For since this writer can remember, there is no sure answer to the question, “Who is the No. 1 team in the Shore for the past season?” Typically, the Shore Conference Tournament hashes that out, but a No. 11 seed won the tournament while the No. 1 seed lost in the conference championship game, then went on to win a sectional title by beating one of the best teams in the state in the sectional championship game. With just that information, there is a pretty good case for that No. 1 seed to emerge as the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference, especially given that the SCT champion lost in its sectional semifinal game.

The one missing piece of information in that general summary is the sheer dominance 11th-seeded Rumson exhibited while beating CBA 50-24 in that SCT final, a victory that all but sealed 2015 as the year of Rumson. The Bulldogs had the top player in the conference, the Coach of the Year and it only seems fitting that – in this year of extreme parity – Rumson walks away with the Shore’s No. 1 ranking behind that performance on the Shore Conference’s biggest stage.

Rumson-Fair Haven celebrated its first Shore Conference Tournament title in 2015. (Photo by Matt Manley)

 

1. Rumson-Fair Haven (24-5, 10-2)

As convincing as the beating Rumson put on CBA in the second half of the Shore Conference Tournament final, the Bulldogs are not quite a slam dunk at No. 1. CBA made a last-ditch run at it by beating St. Augustine to win the South Jersey Non-Public A title, the best non-conference win of any Shore team this season. In the end, though, this was Rumson’s year. Whether you think Rumson is No. 1 or No. 3, nothing can take away the fact that the Bulldogs won their first Shore Conference Tournament to go with a Class A Central co-title. With Brendan Barry coming back next year, the Bulldogs will have a great chance to defend the SCT title and capture that elusive sectional title.

2. Christian Brothers Academy (24-6, 13-1)

After the SCT final, it seemed rather obvious that Rumson was a better team than CBA, but after the way the next two weeks played out, it’s not so clear. It was only one – albeit convincing – game and the rest of the body of work points to CBA being right there as the top team in the Shore: the Colts beat a legitimate powerhouse in St. Augustine to win the South Jersey Non-Public A title and handled a Manasquan team that not only beat Rumson twice but also won the section in which the Bulldogs played. CBA also won the Class A North championship at 13-1, which is just another bullet point on what at least resembles a No. 1 résumé. In the end, though, it’s too hard to forget that SCT final and it’s too tough to deny Rumson. With Pat Andree and Jack McGuire returning for CBA and Brendan Barry back at Rumson, it is kind of fun that this feels like it’s not settled going into 2016.

3. Manasquan (22-7, 10-2)

Once you settled the No. 1 team, the No. 2 team is easy because of the head-to-head match-up. With Rumson finishing No. 1, Manasquan slots in at No. 3 because CBA beat the Warriors in the SCT, while Manasquan simply has a better collection of accomplishments than the next team.  With two wins over Rumson, a Class A Central co-title and a Central Jersey Group II title to its credit, the Warriors accomplished about as much or more than any other team in the conference. In addition to returning to the ranks of sectional champions this season, they also have a nice foundation returning in seniors-to-be Ryan Jensen and Jack Sheehan.

4. Freehold Township (21-7, 10-4)

The top three teams are difficult to rank and it doesn’t get much easier from there. The Patriots have the best case because they have wins over both Rumson and CBA, and after scuffling a little bit heading into the Shore Conference Tournament, they finished the season strong by getting to Brookdale and making a run to the Central Jersey Group IV championship game. Freehold Township was a senior-heavy squad that will have to reload to have any chance of replicating this year’s run.

5. Toms River North (21-6, 12-2)

Both of Toms River North’s tournament losses were especially ugly, which masks the fact that the Mariners had an excellent year. They won the Class A South title with just one division loss, advanced to the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the second time in three years and earned the No. 1 seed in the South Jersey Group IV bracket before getting beat by an under-seeded Rancocas Valley squad. The Mariners beat Central Jersey Group I champion Shore and Class B North champion Wall along the way in the SCT, and Toms River North has a good core returning in Mike Nyisztor, Pat Marinaccio and Darrion Carrington.

6. Shore (21-6, 10-2)

The Blue Devils won their first sectional championship since 1967, giving Class A Central three co-champions that won major championships (Rumson won the SCT, Manasquan won Central Jersey Group II). Shore beat one of those co-champions twice, beating Manasquan in both regular-season meetings with the Warriors. With a win over Point Beach on the road in the sectional final, the Blue Devils finished up a strong case to be a top-five team, one that was denied only because of a head-to-head loss to Toms River North. In the end, this senior class leaves off of one of the best seasons in the history of the Shore Regional program.

7. Wall (19-8, 11-3)

Following the theme of historical seasons in program history, the Crimson Knights won an outright division title for the first time since 1974 and reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in at least as long. Wall finished 11-3 in the deepest division in the conference, one that qualified six teams for the Shore Conference Tournament, which included two wins each over Neptune, Colts Neck, Matawan and Red Bank Catholic. Wall also beat Southern to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and had three seniors – Brendan Barcas, Trent Mitchell and Ryan Janeczek – reach the 1,000-point mark.

8. Neptune (15-11, 7-7)

A rough 3-7 start had people around the Shore Conference thinking 2014-15 would end up being a transition season for the Neptune program under new coach Joe Fagan, but Fagan initiated a roster shake-up by parting ways with four players from the team and rallying his troops in time to make a Shore Conference Tournament run. The Scarlet Fliers went 1-6 during their first turn through the Class B North division and flipped the script by going 6-1 the second time through just to ensure a spot in the SCT. Once in, Neptune beat Howell, Manalapan and Point Beach on the way to a semifinal appearance in the, which ended for Neptune with a hard-fought loss to eventual champion Rumson. Neptune graduates four key players from its rotation, but returns promising players in junior Marcque Ellington, sophomore Barry Brown and freshman Jared Kimbrough.

9. Point Pleasant Beach (20-10, 13-1)

Like Neptune, Point Beach did not begin the season in ideal fashion, although the Garnet Gulls never had to deal with the frequent losing. With four new starters – including three transfers and last year’s sixth man Mike Frauenheim – Point Beach had to endure an adjustment phase, especially with Frauenheim, senior Jackson Memorial transfer Jesse Hill and junior St. Anthony transfer Jimmy Panzini all enduring injuries at different points of the season. The Garnet Gulls wound up reaching the SCT quarterfinals with a win over Lakewood, won a regular-season meeting at Toms River North and reached the Central Jersey Group I final for the third straight year.

10. Manalapan (14-8, 9-5)

The final top 10 spot goes to a Manalapan team that twice beat Freehold Township and also took down Central Jersey Group I champion Shore during the regular season. The buzz surrounding the Braves going into the season was that they were due to welcome standout guard Nyrhique Smith sometime in January, and when Smith elected not to play, the team remained undeterred. Manalapan did not win a game in either the SCT or Central Jersey Group IV Tournament, but its losses came against a Neptune team that reached the SCT semifinals and a Hillsborough squad that won its first sectional championship.

 

Just Missed

Lakewood (18-7, 14-0) – The Piners had another standout season with a 14-0 division mark and an early-season win over Tournament of Champions semifinalist Newark Tech. Losses to Point Beach and Neptune keep the Piners just outside the top 10.

Red Bank (16-7, 10-4) – The Bucs had a case to be No. 3 in the Shore Conference heading into the NJSIAA Tournament before a shocking loss to Holmdel in the Central Jersey Group III first round, which ended a great two-year run for Red Bank.

Colts Neck (16-9, 9-5) – The Cougars got back into Shore Conference mix after a slightly down year in 2013-14 by challenging for the Class B North title and reaching the Central Jersey Group IV semifinals.