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If not for Ranney’s Tournament-of-Champions-winning team, the Manasquan boys basketball team might have finished the 2018-19 season as the top program in the Shore Conference – something it has not done in more than a half-century. This year, it could finally be the Warriors turn at the top.

The other side of that coin is if not for this year’s imposing Manasquan squad, some of Class A Central’s other standouts might be in for a championship season. Perhaps they still could be but it will take a major effort from the rest of the field to dethrone the Warriors, who have won seven straight division championships between Class A Central and B North (2016-17 and 2017-18).

Although Manasquan enters the season as the heavy favorite in its division, the other A Central teams have a history of making things interesting – particularly Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic. With an even deeper field this year, the defending champion Warriors have their work cut out for them but they unquestionably remain the team to beat.

In predicted order of finish

Manasquan

Head Coach: Andrew Bilodeau, 12th season
2018-19 Record: 29-4 (13-1, first in A Central)
Returners: Alex Galvan (Sr., 6-7, Forward), Ben Roy (So., 6-0, Guard), Kieran Flanagan (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Tim McEneny (Sr., 6-8, Forward), Casey Mulligan (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Max O’Shaughnessy (Sr., 6-5, Forward), Connor Walsh (Jr., 6-5, Guard), Jack Collins (Jr., 6-5, Guard)
Key Losses: Brad McCabe (6-5, Guard), Xander Korolik (6-6, Forward)
Newcomers: Andrew Solomon (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Kane Ramsey (Jr., 6-6, Forward)

Manasquan senior Alex Galvan drives on Holmdel junior Alex Baker (left) and senior Jack Giamanco (right). (Photo by Paula Lopez)

It has been 63 years since Manasquan won a Shore Conference Tournament championship, a drought that was much closer to ending last season than most expected. The Warriors hung around with the state’s top team in the 2019 championship game, ultimately losing to Ranney, 70-60. With most of Ranney’s groundbreaking team gone this year, Manasquan moves to the front of the line of contenders heading into the season.

The star of last year’s SCT final was Brad McCabe and his graduation represents Manasquan’s biggest loss from a year ago. McCabe’s shooting prowess and athleticism won’t be easily replaced but if any roster in the Shore is equipped to handle the challenge, it’s the Warriors. First-Team All-Shore forward and 6-foot-7 senior Alex Galvan is the center of Manasquan’s operation after breaking out with averages of 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds as a junior. The Warriors also return an electric backcourt duo in senior Kieran Flanagan and sophomore Ben Roy – the latter of whom is widely regarded as one of the top players in the state for his class.

Junior Casey Mulligan also saw big minutes last year for Manasquan and 6-8 senior Tim McEneny became a reliable member of the seven-man rotation off the bench as well in 2018-19. In addition to senior Max O’Shaughnessy, juniors Connor Walsh, Jack Collins, Andrew Solomon and Kane Ramsey all give coach Andrew Bilodeau options off of 6-5 and up for the rotation to go with the Roy-Flanaga-Mulligan back court. With all that size to go with one of the Shore’s top guard combinations, Manasquan is out to end its long wait for an SCT title and challenge for an NJSIAA championship in the increasingly difficult Group II field.

Holmdel

Head Coach: Sean Devaney, 14th season
2018-19 Record: 15-11 (8-6, fourth in A Central)
Returners: Doug Chan (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Derek Chan (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Jack Giamanco (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Alex Baker (Jr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Pete Cannizzo (Sr., 6-0, Guard), John Curreri (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Eric Hinds (Sr., 5-11, Guard)
Key Losses: Aidan Flanagan (6-0, Guard)
Newcomers: Quinn Coffaro (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Ryan Bradley (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Kyle Polivka (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Nick Spada (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Connor Hinds (Jr., 5-11, Guard)

Holmdel senior Derek Chan. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Holmdel was the surprise team of last year’s Shore Conference Tournament, beating Rumson-Fair Haven and reaching the SCT quarterfinals as a No. 12 seed. The Hornets’ strong finish to 2018-19 was especially encouraging considering they rostered just one senior and overcame an overall lack of size to make it as far as they did. With its army of guards and shooters back and some more size in the fold, Holmdel is coming back as a team that won’t sneak up on as many opponents but is still capable of climbing even higher in the rankings.

The defining characteristic of Holmdel is they way the Hornets share the ball and rely on all five players on floor to provide offense, defend and rebound. Doug and Derek Chan are back for their third year as varsity mainstays while senior Jack Giamanco is coming off a breakout season on the hardwood. Those three will be three-point threats, while returning guard Eric Hinds and Pete Cannizzo also return with starting experience - Hinds at the point and Cannizzo off the ball. Junior Alex Baker leads the Hornets on the interior, where Holmdel should more formidable than it was a year ago with the return of Baker and John Curreri and the addition of senior Quinn Coffaro and athletic junior Ryan Bradley.

In both the Class A Central regular season and in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II playoffs, Manasquan proved to be Holmdel’s foil, beating the Hornets twice in divisional play and again in the sectional quarterfinals to end their season. With Manasquan still looming large over Holmdel in divisional, conference tournament and state tournament play, the Hornets will have a large mountain to climb in order to make this season a championship one, but they will have the roster and the opportunity to leave their mark on the 2019-20 season.

Red Bank Catholic

Head Coach: Tyler Schmelz, fourth season
2018-19 Record: 20-8 (9-5, third in A Central)
Returners: Charlie Gordinier (Sr., 6-5, Guard/Forward), Kevin Bauman (Sr., 6-5, Forward/Center), Alex Bauman (So., 6-4, Guard/Forward)
Key Losses: Steve Lubischer (6-1, Guard), Matt Conley (5-10, Guard), John Duffy (5-11, Guard), M.J. Wright (5-10, Guard), Ryan Belforti (6-7, Forward)
Newcomers: Evan Mottola (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Kevin Degnan (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Brian Kowalski (Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward), Cyril Arvanitis (So., 6-0, Guard), C.J. Ruoff (So., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Max Croke (Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Sebastian Arrango (Jr., 5-9, Guard)

Red Bank Catholic senior Charlie Gordinier. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

Conventional wisdom would have Red Bank Catholic – with all its crossover talent from the Caseys football team – starting slow and rounding into form over the course of the season, but last year was the opposite. The Caseys got off to a strong start, winning the WOBM Christmas Classic and winning 12 in a row to get to 13-1 by the end of January, including a win over Manasquan. At that point, they went into a 7-7 slide to finish the season and will now enter 2019-20 with open spots to fill previously occupied by some reliable players.

RBC’s version of the bash brothers are back – Boston College football commit Charlie Gordinier and Notre Dame football commit Kevin Bauman. Gordinier is likely to hit the 1,000-point mark for his career in the Caseys’ first game this season and brings a full range of basketball skills to the table. Bauman is a matchup problem for teams that might otherwise push opposing big men around but can’t do the same to the 6-6, 240-pound tight end prospect. Sophomore Alex Bauman, Kevin’s younger brother, is the other returning rotation member and after a solid showing as a freshman, he is primed to take the next step.

While Gordinier and the Bauman Boys bring plenty of size to the lineup, the rest of the team is mostly made up of guards, with seniors Evan Mottola, Kevin Degnan and Brian Kowalski vying for time and sophomore Cyril Arvantis looking at a larger role after getting a dose of varsity experience as a freshman. If that group of supporting players can pick up some ball-handling, knock-down shooting and perimeter defense, the Caseys have the core to do more damage this season.

Rumson-Fair Haven

Head Coach: Chris Champaeu, 11th season
2018-19 Record: 18-9 (11-3, second in A Central)
Returners: Drew Frankel (Sr., 6-3, Guard), Geoff Schroeder (So., 6-0, Guard), John Baker (Jr., 6-5, Forward), Jack Carroll (Sr., 6-4, Forward), Hunter Reid (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Jackson Patton (Jr., 5-11, Guard), Shane Shoveling (Sr., 6-1, Guard)
Key Losses: Ian O’Connor (6-4, Forward), Jackson McCarthy (6-5, Guard/Forward)
Newcomers: Dutch Donlon (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Matt Laub (Sr., 6-1, Guard), Dino Afflito (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Jack Cornette (Sr., 5-11, Guard), Owen McLaughlin (Sr., 6-4, Center), Scott Gyimesi (So., 6-4, Forward), Matt Newman (So., 6-2, Forward), Cal Famula (So., 6-2, Guard), David Livingston (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Robbie Sypek (Sr., 6-2, Guard), James Smith (Sr., 6-2, Guard)

Rumson-Fair Haven sophomore Geoff Schroeder. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

A little more than five years ago, Rumson-Fair Haven made a surprise run to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II championship game as a No. 10 seed and although the Bulldogs did not finish off the championship run, it was the start of a wildly-successful run for a Group II program. Rumson went on to win the 2015 Shore Conference Tournament title behind Brendan Barry and followed with back-to-back Central Group II championships in 2017 and 2018 with a core led by Ian O’Connor and Elijah McAllister.

The ability for Rumson to transition from Barry to McAllister to O’Connor as the standout players with noteworthy secondary and role players on board every step of the way has been at the heart of the Bulldogs success. This year, however, will be less about the Bulldogs reloading and more about reinventing themselves with a very different roster. O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy dominated the stat sheet for Rumson last season and that leaves their old team searching for offense heading into the year. Sophomore Geoff Schroeder emerged as Rumson’s third scorer and had a run as more than that, scoring 30-plus points twice during his freshman campaign.

While Rumson will rely heavily on Schroeder as a proven scorer, the Bulldogs have some other elements covered. Senior Drew Frankel is a tough defender and ball-handler for the Bulldogs, while John Baker provides size, rebounding and post offense and senior John Carroll versatility on the wing. The rest of the group is new and will try to carve out roles for a team that has successfully overhauled its roster before under coach Chris Champeau and is a good bet to do it again.

St. Rose

Head Coach: Frank Carmody, second season
2018-19 Record: 9-15 (3-11, tied seventh in A Central)
Returners: John Beattie (Sr., 6-4, Guard), Kevin Caswell (Sr., 6-3, Forward), Kevin Tombs (Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward), Fredrik Bang-Andreasen (Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward), Morgan Fahy (Jr., 5-10, Guard), Casey Ballou (Sr., 5-11, Forward)
Key Losses: Matt Forlenza (6-2, Guard), Rob Rothery (6-4, Forward), Will Murphy (6-3, Forward),
Newcomers: Trevor Donnelly (Jr., 6-6, Forward), Tom Turnbach (Jr., 6-4, Forward), Luke Farrell (So., 6-6, Forward/Center), Frank DiNitale (Jr., 6-2, Forward/Guard)

St. Rose’s first venture out of the Class B Central division did not go as well as the Purple Roses would have liked. Upon moving to a Class A Central division with some major teams at the top and quality players throughout, St. Rose finished tied for last and had to get most of its wins outside the division. With that being said, the Roses were also young at several spots and still remained competitive despite the forgettable won-loss record.

This season, the Purple Roses bring back some impact senior talent, led by 6-4 swingmen John Beattie and Fredrik Bang-Andreasen. After sitting out 30 days as an international transfer to open last year, Bang-Andreasen will be ready from the start to help the Purple Roses as an inside-outside threat. Senior Kevin Tombs brings similar versatility and scoring ability, senior Kevin Caswell will help inside and junior Morgan Fahy will handle the ball on the perimeter.

If St. Rose is to crack the top half of the standings, its new crop of varsity players will play a role. The group of newcomers offers plenty of size, with 6-6 junior Trevor Donnelly, 6-4 junior Tommy Turnbach and 6-6 sophomore Luke Farrell highlighting the group. With more of a senior presence and a balanced attack led by Beattie, the Purple Roses look like a potential sleeper if one or two of Class A Central’s more successful programs of the past several years falter, as well as a tougher out come tournament time.

Monmouth

Head Coach: Jeff Sfraga, third season
2018-19 Record: 11-14 (5-9, fifth in A Central)
Returners: A.J. Po (Jr., 6-3, Forward), Jake Marcincak (Jr., 5-10, Guard)
Key Losses: Dayshawn Porter (6-1, Guard/Forward), Kerron Holley (5-9, Guard), Dan Forsman (6-4, Center), Jason Thompson (5-10, Guard), Nayson Brown (5-11, Guard/Forward)
Newcomers: Kiran Desai (Jr., 6-2, Guard), Matt Fleschner (Jr., 6-6, Center), Aiden Denton (So., 6-2, Guard), Brian Yadlon (Jr., 6-1, Forward), Kevin Teleford (So., 6-4, Forward), John DeMarzo (Sr., 5-11, Guard)

An 11-14 season might not seem like such a big deal but compared to where Monmouth Regional’s program was just two years ago, it was a major accomplishment for second-year coach Jeff Sfraga and his squad. From 2017-18 to 2018-19, Monmouth improved by 10 wins, going from 1-22 in an injury-marred 2017-18 season to 11-14 against a quality schedule a year ago.

Following up the progress of last year will not be easy given that the Falcons graduated three impact starters in Dan Forsman, Dayshawn Porter and Kerron Holley and also won’t have much in the way of senior influence. Juniors A.J. Po and Jake Marcincak are returning starters from a year ago, with Po posting the second-highest scoring mark on the team last year at 11.3 points per game. Juniors Aiden Denton and Kiran Desai as well as senior John DeMarzo will help out the two returnees in the back court while 6-6 junior Matt Fleischner and 6-4 Kevin Teleford take on front-court duties.

In a Class A Central division with a very strong group of teams at the top of the standings, Monmouth will look to make its mark against the bottom half while possibly stealing a game against rebuilding Rumson and one of the projected top three. With the Falcons boasting so many juniors, 2019-20 will be a crucial season in setting up for what could be a memorable campaign in 2020-21.

Raritan

Head Coach: Denis Caruano, 15th season
2018-19 Record: 10-15 (4-10, sixth in A Central)
Returners: Jaylen Smith (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Connor Smith (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Luke Davies (Sr., 5-10, Guard), Gerry Callahan (Sr., 5-8, Guard), Liam Callahan (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Danny Fiore (Sr., 5-8, Forward)
Key Losses: Tim Hayes (6-3, Forward/Center), Rob LaVilla (5-10, Guard), Tyrese Bryant (6-0, Guard), Pat Bowles (5-10, Guard), Chris Marten (6-1, Forward), Shawn O’Hea (5-9, Guard)
Newcomers: Jason Trotta (So., 6-3, Center), Justin Rivera (So., 5-8, Guard), Tyzaya Smith (So., 6-1, Forward), Jack Coleman (Fr., 6-2, Forward), Matt Agar (Fr., 5-10, Forward), Lucas LaVilla (Fr., 5-10, Guard), Will Tigar (Fr., 5-10, Forward)

Despite starting four seniors and playing another two in the rotation, Raritan could not climb to the .500 mark last season while playing in an unforgiving division. Now the Rockets will have to replace six members of that rotation, including four starters from a year ago. On the plus side, leading scorer and rebounder Jaylen Smith returns for his final high school season and will be one of the division’s top overall players after once again improving his game over the offseason.

The Rockets also return a number of senior letter-winners who will look to take on more responsibility this season, with Connor Smith, Luke Davies and Gerry Callahan playing in the back court and Liam Callahan and Danny Fiore more on the inside. Raritan’s success will be predicated on the fast development of its sophomores and freshmen, which will make an impact this season. Sophomore Jason Trotta and freshman Jack Coleman can help down low while Justin Rivera and Lucas LaVilla will be two more guards to replace last year’s group.

Raritan’s challenge is a lot like Monmouth’s, only with more seniors on hand to ease the transition to the Classes of 2022 and 2023. If the young guys can step in right away and Jaylen Smith can play like one of the division’s best players night-in and night-out, Raritan can get back to the .500 mark and the postseason hunt.

Shore

Head Coach: Erik Mazur, third season
2018-19 Record: 10-17 (3-11, tied seventh in A Central)
Returners: Chris Kessler (Jr., 6-4, Guard), Ryan Paglia (Sr., 6-4, Center), Sam Martucci (Sr., 6-2, Forward)
Key Losses: Kyle Koob (6-1, Guard), Chris Panduri (6-3, Guard), Gil Goldsmith (5-10, Guard), Ryan Flanagan (6-3, Forward), Max Miller (6-3, Guard), Noah Caroll (6-3, Forward)
Newcomers: Conor Creighton (Sr., 6-0, Guard), Jim Donohoe (Sr., 6-2, Forward), Tyler Tilton (Jr., 6-3, Guard), John Smith (Jr., 6-1, Guard), Connor O’Scanlon (So., 6-0, Guard), Alex Palmberg (So., 6-0, Guard), Liam Gajewski (Fr., 6-1, Guard)

A potentially promising 2018-19 Shore Regional boys basketball season took a major hit when a knee injury appeared to end the season of guard Kyle Koob. The senior returned late in the season and reached the 1,000-point mark for his career but was not the same after the injury and neither were the Blue Devils. With Koob, fellow 1,000-point scorer Chris Panduri and assist leader Gil Goldsmith all graduating after last season, Shore will have to replace most of its offensive production from last year’s 10-win team.

In Chris Kessler and Ryan Paglia, the Blue Devils have two 6-4 returning starters who should up their production in bigger roles this season – Kessler as a junior wing and Paglia as a senior center. Senior Sam Martucci also earned three starts last year at forward and juniors John Smith and Tyler Tilton are primed to contribute more this season. Freshman Liam Gajewski will make an impact in his first high school season in the back court.

Shore will need to learn quickly in some areas and find some reliable offense, but the Blue Devils have a few things going for them with their size and upside among the newcomers. In a division in which wins are so hard to come by, Shore will have to make the most of every opportunity it gets.

 

A Central Players to Watch

Alex Galvan, Manasquan – Thanks to his length, athleticism and a non-stop motor, Galvan became arguably the Shore’s best big man last year while posting 17.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

Ben Roy, Manasquan – As a freshman, Roy averaged 9.2 points and two assists per game, but it is his advanced feel for the game and speed with which he plays and processes it that stands out at a young age.

Charlie Gordinier, Red Bank Catholic – A prolific shooter, a well-rounded scorer and a strong rebounder, Gordinier is primed to cap a standout four-year varsity career with the Caseys after putting up 14.5 points and seven rebounds per game as a junior.

Kieran Flanagan, Manasquan – With Galvan, Roy and Brad McCabe on the same team, Flanagan’s efforts sometimes flew under the radar but his production (8.5 points, 3.3 assists) and presence on the floor were essential to Manasquan’s 29-win campaign.

Jaylen Smith, Raritan – Smith, the younger brother of Florida freshman and former Ranney star Scottie Lewis, put up 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds on a senior-dominated team and will be the Rockets’ top option in 2019-20.

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Geoff Schroeder, Rumson-Fair Haven – Two 30-plus point performances as a freshman – including one at the Boardwalk Showcase – are a sign of things to come.

Alex Baker, Holmdel – On a team known for its tenacious guard play, Baker is an interior threat who could make a sizable jump as a junior.

Alex Bauman, Red Bank Catholic – After getting his feet wet on the varsity team as a freshman, the younger Bauman brother will be a lot for opponents to handle at 6-4 with a perimeter game.

A.J. Po, Monmouth – Monmouth’s second-leading scorer last year is poised to pump up his per-game average as the Falcons’ top perimeter threat who can also get to the rim.

John Beattie, St. Rose – At 6-4 with deep range, Beattie is a matchup problem for most teams and a difference-maker for what should be an improved Purple Roses team.

 

Burning Questions

Will Manasquan end its SCT drought and conquer South Jersey Group II?

If Manasquan has not been the most successful public-school team at the Shore over the past 10 years, it is certainly in that conversation. Prior to last year, the roadblock for the Warriors in that span was the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and they cleared that hurdle by reaching the SCT final. Now the focus shifts to winning the conference and then getting past the Group II semifinal, where the Warriors have not been able to get by the likes of Camden and, more recently, Haddonfield. With Camden boasting an impressive roster again heading into this year, reaching those lofty expectations make for a major challenge but with its size, quality guard play and tough regular-season schedule, Manasquan should be better positioned than it has ever been to check all of those boxes.

How will Rumson reinvent itself?

In 2016-17, Rumson had to figure out how to replace all-time leading scorer Brendan Barry and responded by winning its first ever NJSIAA sectional championship behind a more athletic, balanced roster. This year’s team lost some athleticism and plenty of scoring with the graduation of both Ian O’Connor and Jackson McCarthy and the Bulldogs will again have to come up with a gameplan to remain one of the Shore’s top programs. With sophomore Geoff Schroeder showing signs of becoming a top scorer as a freshman last season and lots of shooters, look for Rumson to go back to the scrappy, fearless, up-tempo style that defined the program before Barry even arrived.

What is Holmdel’s ceiling?

In any other division in the Shore Conference, Holmdel would be right in the mix to win the division. In Class A Central, however, the Hornets will have to go through Manasquan and while a senior-laden group led by veteran head coach Sean Devaney should never be counted out of anything, Manasquan is likely to be the toughest Shore Conference team to beat over a 14-game division schedule. With Manasquan standing in the way at every turn – A Central, the SCT and Central Jersey Group II – Holmdel will likely have to get past the Warriors at least once in order to capture a championship. With a little more size to combat Manasquan’s imposing front line and more senior leadership, don’t sleep on the Hornets’ chances.

Does RBC’s gridiron gang have one last winning push in store?

After 14 games, the 2018-19 Caseys squad looked like it might be the second-best team in the Shore Conference behind only Ranney. They had won the WOBM Christmas Classic and handed Manasquan a loss in Red Bank as part of a 12-game winning streak before Rumson-Fair Haven ended the streak and send the Caseys into a funk to finish the season. With three starters graduating from that team, RBC will lean on FBS football commits Charlie Gordinier (Boston College) and Kevin Bauman (Notre Dame) to shoulder the load. The supporting cast will be important, of course, but the Caseys are likely to go as far as those two broad sets of shoulders can carry them.

Can Monmouth build on its surprise 2018-19?

Although Monmouth was the most improved Shore Conference team in 2018-19 by win total, the starting point had a lot to do with it. The Falcons still finished below .500 but they were far more competitive against quality competition and with a junior-heavy roster set to take the floor this year, there is a chance to lay the groundwork for bigger things to come. Along the way, watch for junior A.J. Po to emerge as one of the division’s better scoring guards.