Boys Lacrosse – Group II Final Preview: Manasquan vs. Chatham
A season that began on a frigid and windy practice field in March has evolved into a record-setting season for Manasquan, and one the Warriors will look to extend Wednesday night in the NJSIAA Group II championship game.
At 7:30 p.m. Manasquan will take the field against Chatham at Livingston High School in search of the program’s first state title after already securing the program’s first sectional title this past Saturday with an 8-4 victory over Rumson-Fair Haven. Now the Warriors are one of 12 teams remaining as the New Jersey high school lacrosse season reaches the finish line.
This will be the fourth straight year a Shore Conference team is playing in a group championship game, which is a great sign of consistency for a conference continuing to mature. Southern reached the Group IV title game in 2013 and 2014, while Rumson reached the Group I final in 2013 and won the Shore’s only state championship in lacrosse last season when it beat Mountain Lakes in overtime to capture Group I.
Manasquan is the new kid on the block while Chatham is an experienced program, ranked No. 10 in the NJ.com state top 20 and looking for another state title having last won a group crown in 2013.
Head coach: Tony Calandra
Key players: Austin Pierce (Sr., A), Matt Coleman (Sr., M), Kyle Kology (Jr., D), Matt Nestler (Sr., G), Chris Conlin (So, D), Mac Bredahl (So., A), Ryan Decker (So., M), Mark McNally (Sr., D), Will Sullivan (Sr., D), Justin Hayes (Sr., M/FO), Chris Francesco (Jr., M), Geoff O'Malley (Jr., D).
Road to the final: def. Nutley 18-0; def. Montville 15-2; def. Sparta 12-10; def. Ramapo 6-5 in double overtime.
The Cougars contend in the hotbed of Morris County and play a brutal schedule every year. This season is no different, with Chatham facing four teams ranked in the top 10 of the LaxPower New Jersey computer ratings. Of the Cougars’ six losses, five have come by one goal and the other was by two goals. Two of their losses - Mountain Lakes and Delbarton - came to teams that will also be playing for group titles today. Chatham also owns a win over North Group II champion West Morris Central. In the playoffs, Chatham handed Sparta its first and only loss of the season in the North Group II semifinals before clipping Ramapo, 6-5 in double overtime, to win the sectional title. Ramapo had shocked two-time defending Group II champion Summit, 7-6 in double overtime, in the semifinals.
Chatham has a balanced offense with three explosive scorers in sophomore attackman Mac Bredahl, senior attackman Austin Pierce and senior midfielder Matt Coleman. Bredahl leads the team in points with 97 on 45 goals and 52 assists, so he is clearly dangerous as an all-around playmaker. Pierce is an adept finisher with a team-high 68 goals and Coleman is a versatile midfielder with 40 goals and 22 assists.
Junior Kyle Kology, sophomore Chris Conlin and seniors Will Sullivan and Mark McNally anchor a defense that has yielded just 5.4 goals per game while facing some of the best offensive teams in the state. Senior goalie Matt Nestler has made 195 saves and sports a .611 save percentage.
Head coach: Sean Cunningham
Key players: Jarrett Birch (Jr., A), Kyle LeBlanc (Jr., D), Pat Felstedt (Jr., M), Canyon Birch (Fr., A), Joe Tonkovich (Jr., A), James Pendergist (Fr., M), Jack Fabean (Fr., D), Tom Pollock (Jr., G), Matt Thermann (Jr., F/O), Paul Krueger (Sr., M), Devan Carroll (Jr., M), John Moran (Jr., M), Jack Mallett (Jr., D), Pete Degnan (Sr., M), Chip Sarnasi (Jr., D), Tom Meyer (Jr., D), Connor Kinneally (Sr., M), Brian Patruzo (Sr., M).
Road to the final: def. Lawrence 16-3; def. Somerville 15-7; def. Hopewell Valley 12-6; def. Rumson-Fair Haven 8-4.
The Shore Conference’s oldest program has reached new heights in 2016 with the program’s first sectional title and a 19-4 record. Now comes another monumental test against a program that is used to playing at a high level and on the big stage.
Manasquan enters playing its best lacrosse of the season and as winners of eight of nine games. The Warriors exacted revenge on Rumson-Fair Haven with an 8-4 victory in the South Group II sectional final on Saturday, reversing an 8-5 setback to Rumson in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game.
Manasquan came into the year with a bevy of talent and was an obvious team on the rise. A marvelous junior class has led the way, but the crucial contributions from a rare set of freshman starters cannot be understated. The few seniors Manasquan possesses have provided the necessary leadership, and it’s all added up to a tremendous season.
A smart move by head coach Sean Cunningham was to schedule some of the top teams in New Jersey as nonconference matchups. Three of Manasquan’s four losses came in those games, but the experience gained from playing Moorestown, Summit and Ridge will serve the Warriors well Wednesday night versus Chatham.
Offensive balance has been the key for Manasquan all season, and while brothers Jarrett and Canyon Birch are by far the leading scorers, there is plenty of depth when the Warriors cross midfield. Jarrett Birch has 96 points on 68 goals and 28 assists while Canyon, one of the aforementioned fantastic freshman, has 61 goals and 11 assists. Pat Felstedt has 20 goals and 10 assists and has been great in both the conference and state playoffs. John Moran had one of his best games of the season in the sectional semifinals, while Devan Carroll and Joe Tonkovich are dangerous in their respective areas on the field.
Defensively, Kyle LeBlanc is one of the top two defensemen in the Shore Conference and anchors a unit that has allowed 5.3 goals per game. Freshman Jack Fabean plays with the savvy and poise of a seasoned veteran and Jack Mallett is a consistent player in tight around the cage. Junior goalie Tom Pollock has quietly had a very good season and played well in the sectional final win over Rumson.
A huge key has been the face-off work of Matt Thermann coupled wth the wing play of Paul Krueger and Pete Degnan. The unit has been on fire of late, and Manasquan will need all the possessions it can get against Chatham.
Manasquan is the underdog, but a win over Chatham isn’t nearly the reach that trying to beat Summit, which most assumed would be here, would have been. Manasquan lost to Summit, 12-3, on April 20, so when Ramapo stunned the Hilltoppers in the North Group II semifinals it opened the door.
With that being said, this isn’t a game that can be won riding the hot hand of one player. This will take a collective effort even greater than the one produced against Rumson on Saturday. Ground balls need to be won, possessions have to be valued and mistakes must be limited. The little things will make the difference, and everyone from the attackmen to the defensive midfielders will have to be at their very best.
Lacrosse editor Bob Badders can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.