Montano were all significant contributors as well last season. Picking the the No. 2 team in the division is a toss-up going into the season, but RBC could have a year similar to the one Shore had last year under a first-year coach.

Manasquan

Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau, sixth season
Record Last Year: 23-4 (13-1)
Returning Players: Tom Toole (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Jack Fay (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Ryan Jensen (So., 6-4, Forward), Aidan McMenaman (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Ryan Kavanagh (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Nick Gilly (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Luke Tausek (Sr., 6-3, Forward), John White (Sr., Guard)
Key Losses: Jimmy Walsh (Forward), J.R. Hobbie (Guard), Chris Keane (Forward), Sean Yerks (Forward)
Newcomers: Jack Sheehan (So., 5-10, Guard), Liam McAlister (Jr., 6-7, Forward), Matt Paturzo (Jr., 5-10, Guard)

The Shore’s best duo from a year ago – first-team All-Shore members Jimmy Walsh and J.R. Hobbie – is gone, but the Warriors quietly return the next three most productive players from last year’s 20-plus win team. Senior guards Tom Toole and Jack Fay are back as one of the more experienced and battle-tested backcourts in the conference, while sophomore Ryan Jensen stepped right in as a freshman and contributed as the Warriors’ sixth man. The rest of the roster is unproven, but with a trio of returning contributors from one of the Shore’s top teams from a year ago, Manasquan should be able to hang around the division race until the end.

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Chris Champeau, fifth season
Record Last Year: 11-13 (6-8)
Returning Players: Jack Herrmann (Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Tommy Johnston (So., Center), Tom Famulary (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Chris Drummond (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Brendan Barry (So., 6-0, Guard), Ralph Del Negro (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Alex Gieger (Jr., 6-0, Guard), Jack Lubey (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Davey Hiles (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Kenny Ferrare (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Jimmy Purcell (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Jackson Reid (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Mike Caruso (So., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Drew Corsi (Guard), Richie Purcell (Guard)
Newcomers: Morgan Maguire (Jr., 6-1, Guard)

Last season was a roller coaster of sorts for Rumson-Fair Haven, which beat Manasquan early but still could not qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament because of overall inconsistency and some injuries. On the bright side, the Bulldogs developed one of the top scorers in the Shore Conference in senior Jack Herrmann, who took off in mid-January. The highlight of his season was a 41-point outburst in a win over Raritan and he finished the season averaging 18 points and seven rebounds per game. Sophomores Tommy Johnston and Brendan Barry also came along nicely during the season, so there is an interesting mix of youth and experience that could make the Bulldogs a dark horse to win the division.

Holmdel

Head Coach: Sean Devaney, eighth season
Record Last Year: 14-10 (8-6)
Returning Players (Based on Last Year's Roster): Gerard Nocera (Sr., Forward), Jeff Harris (Jr., Forward), Luke Mayell (Jr., Guard), Jack Flanagan (Sr., Guard), Chris Lavalette (Sr., Forward/Center)
Key Losses: Rob Cantelli (Guard), Brett Lambert (Forward)
Newcomers: None provided.

Up until the end of January, the Hornets were playing like the surprise team of the year, a potential top-10 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament until they ran out of gas in February. With a lot of new varsity players, those kind of struggles are understandable, even if logic would dictate they happen early in the year rather than at the end.

This season, the Hornets return all but two players from their rotation and while Rob Cantelli and Brett Lambert are hard players to replace, Holmdel welcomes back a good mix of perimeter scorers, size in the front court and hard-nosed players. Gerard Nocera and Chris Lavalette give the Hornets some rebounding, while Jeff Harris and Luke Mayell will account for a lot of the scoring in the backcourt. Relying on the three-point shot as Holmdel did last year may lead to some off nights, but with a balanced roster, the Hornets should knock off some unsuspecting teams on their schedule.

St. John Vianney

Head Coach: Matt Conklin, third season
Record Last Year: 10-17 (5-9)
Returning Players: Vinny Facchino (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Julanee Prince (Sr., Guard), Matt Grenger (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Ray Gabeau (Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward), John-Michael Broderick (Jr., 6-0, Guard)
Key Losses: Steve Callari (Guard), Garrett Clifton (Forward), Steve Rosso (Forward), Anthony Golaszewski (Guard), Greg Donohue (Forward), Coleman Richards (Center)
Newcomers: Steve Knable (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Grant Goode (So., 6-5, Forward), Zach Howarth (So., 6-1, Guard), Matt DeBrizzi (So., 6-2, Guard), Kevin Callari (So., 6-1, Guard)

While a sub-.500 season last year makes St. John Vianney a bit of a long shot to break into the top three spots in the standings, the roster of players suggests the Lancers have a shot. Returnees Vinny Facchino and Ray Gabeau were the top two scorers for the Lancers last season and senior Julannee Prince had two 20-plus point games down the stretch. SJV is a guard-oriented team that could stack up against smaller teams and could even give bigger teams problems. If Rumson and Manasquan have trouble getting some of their younger players up to speed, Vianney will likely be the team that steps up and gets into the top of the standings.

Monmouth

Head Coach: Jim Lane, first season
Record Last Year: 8-15 (4-10)
Returning Players: Kyle Bradshaw (Jr., Guard/Forward), Dillon Brown (Sr., Guard), James Kelly (Jr., Forward)
Key Losses: Raquan Gardner (Guard), Marcus Stephens (Forward), Tom Kelly (Guard), NyRhique Smith (So., Guard) – Transferred to Frederick Douglass (Md.), Eddie Hendrix (Jr., Center) – Transferred to Red Bank
Newcomers: Daniel Curtis (Sr., 6-4, Forward/Guard), Tim Reynolds (Jr., Guard), Matt Doucette (Jr., 5-5, Guard), Matt Mooney (So., Forward), A.J. Delutis (So., Forward), Nick Cirlincione (Fr., 6-2, Forward/Center), Tyler Hawkins (Fr., Guard)

At the beginning of last season, the Falcons had the makings of a dangerous team in two or three years, but a year later, many of the players that made that roster so promising are gone. Talented sophomore NyRhique Smith moved to Maryland and 6-foot-3 junior Eddie Hendrex transferred to Red Bank, leaving Monmouth without two potential standouts.

On the flip side, Smith missed a large portion of last season anyway and there are still a handful of key pieces returning that should help Monmouth continue to rebuild after the nightmare 0-24 season of 2011-12. Junior Kyle Bradshaw emerged as a leader for the Falcons as a sophomore last season, while James Kelly and Dillon Brown also played key roles in 2012-13. Senior Daniel Curtis will play a big role in his first year as a starter and freshman Nick Cirlincione is going to play right away. This should be another rebuilding year at Monmouth, but the cupboard is not bare for first-year coach Jim Lane.

Raritan

Head Coach: Denis Caruano, ninth season
Record Last Year: 5-15 (2-12)
Returning Players: Joe Eckel (Sr., 6-1, Guard), James Wines (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Dylan Dewysockie (Jr., 6-5, Forward)
Key Losses: Jordan Joaquin (Guard), Tyler Gurczeski (Forward), Paul Coladonato (Guard)
Newcomers: Joe Strand (So., 6-3, Guard), Eddie Tynion (So., 6-3, Guard), Riley Sullivan (Jr., 6-2, Forward), Jordan Lewis (So., 6-2, Guard), Chris Nicholl (Jr., 6-2, Guard)

The Rockets fell to earth after reaping the benefits of having the Shore’s best big man – Rhode Island sophomore Mike Aaman – for two straight seasons. Last year was a struggle with a sizable collection of seniors, so just building off last year’s 5-15 mark will be a challenge with the top three scorers having graduated. Joe Eckel, James Wines and Dylan Dewysockie all saw some time last year and at 6-foot-5, Dewysockie is an interesting prospect as a junior. For the most part, though, Raritan will be going through a youth movement with a lot of sophomores as they try to build back up to a team that competes for division titles.

 

Players to Watch

Jack Herrmann, Rumson-Fair Haven – A potentially explosive scorer, Herrmann had a 40-point game as a junior last season and figures to push for the Shore scoring lead.

Dan Pillari, Shore – Another potential Shore Conference scoring champ, Pillari will fire it from anywhere at any time.

Tom Toole, Manasquan – Toole was a great role player for the Warriors last year and he should be an ideal replacement for J.R. Hobbie on the wing.

Kevin Bloodgood, Shore – A versatile player who can score from different spots on the court, rebound, run an offense and defend several positions, Bloodgood is a key player for the Blue Devils.

Eddie Hahn, Red Bank Catholic – One of the standouts in a strong Class of 2016 in the Shore Conference, Hahn and the Caseys should be even better this year.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Ryan Jensen, Manasquan – The Warriors sixth man last year got a nice dose of playing time to get him ready for a different role this year.

Tommy Johnston, Rumson-Fair Haven – Herrmann was Rumson’s breakout star last year and Johnston should be the guy this year after a solid showing as a freshman.

T.J. Verdiglione, Red Bank Catholic – An athletic wing player for a Caseys team that looks like they are going to put up some points this season.

 

Burning Questions

Is this the beginning of a two-year reign for Shore?

The Blue Devils were one of the Shore Conference’s up-and-coming teams last year and as the team with the most talent returning this year, they are the favorite to win the division. It also does not hurt that many of Shore’s top players are juniors, so this could be the start of something big. Shore started last year red hot before tailing off a bit at the end of the year, but with a successful season under their belt and entering their second year with coach Dave Emery, the Blue Devils look poised for big things.

Can last year’s supporting cast carry Manasquan to another division title?

Replacing the production of Jimmy Walsh and J.R. Hobbie might be the tallest order of any team in the Shore Conference, so the Warriors have their work cut out for them. On the bright side, they do bring back three prominent players from last year’s rotation, which typically went seven deep on most nights. Tom Toole profiles as a guard who can score while 6-foot-4 sophomore Ryan Jensen is coming off a successful freshman year. Point guard Jay Fay played well throughout last year and having that point guard experience, among other things, makes Manasquan a team that could still contend for the division title.

Will RBC make a leap toward the top of the division under a new coach?

First-year coach James Catalano comes in with a college pedigree, having coached at New Jersey Institute of Technology in one of his prior posts. The Caseys meanwhile, actually had a solid season last year with a young roster that will go into this season with a lot more experience under its collective belt. With Manasquan looking to replace a lot of scoring, the door is open for some other team to step forward and challenge Shore for the division title, and while Rumson and Holmdel are capable of joining that group, RBC looks like a team that could emerge as the main challenger to the Blue Devils.