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The Class A Central division was as competitive as any division in the Shore Conference in 2019-20 and that was with the Shore’s best team, Manasquan, at the top of the standings. Manasquan is no longer in the A Central mix, but the three other programs that have carried the flag for the division – Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank Catholic and Holmdel – are all back and the other three teams in the division have either had some recent success or are primed for major improvement in 2021-22.

The problem for those other three teams – Raritan, Matawan and Shore Regional – is for as improved and experienced as they may be (and not all three necessarily are), Red Bank Catholic and Rumson will be loaded with returning All-Shore and All-Division talent again. With those two teams leading the field, there will be three teams hoping to compete with young talent so that they are in the same position next year, while another have their eye on the top-half of the standings beginning this season.

Regardless of how the divisional race plays out, expect the six teams in Class A Central to perform well outside the division. The six all boast quality rosters and will be battle-tested by the 10 games they play against one another.

In predicted order of finish

Red Bank Catholic

At one point last season, Red Bank Catholic looked to be bulldozing its way toward the final four of the Shore Conference Playoff Championship pod with a legitimate shot to win the whole tournament and finish undefeated. Then, the Caseys ran into a Christian Brothers Academy team that defended them like no other team had to that point and with that, the unbeaten run was over. RBC also barely escaped with wins over Neptune and Red Bank Regional following its first loss, so there was some learning to be done for the Caseys’ 12-win squad.

As much as one can nitpick how Red Bank Catholic was playing at season’s end, the fact remains that this is a team with five of the top six players back from a 12-1 team that also added a key big man via transfer. The Caseys have a little bit of everything on the roster: they have size across the board, with two guards at 6-foot-2 or bigger and three other starters in the lineup at 6-5 or taller. Throw in 6-8 and 6-5 players coming off the bench and rebounding should not be an issue for the Caseys.

The lineup starts with Alex Bauman, an FBS-level football prospect who put up a monster season on the hardwood as a junior on the Shore Sports Network All-Shore Second Team. Bauman has the size of a power forward, the skill of a point guard and can shoot the three-point shot with just about anyone. One guy he might have trouble keeping up with is sharpshooter Cyril Arvanitis, who has been part of a winning scoring tandem in the back court for the past two years. The other half of that duo is C.J. Ruoff, who also averaged double-figure scoring last year and brings toughness to the glass and defensive end at the guard position.

The other two starters are RBC’s two dynamic sophomores, Zach Meeks and Gioacchino Panzini. Meeks is a skilled post player while Panzini is the team’s best athlete and another adept shooter at 6-5. Manchester transfer Wyatt Haselbauer will be a 6-8 option off the bench and bruising sophomore big man Tyler Burnham adds even more depth to the front court. Throw in standout quarterback Alex Brown doubling as a guard on the court and experienced senior Connor Wanagiel and there is depth abound on this Red Bank Catholic team that is as talented as any the school has seen in a long time.

Red Bank Catholic junior Alex Bauman. (Photo by Patrick Olivero)
Red Bank Catholic senior Alex Bauman. (Photo by Patrick Olivero)
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Head Coach: Tyler Schmelz, sixth season
2021 Record: 12-1 (8-0 in Pod G)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Alex Bauman, Sr., 6-5, Guard (RS)

Cyril Arvanitis, Sr., 6-2, Guard (RS)

C.J. Ruoff, Sr., 6-3, Guard (RS)

Gioacchino Panzini, So., 6-5, Guard (R)

Zach Meeks, So., 6-6, Forward (RS)

Key Losses

Max Croke, 6-3, Guard

Sebastian Arrango, 5-9, Guard

Off the Bench

Wyatt Haselbauer, Sr., 6-8 (Transfer from Manchester)

Connor Wanagiel, Sr., 6-1, Guard (R)

Tyler Burnham, So., 6-5 (R)

Alex Brown, Sr., 6-1, (Transfer from Mater Dei Prep)

Colin Cavanough, So., 5-10

Luke Iasparro, So., 5-9

Ryan Prior, Fr., 6-3

 

Rumson-Fair Haven

As it was for so many teams and people in general, last season was a mess for the Rumson-Fair Haven boys basketball team and considering the injuries and program stoppages they had to endure, the Bulldogs put together an all-in-all positive season at 8-5. They missed out on qualifying for the Championship Pod of the Shore Conference Playoffs, but won two postseason games and lost to a senior-laden Wall team in the Pod B championship game. While there are a couple of contributors from that team no longer in high school, Rumson brings back an overwhelming amount of production and experience that should place the Bulldogs in or around the top five teams in the conference during the season.

The duo of Geoff Schroeder and Scott Gyimesi will lead the way, with Gyimesi coming off a breakout season in 2021. Not only did the 6-6 senior average a double-double at better than 19 points and 12 boards per game, but he also shot 48 percent from the field, 41 percent from three-point range and 77 percent from the foul line. Schroeder, meanwhile, missed the early part of the season due to illness and upon returning, put up better than 18 points per game and 30 three-pointers in only nine games. Schroeder – who in injured his ankle in Rumson’s final football game and could be out for the first week or two of action – has been a major varsity contributor since his freshman season and the two seniors will be the engine that drives the Rumson train all year and possibly deep into the postseason.

Last year was a chance for the Bulldogs to develop a supporting cast around their two stars and senior Trent Sloan emerged as a strong No. 3 option on offense with the attributes to defend multiple positions. Cal Famula and Luke Mikolychak add more length to the perimeter within the starting five and plenty of additional size and skill will be coming off the bench. The mix was not enough to keep up with Red Bank Catholic in two losses to the Caseys in 2021, but with a more complete offseason and a little more luck with their health, Rumson can give RBC a run for the A Central title.

Rumson-Fair Haven junior Scott Gyimesi goes up for two of his 25 points vs. Barnegat. (Photo by Patrick Olivero)
Rumson-Fair Haven senior Scott Gyimesi goes up for two of his 25 points vs. Barnegat. (Photo by Patrick Olivero)
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Head Coach: Chris Champeau, 13th season
2021 Record: 8-5 (3-3 in Pod G)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Geoff Schroeder, Sr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Cal Famula, Sr., 6-3, Guard (R)

Luke Mikolychak, Jr., 6-2, Guard (R)

Scott Gyimesi, Sr., 6-6, Forward (RS)

Trent Sloan, Sr., 6-3, Forward (RS)

Key Losses

Jackson Patton, 5-11, Guard

Robbie Sypeck, 6-1, Guard

Ryan Patterson, 6-1, Guard

Jake Hermann, 6-2, Guard

Off the Bench

Charlie Jones, Sr., 6-4, Forward (R)

Matt Rigby, Sr., 6-2, Forward (R)

Mason Yablonski, Jr., 5-9

Nick Rigby, So., 6-1

Markus Brown, So., 6-7

John Goodes, Jr., 6-4

Matty Newman, Sr., 6-4 (R)

 

Raritan

The Class A Central schedule has been unforgiving for the teams jammed up in the middle, a group that Raritan has become all too familiar with over the last several years. The Rockets may finally be pushing their way toward the top, though, and after going 8-6 last year, they bring back all but one player from the roster and all five starters. If a team is going to take a run at programs like RBC, Rumson-Fair Haven and Holmdel, it helps having players who have some idea of what that challenge will be like, even though Raritan did not play any games against those three opponents last year. Still, most of this year’s group was in place two years ago, when the division was stacked with those three, plus Manasquan.

Senior point Justin Rivera has been running the show at point guard since he was a sophomore and last season, he was the team’s top scoring option as well. Physical 6-5 center Jason Trotta is the other senior in the starting lineup and classmate Tyzaya Smith will be an impact player off the bench. Meanwhile, three of the starters and most of the bench are juniors, which gives Raritan both room to grow between last year and this year, plus a very good nucleus coming back again for 2023. Jack O’Leary showed promise throughout the season and Lucas LaVilla, Jason Trotta, Billy Tigar and Mike Diller all got important minutes as sophomores.

Closing the gap between them and the top of the division will be a tall task for the Rockets, even as they return most of their team. With that being said, Raritan is equipped to handle a lot more teams throughout the Shore Conference and it should surprise no one if the Rockets stepped up and knocked off one of the big names in Class A Central at some point this year.

Head Coach: Denis Caruano, 17th season
2021 Record: 8-6 (2-3 in Pod F)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Justin Rivera, Sr., 5-11, Guard (RS)

Lucas LaVilla, Jr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Jason Trotta, Sr., 6-5, Center (RS)

Matt Agar, Jr., 6-1, Forward (RS)

Jack O’Leary, Jr., 6-2, Forward (RS)

Key Losses

John Bachmann, 6-0, Guard/Forward

Off the Bench

Jack Coleman, Jr., 6-4 (R)

Tyzaya Smith, Sr., 6-3 (R)

Billy Tigar, Jr., 6-0 (R)

Michael Diller, Jr., 5-10 (R)

Alex Gargiulo, So., 5-10

Justin Guccione, Jr., 5-10

Nick Venticinque, Jr., 5-8

 

Holmdel

Most teams that start a senior with very little game experience to go along with four sophomores might be in for a long year. This is not just any team though, with Holmdel showing during its time with Sean Devaney as head coach that as long as there is some semblance of talent on hand, the Hornets will be somewhere between competitive of excellent. Holmdel is two years removed from excellent, when the Hornets went 22-4 with all four losses coming to a 31-1 Manasquan team – two of which went down to the wire.

This year, the Hornets have a collection of players who were in eighth grade during that 22-win season, but a few of them saw the varsity court during another solid season in 2021. James Vallillo made the most impact of the freshman group with his ability to slash and shoot, and Ben Kipnis also stepped in to make real contributions as well. Nick Seeloch and Will Gilfilian will join their two sophomore classmates in the starting lineup, with senior Saverio Bodnar bringing some program experience to the lineup.

Bodnar is the lone senior in the roster, with the bench stocked with juniors to go with promising freshman Evan Romano, who is in the mix to start and play heavy minutes as a true high-school rookie. A lack of size could plague Holmdel playing teams like Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven, but the Hornets always scrap and if they can get their sophomores and juniors battling the way those same classes did in 2019 – when the Hornets went to the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals with one senior – then another big late-season run could be just over the horizon.

Head Coach: Sean Devaney, 16th season
2021 Record: 8-3 (6-0 in Pod F)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Saverio Bodnar, Sr., 5-9 Guard (R)

Nick Seeloch, So., 5-9, Guard

Will Gilfilian, So., 6-1, Center

James Vallillo, So., 6-1, Guard/Forward (RS)

Ben Kipnis, So., 6-2, Forward (R)

Key Losses

Alex Baker, 6-5, Forward/Center

Ryan Bradley, 6-5, Forward

Kyle Polivka, 6-3, Forward

Nick Spada, 5-9, Guard

Anthony Pesce, 6-0, Guard

Connor Hinds, 6-0, Guard

Off the Bench

Evan Romano, Fr., 6-0

Drew Pollock, Jr., 6-0

Matt Baker, Jr., 6-2

Alex Hendrickson, Jr., 5-10

Greg Vervoodt, Jr., 6-0

Ray Baker, Jr., 5-10

Tom Coppola, Jr., 6-2

 

Matawan

Although Matawan will be another young team in the Class A Central division, the Huskies can take solace in the fact that they had almost as much varsity playing experience back last year and managed to go 9-5 on the way to winning the Pod C championship in the Shore Conference Playoffs. One difference, however, is last year’s team had dynamic guard Andre Wells, who turned in a monster season to earn an All-Shore Second Team spot. Wells carried the Huskies on a lot of nights and while a number of the returning players got to play on a winning team because of Wells, none of them are primed to step up and carry a team in the same manner.

Matawan’s focus with this year’s roster will be on balance and sharing the load, but the Huskies will still have their standouts. The lone returning starter and rotation member is Colin Haluska, who was fourth on the team with 8.1 points per game as a sophomore. Senior Kyle Haliburton will bring toughness and athleticism as the only senior in the starting five, while sophomores Briancharles Gagneron and Red Bank Catholic transfer Kyeshaun Sylvester contribute in the backcourt.

Freshman Chauncy Brown will be a player to watch beginning this season as he nabs a starting spot for a Matawan team that is likely to play just three seniors in the rotation, with Jarrett Norman and Kobe Miller coming off the bench. If Brown can get into the swing of things and Haluska emerges as a go-to scorer and leader, that would go a long way into making Matawan a tough game this year and a real problem looking ahead to 2023.

Head Coach: John Giraldo, seventh season
2021 Record: 9-5 (4-4 in Pod F)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Briancharles Gagneron, So., 5-9, Guard

Kyeshaun Sylvester, So., 5-10, Guard (Transfer from Red Bank Catholic)

Colin Haluska, Jr., 6-3, Forward (RS)

Chauncy Brown, Fr., 6-3, Forward

Kyle Haliburton, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Key Losses

Andre Wells, 6-0, Guard

Gio Gallo, 5-11, Guard

Ian Richardson, 6-2, Forward

Mike Siehienczuk, 6-3, Center

Off the Bench

Aaron Kalish, Jr., 5-9

Chris Galasso, So., 5-9

Jarrett Norman, Sr., 6-2

Kobe Miller, Sr., 6-4

 

Shore

Some young players got a taste of varsity basketball last year, including a game against Red Bank Catholic that did not end well. Not only did the Caseys rout the Blue Devils, but Shore had to shut down for two weeks right after that because of a case of COVID-19. When they came back, the Blue Devils experienced the highs and lows of playing with a young team: they lost three straight to drop to 2-5, then won three straight to get to .500, and finished the season with a loss to a Long Branch team that it beat twice earlier in the year.

While Shore brings back some quality in the rotation, three key seniors did move on to graduation in Tyler Tilton, Chris Kessler and John Smith. Alex George and Liam Gajewski got valuable experience playing with those seniors and will now be asked to lead the way as the two returning starters. Junior Brett Sweeney also played important minutes and Donovan Hughs and senior Aidan O’Brien round out the starting lineup coming off years as bench players in 2021.

Some sophomores will start to push into the picture with George in 2021-22, as the Blue Devils eye what they hope will be high win totals in each of the next two seasons. It doesn’t appear the conditions are ripe for Shore to make its big move this season, but George showed he could hold his own as a freshman, Gajewski leads a group of deep juniors and the underclass talent is starting to bubble to the surface.

Head Coach: Erik Mazur, fourth season
2021 Record: 5-6 (3-3 in Pod G)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Liam Gajewski, Jr., 6-2, Guard (RS)

Alex George, So., 6-21 Guard (RS)

Brett Sweeney, Jr., 6-2, Guard (R)

Donovan Hughes, Jr., 5-10, Guard (R)

Aidan O’Brien, Sr., 6-4, Center (R)

Key Losses

Tyler Tilton, Sr., 6-3, Guard (RS)

Chris Kessler, Sr., 6-4, Guard/Forward (RS)

John Smith, Sr., 6-1, Guard (RS)

Off the Bench

Richie Studer, Jr., 6-3

Ben Levy, Jr., 5-10

J.P. Fidelis, Sr., 6-3

Jackson Whitacre, So., 6-3

Joe Santi, So., 6-0

Connor O’Scanlon, Sr., 6-0

Sam Madalone, So. 6-0

Tyler Jackson, So., 5-9

Brad Alcini, So., 5-9

Matt Decker, So., Guard

Red Bank Catholic junior Cyril Arvanitis guarded by CBA senior Mike White. Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com
Red Bank Catholic junior Cyril Arvanitis guarded by CBA senior Mike White. Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com
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Division Starting Five (With 2021 Stats)

Alex Bauman, Sr., Guard, Red Bank Catholic (16.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.2 blocks)

Geoff Schroeder, Sr., Guard, Rumson-Fair Haven (18.2 points, 2.7 assists, 2.7 steals, 30 3-pointers, 85% FT)

Scott Gyimesi, Sr., Forward, Rumson-Fair Haven (19.1 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks)

Cyril Arvanitis, Sr., Guard, Red Bank Catholic (14.1 points, 38 3-pointers)

Justin Rivera, Sr., Guard, Raritan (13.4 points, 87% FT)

In the Rotation

C.J. Ruoff, Sr., Guard, Red Bank Catholic (12.9 points, 2.4 assists)

Gioacchino Panzini, So., Guard, Red Bank Catholic (8.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks)

Zach Meeks, So., Forward, Red Bank Catholic (6.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

James Vallillo, So., Guard, Holmdel

Alex George, So., Guard, Shore

Colin Haluska, Jr., Forward, Matawan

Jack O’Leary, Jr., Forward, Raritan

Trent Sloan, Sr., Forward, Rumson-Fair Haven