Shore Sports Network Wrestling Top 10, 2/10
This has been a season unlike any I have seen in my 10-plus years covering Shore Conference wrestling. Matchups are everything, and the factors separating the best teams in the Shore Conference are so small that even the littlest change can make all the difference. That makes for some fantastic matches and plenty of drama, but it also makes ranking the teams next to impossible.
Southern, CBA and Howell are firmly entrenched as the top three teams in the Shore Sports Network Top 10, but after this it gets murky. Raritan just defeated Wall, but has a loss to Long Branch. Wall has wins over Middletown North, Long Branch, Ocean, Point Boro and St. John Vianney. Middletown North beat Shore Conference Tournament champion CBA. St. John Vianney stunned Jackson Memorial, which has a win over Long Branch. There are triangles and quadrangles all over the place. The idea of saying "team A beat Team B so it must be ranked ahead of them" doesn't work in every case.
So we're going with body of work here and a general feel for which team is better, which doesn't result in that much movement. There are two new teams entering the ranking this week, however, as the NJSIAA Tournament heads to the semifinals on Wednesday night. A lot can and will happen between now and Sunday's state championship matches, so even though it's late in the season there can still be plenty of shuffling before the final rankings are set.
1. Southern (12-1). Last week: No. 1
Unspectacular but incredibly solid, the Rams have just one loss on the season, and that is to undefeated and New Jersey No. 2 Delsea. Southern's 33-31 win over Phillipsburg at "The Pit" gave them the credentials to jump into the top-five in the state rankings, and they've been rolling ever since. They entered the South Jersey Group V tournament as the heavy favorite, and should roll to its 11th overall sectional crown. Then it's on to Pine Belt Arena where an anticipated match with Howell could be the highlight of the day. Southern's last and only group title came in 2005.
2. CBA (14-4). Last week: No. 2
The Colts have been mostly idle since winning their first Shore Conference Tournament title in thrilling fashion, wrestling in just one match. That 62-9 win over Freehold officially clinched a share of the Class A North division title with Howell and Middletown North. CBA is the No. 1 seed in the Non-Public South A section and takes on Camden Catholic in the quarterfinals. The anticipated sectional final figures to pit the Colts against St. Augustine, which is the two-time defending champion. CBA won the two titles before that. Both are top-15 teams in the state.
3. Howell (23-4). Last week: No. 3
Since falling to CBA in the SCT final, Howell has gone 5-0 with wins over state tournament qualifiers Bridgewater-Raritan, Lenape Valley, Pope John and Egg Harbor, along with a victor over Jackson Liberty. After years of battling with Jackson Memorial, Brick Memorial and Southern in the sectional tournaments - and mostly coming up short - Howell is all by itself as the top seed and favorite in Central Jersey Group V. The Rebels will likely meet Hunterdon Central in the final, and they already have a 36-22 win over the Red Devils in early January. On paper, Howell and Southern are the best teams in Group V, and a matchup between the two in the final would be the highlight of the championships.
4. Wall (17-3). Last week: No. 4
Entering the SCT final four undefeated, the Crimson Knights suffered three straight losses before rebounding with a pair of wins heading into the state tournament. Injuries and sickness played a big part in losses to Raritan and Passaic Valley, which followed a 44-25 loss to Howell in the SCT semifinals. Even with the loss to Raritan, dropping Wall wasn't on the table given its body of work and wins over Middletown North, Long Branch, Colts Neck, St. John Vianney, Ocean and Point Boro. The Knights are the No. 2 seed in the South Jersey Group III Tournament and host Seneca in the semifinals. A win there means a trip to Delsea for the sectional final, where they lost last season. Delsea is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the state, so it will be a tall order. The good news for Wall is that it will have its lineup mostly intact. If Wall can stun Delsea it would still have to go through Paramus, South Plainfield or both to win its first group title.
5. Middletown North (17-4). Last week: No. 5
The Lions reached the SCT quarterfinals where they fell to Wall 37-34, but rebounded with six straight wins to enter the postseason strong. Middletown North officially clinched a share of the Class A North title by beating Manalapan 51-22, and followed that with wins over Freehold, Rumson-Fair Haven, Donovan Catholic, Toms River North and Keansburg. The Lions have an uphill battle in their quest for the program's second sectional title and first since 1996. They host Woodbridge in the semifinals where a win would send them to "The Pit" to face top-seeded Phillipsburg. Not only are the Stateliners the two-time defending sectional and Group IV champions, they will likely have standout senior Brandon Paetzell back from injury. Oh, and the sectional final is also likely the last match ever in their famed home gym. The deck is certainly stacked against Middletown North.
6. Jackson Memorial (13-5). Last week: No. 6
The Jaguars limp into the Central Jersey Group IV tournament off three straight losses, so it will be interesting to see how they respond against a hot Colts Neck team in the semifinals. The Jaguars fell to eventual champion CBA in the SCT semifinals, but the real eye-opener was a stunning 30-29 loss to St. John Vianney. Jackson was then thumped by South Plainfield, a top-10 team in New Jersey, 41-12. Still, the Jaguars are the top seed and have a great chance to repeat as sectional champions. Colts Neck will be a tough out, but a win there would send them to the finals, likely against a Long Branch team they beat 30-19 in the SCT quarterfinals. Group IV is loaded, however, so a return to the group final will be tough to duplicate.
7. Long Branch (15-3). Last week: No. 7
After being eliminated from the SCT by Jackson Memorial in the quarterfinals, Long Branch went 3-1 in gearing up for the postseason. The Green Wave picked up wins over Scotch Plains, Matawan and Central while losing to Queen of Peace 29-26. Long Branch is the No. 2 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV tournament and hosts Burlington Township in the semifinals. A win there would get them a rematch with Jackson Memorial or a third meeting with B North rival Colts Neck, which they have already defeated twice this season. If the Green Wave can win their sixth sectional title they would contend with the likes of Phillipsburg, Roxbury and Clearview for the overall Group IV crown.
8. Raritan (16-4). Last week: No. 9
The Rockets move up one spot after a 5-0 post-SCT run, including victories over Wall and Ocean. Raritan's loss to Long Branch keeps them behind the Green Wave - for now. The Rockets can be a major player for the Group II title on Sunday, but they first have to navigate a tough Central Jersey Group II field. It begins Wednesday night against Point Boro in a match that could come down to the wire. A win there gets them another trip to playoff rival Delaware Valley with the sectional crown on the line.
9. Colts Neck (17-4). Last week: not ranked
The Cougars have been on the cusp of the top 10 all season, and finally break through after a 42-31 over Brick Memorial in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals. Monday's win was the first postseason win in program history for Colts Neck. Head coach Brett Jankos' young squad (no senior starters) can make an even bigger splash should they take down defending sectional champion Jackson Memorial in the semifinals.
10. St. John Vianney (17-6). Last week: not ranked.
The Lancers enter the top 10 thanks to a stunning 30-29 victory over Jackson Memorial. St. John Vianney enters Wednesday night's Non-Public A semifinal having won six straight, but the team was dealt a blow when junior Jack McLafferty was lost for the year with a broken leg. He had just returned after sitting out 30 days after transferring from Brick. That leaves them in a tough spot in Wednesday's semifinals against St. Augustine, a top-15 team in the state.
Dropped out: Brick Memorial, Ocean
Team to watch:
Point Boro (16-5): The Panthers can jump into the rankings next week should they defeat Raritan in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals.