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The Shore Conference landscape has been dominated by non-public programs over the past four years, with Ranney, Mater Dei Prep and Christian Brothers Academy exerting their dominance at different points during the period in question.

This year, a public school will open the season as the favorite in the Shore Conference Tournament and likely the conference’s best bet to reach the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions. Rumson-Fair Haven was the last public school to win the SCT, which the Bulldogs did in 2015 as a No. 11 seed. The last time two public schools met in the championship game was 2013, when Lakewood beat Point Pleasant Beach in an all-Ocean County final.

The No. 2 spot in the rankings goes to the defending No. 1 team in N.J. but could very well be a carousel throughout the season. The No. 1 position, however, looks to have an obvious answer but not to the degree it has for the past two seasons, when Ranney took sucked up so much of the Shore Conference oxygen. In short, there is a favorite but not a lock.

Photo by Paula Lopez.
Photo by Paula Lopez.

1. Manasquan (29-4, 13-1) Final 2018-19 Ranking: 2

Since the turn of the millennium, Manasquan has been among the top programs in the Shore Conference and few programs in the area have been more consistent over the past decade or so. In that time though, the Warriors have not been able to break through to the No. 1 position. At least to start the season, Manasquan is finally in the No. 1 spot and is the unquestioned favorite heading into the season thanks to the return of Alex Galvan, Ben Roy and Kieran Flanagan. This perch will be a new one for this group, so how they handle the bulls-eye will be worth following as the season progresses.

2. Ranney (31-3, 12-0) Final Ranking: 1

On top of losing Bryan Antoine, Scottie Lewis, Ahmadu Sarnor, Alex Klatsky and Chris Autino to graduation, Ranney also lost Phillip Wheeler, who moved to Italy to pursue a professional career. All that is left from last year is sophomore Elijah Perkins, who showed a knack for making clutch plays but will have to take on much more responsibility in just his second year of high-school ball. There is a lot of talent coming into the program, but there are no seniors and four of the new players will have to wait to become eligible. The early returns might not be pretty but when the Panthers get all their pieces, they will be a very tough defending Shore Conference Tournament champion.

3. Middletown South (16-12, 7-7) Final Ranking: 7

At its best, Middletown South was impressive last season and arguably a top-five team in the conference. Too many times, though, the Eagles got picked off by lesser teams and with nearly its entire roster coming back this year, the hope among the team is that a more senior-laden, experienced roster will be more suited to prevent those slip-ups. The top returning players are guards James Anderson, Luke Albrecht and Jack Sheridan, but forwards Bobby Pirie and Mike Dabas are also good athletes with the ability to score and balance out that lineup.

4. Toms River North (24-5, 14-0) Final Ranking: 5

Although Manasquan is the favorite going into the season, Toms River North has an awfully impressive profile if you are looking for a championship contender within the Shore Conference. The Mariners return four starter and five if you include players who started at least one game. Jakari Spence and Najae Hallenbeck were one of the Shore’s most productive duos as juniors and will certainly be near the top of the list as seniors. With a deeper, more athletic supporting cast, Toms River North is primed for a big year.

5. Christian Brothers Academy (20-6, 13-1) Final Ranking: 3

With a seven-footer, for all intents and purposes, CBA built its team around its big man over the past three seasons so now that Josh Cohen has graduated, the Colts will be a more guard-oriented, up-tempo team. CBA is another young team, led by sophomore point guard Ryan Mabrey and junior guards Mike White and Colin Farrell, so this could be a team that improves dramatically over the course of the season.

6. Wall (21-9, 12-2) Final Ranking: 8

Wall was the surprise team of last season, winning 21 games, a Class B North championship and the program’s first NJSIAA sectional title since 1973. The best part is, all but one starter is back and the Crimson Knights will continue to phase in talent from a junior varsity team that went 27-0 last season. That should make for a deeper bench to complement returning standouts Quinn Calabrese and Pat Lacey while making the Crimson Knights a legitimate threat to get to Shore Conference and Group III Tournament finals.

7. Holmdel (15-11, 8-6) Final Ranking: 9

The Hornets are yet another team that has only one loss to graduation and they also return an entire starting lineup from a team that caught fire in the postseason. Holmdel knocked off Rumson-Fair Have to reach the SCT quarterfinals and fell just short of beating eventual Group IV runner-up Freehold Township. The Hornets were booted from the NJSIAA Central Group II quarterfinals by Manasquan and if they want to climb higher in 2020, Holmdel will have to find a way to get past the rival Warriors.

8. Neptune (18-10, 10-4) Final Ranking: Not ranked

For the second straight year, Neptune graduated its best player but should make do with its depth. It also helps that the Scarlet Fliers get back junior point guard Sam Fagan, who suffered a season-ending leg injury in late December and is just starting to play like himself again. There is a nice balance to Neptune’s roster, with Sean Young serving as a three-point marksman, Sadiq Armstead bringing exceptional athleticism on the perimeter and two capable big men in Everett Cheavers and Malik Fields. If Fagan gets back to his prior trajectory, all the pieces should be in place for a big year at Neptune.

9. Red Bank Catholic (20-8, 9-5) Final Ranking: 6

There was a point during last year in which the Caseys looked like the No. 2 team in the Shore Conference behind Ranney but they ran out of gas over the last month of the season. Considering how taxing RBC’s 2018 football season was, maybe that should not have been a surprise considering most of the basketball team played both sports. That won’t be much different this season, with Charlie Gordinier and Kevin Bauman leading the way and Alex Bauman aiming to provide a third source of offense as a sophomore.

10. Marlboro (14-13, 7-7) Final Ranking: Not ranked

There is a crowd of teams pushing for this last spot in the top 10 and Marlboro gets the nod because it returns one of the conference’s best guards in Alex Ratner and will have the personnel to unleash a fast-pace, pressing style it has thrived at playing under coach Mike Nausedas. It also helps to play a strong schedule, which includes a tough Class A North slate that will throw two games apiece vs. CBA, Middletown South and Freehold Township.


Top 10 Watchlist

Ocean (13-14, 5-9) – Last year was an important one to lay the foundation for 2020 and with most of the team back, the Spartans looked primed for a big year.

Toms River East (15-11, 6-8) – Mike and Ryan Goodall are a dynamite backcourt duo that will help the Raiders challenge Toms River North for the A South crown.

Matawan (14-13, 7-7) – The Huskies have stormed out to strong starts each of the past couple seasons and will try to finish much stronger this year with a senior-heavy group.

Freehold Township (24-5, 12-2) – Only one starter returns, but a solid junior class takes the reins from last year’s senior-heavy, Group IV runner-up squad.

Central (12-15, 6-8) – Losing Kyle Rhoden to Ranney hurts, but the Golden Eagles retain plenty of athleticism and upside as a Class A South contender.

St. John Vianney (12-15, 6-8) – This is the most experience the Lancers have had since Ryan Finch took over as head coach and will try to build on a competitive 2018-19 campaign.

Rumson-Fair Haven (18-9, 11-3) – The Bulldogs will require a makeover after losing Ian O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy but always have the shooters and the energy to make it possible.

Donovan Catholic (13-13, 9-5) – The Griffins were one of the more balanced teams in the Shore Conference and with a young core returning and maturing, there is some real upside for the Class B South favorites.

Lakewood (7-17, 4-10) – With 6-4 wing Ryan Savoy leading the way, Lakewood should shake off a rough 2018-19 season and get back in the B South race.

Mater Dei Prep (13-10, 10-2) – With most of last year’s roster back and a couple solid additions, the Seraphs are hoping to get back into the top 10 picture before long.

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