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Even during a shortened 2021 season that was set up for teams to play the most local opponents possible, there were a number of Class A South teams that went a whole season without playing some of their most notable division rivals.

As a result, there is some uncertainty about how some teams in the division will match up with the others. Central Regional, Brick Memorial and Jackson Memorial went head-to-head with one another, but none of the three stepped on the court opposite either Toms River North nor Southern. That is significant considering the strong seasons Southern and Toms River North had, not to mention the strong finish to the season from Central.

With so much unknown, the Class A South appears to be completely up for grabs. Toms River North remains the defending champion, but with a much different roster than the Mariners had two years ago. Southern finished as the unofficial top team in Ocean County but graduated three starters, including its top two scorers. Brick Memorial started the season strong before losing its dominant big man and Central finished strong behind its big man’s best ever stretch of his career. Jackson Memorial, meanwhile, has undergone an overhaul over the past two years and will look more like a contender this season.

The first look at the division race will come in the first round of the WOBM Christmas Classic, when Central plays Jackson Memorial and Toms River North takes on Brick Memorial. None will count in the division standings, but it could set the tone for what could be a wild Class A South race.

In predicted order of finish

Central

Central made a pretty strong case as the best team in Ocean County by the end of the shortened 2021 season, but it was impossible to verify without the Golden Eagles playing a traditional Class A South schedule. They beat Manchester and Brick Memorial along the way, but never met up with Southern or Toms River North – two other contenders for the No. 1 team in the county.

This year, Central will have its chance to climb to the No. 1 spot and with an All-Shore big-man back in the fold for his fourth varsity season, Central has a leg up on much of the field. Justin Soranno enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, albeit one that lasted only 12 games. The 6-6 post man will have some help, led by returning starters John Truhan and Gianni Smith, plus promising sophomore Miles Chevalier. Anthony Musso moves from the bench to the starting five to fill the open spot, but the Golden Eagles will have some young talent – much of it from an unbeaten freshman team in 2021 – on the bench pushing for minutes as well.

Central will have to survive the free-for-all at the top of Class A South and it is unclear whether the top team in the division will have an impact in the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournament in a way that Toms River North did from 2015 to 2020, but Central is positioned to give it a good shot. The Golden Eagles had a good feel about them to end 2021 and if that carries over into the new year, Central looks like a division-title favorite.

Central freshman Justin Soranno. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
Central forward Justin Soranno. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
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Head Coach: Mike Clemente Jr., seventh season
2021 Record: 9-4 (5-1 in Pod B)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

John Truhan, Jr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

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

Miles Chevalier, So., 6-3, Guard (R)

Justin Soranno, Sr., 6-6, Forward (RS)

Anthony Musso, Sr., 6-2, Forward (R)

Key Losses

I-Meer Johnson, Sr., 6-3, Forward (RS)

Marvin Goodwine Jr., Sr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Jeremy Bruner, Sr., 6-6, Forward (RS)

Kwesi Bekoe, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Off the Bench

Luke Krzyzkowski, So., 6-4

Brayden Lowden, So., 5-10

Jaycen Santucci, Fr., 6-2

Sean Hurley, 5-11, Sr.

Jordan Barbot, 6-1, So.

Ryan Kelly, Jr., 6-2

 

Brick Memorial

Like so many teams that had to deal with COVID-related stoppages, Brick Memorial’s season got off to a strong start but sputtered. In the Mustangs’ case, however, it was not COVID that derailed them but an injury to their best weapon. Luke Braatan came down with a back injury that ended his season after just three games and after starting 4-0, Brick Memorial went just 4-7 the rest of the way – albeit against the better part of the schedule.

On a positive note, Braaten is back and healthy for his senior season and will be surrounded by a talented junior class that got to see major minutes as a collective sophomore group in 2021. Guard Josh Michigan was an All-Pod players as a sophomore and classmates Brian Starrett and Dorian Alston made significant contributions in 2021 as well. Jason Ellerbrock will be another senior in the starting mix along with Braaten, while the Mustangs bench will draw mostly from that strong Class of 2023.

Brick Memorial’s diverse mix of wings and bigs with good size make the Mustangs a real threat to win Class A South and nestle into the Shore Conference Top 10 for both this year and next, but with a unique weapon in Luke Braaten occupying the paint as a senior, this year represents a golden opportunity that this year’s Mustangs squad will badly want to seize.

Brick Memorial junior Luke Braaten. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Brick Memorial junior Luke Braaten. (Photo by Matt Manley)
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Head Coach: Mike Pelkey, fifth season
2021 Record: 8-7 (4-5 in Pod B)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Jason Ellerbrock, Sr., 6-2, Guard (R)

Josh Michigan, Jr., 6-3, Guard (RS)

Brian Starrett, Jr., 6-3, Guard (R)

Luke Braaten, Sr., 6-7, Center (RS)

Dorian Alston, Jr., 6-3, Forward (R)

Key Losses

Jake Dombrowski, 5-8, Guard

Blake Zammit, 5-10, Guard

T.J. McArthur, 6-0, Forward

Hayden Guzenski, 6-0, Forward

Off the Bench

Ben Woolley, Jr., 6-5

Jeremiah Crispin, Jr., 6-1

Ray Vito, Jr., 5-9

Hayden Caldwell, Jr., 5-11

 

Jackson Memorial

Of all the teams to struggle with COVID-related shutdowns and the short season, Jackson Memorial was impacted on the court as much as any team in the Shore Conference. With Randy Holmes in his first year as head coach, multiple starters in the lineup and two key transfers who were not eligible right away, the Jaguars had a lot of obstacles to overcome right off the bat, then had to shut down for two weeks on top of that.

This season, the conditions look much better for Jackson Memorial to take off under Holmes, who led Lakewood to a run of 10 straight division titles, two NJSIAA sectional championships and a Shore Conference Tournament title. The core of this year’s Jaguars squad includes three major contributors from last season in guard Keith Adame and forwards Steven Bado and Charlie Meglio. Juniors Samir Padilla and Respect Tyleek also played part of last year and are ready to make an impact from day one, just like they did as all-division players as freshmen.

An x-factor will be Mehki Cherry, a transfer from Connecticut who will add another dynamic junior guard and allow the Jaguars to stay fresh in the backcourt, as well as go with a guard-heavy look when Holmes wants to unleash the press. There is additional depth and talent in the rotation and only two seniors – Bado and C.J. Allen – on the roster, so Jackson Memorial has a chance to blossom into a major player in Ocean County and the Shore Conference in the coming months and years.

Head Coach: Randy Holmes, second season
2021 Record: 4-7 (1-4 in Pod B)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Keith Adame, Jr., 6-2, Guard (RS)

Samir Padilla, Jr., 5-10, Guard (RS)

Respect Tyleek, Jr., 6-2, Guard (RS)

Charlie Meglio, Jr., 6-5, Forward (R)

Steve Bado, Sr., 6-4, Forward (RS)

Key Losses

Sean Slusak, 6-3, Forward

Ryan Rankin, 6-2, Forward

Bobby Bamman, 6-2, Forward

Caden Brooks, 6-4, Forward

Christian Ibe, 6-1, Forward

Off the Bench

Mehki Cherry, Jr., 6-2 (Transfer from Norwalk, Conn.)

Joe Antenucci, Jr., 6-3

Sean Hubbard, So., 6-0

Caleb Frage, Jr., 6-1

C.J. Allen, Sr., 5-9

Brady Adams, Fr., 6-0

Akeem Moko, Fr., 6-5

 

Toms River North

The last time there was a full high-school basketball season in New Jersey, Toms River North completed a 14-0 run through the Class A South division. That would be impressive on its own, but that is only part of the story for the Mariners, whose perfect season in A South play was the fifth such consecutive season. Tack on four A South wins in a row to end 2014-15 and the Mariners official Class A South winning streak stands at 74, although last season, with no official divisional play, Southern defeated Toms River North in the second game of the season.

As they look to defend the Class A South championship for the sixth consecutive full season, the Mariners have a much different roster than they have had during this seven-year run – at least with respect to experience. Last year’s starting lineup consisted of mostly-inexperienced seniors and this year’s group will be a mix of more inexperienced seniors, as well as a junior and four key sophomores. The seniors are Ryan Baker, Lamir Mitchell and A.J. Emnace, with Emnace and Baker playing key roles off the bench last season while Mitchell opted to sit out his junior season after being the second player off the bench on the 2019-20 team that reached the Shore Conference final.

Delani Hyde – a 6-foot-7 shot-blocker – also sat out last season and is back as a junior starter. Sophomore Micah Ford has the inside track at the other starting spot and has three classmates who could find their way into the starting five over the course of the season. Owen Baker is another point guard option, Jeremiah Pruitt is a versatile athlete who played football at Donovan Catholic last season before transferring over to Toms River North, and Tareq Council is a long, 6-4 wing to pile on some more athleticism onto the rotation. There is not a ton of experience, but there remains potential for Toms River North to make another run at an A South title, perfect or not.

Head Coach: Rory Caswell, 11th season
2021 Record: 11-4 (6-2 in Pod A)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

A.J. Emnace, Sr., 6-0, Guard (R)

Ryan Baker, Sr., 6-2, Guard (R)

Delani Hyde, Jr., 6-7, Forward (R)

Lamir Mitchell, Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward (R)

Micah Ford, So., 6-1, Forward

Key Losses

Wesley Deitsch, 6-0, Guard

Zack Browne, 6-2, Guard

Ethan Paul, 6-3, Guard

Jake Kazanowsky, 6-3, Guard/Forward

Brandon Bowens, 6-6, Forward

Richard Riley, 6-5, Guard/Forward

Off the Bench

Owen Baker, So., 6-0

Jeremiah Pruitt, So., 6-2 (Transfer from Donovan Catholic)

Tyreq Council, So., 6-4

Justin Moskowitz, Sr., 5-11 (R)

Nate Obang, Sr., 6-3

 

Southern

Southern has had some impact players pass through its boys basketball program over the past 10 years, including Miami Dolphins tight end and highlight-worthy dunk artist Mike Gesicki. Despite that, it had been some two decades since the Rams finished in a Shore Conference Top 10 and it was last year’s team that ended the drought. As mentioned in the Toms River North preview above, it was Southern that ended the Mariners hex on Class A South teams, if not in an official Class A South division game, then went on to win 10 straight games to qualify for the championship pod of the Shore Conference playoffs. Unofficially, Southern was Ocean County’s top team in 2021 and finished ranked No. 9 in the Shore Conference.

In order to add an official Class A South championship to its list of accomplishments, Southern will have to figure out how to replace three starters from last year’s team, including the team’s top two scorers. The Rams will go to battle with senior guards Jaden Anthony and Nick Devane, both of whom started last year, with Anthony returning as an All-Pod player. Nolan Schubiger played important minutes off the bench and will slide into the starting lineup, as will letter-winners Tristan Author and junior Max DiPietro.

Last year’s team was anchored by 6-6 senior Jay Silva, but this season, none of the projected starting five is taller than 6-2. Senior Connor Curtain and junior Thomas Menegus – both 6-6 – will look to help off the bench and Justin Silva hopes to be able to make an impact as a 6-2 freshman. There are some questions to answer – likely more than the other contenders in Class A South – but make no mistake: Southern is still a contender.

Head Coach: John Pampalone, third season
2021 Record: 10-4 (7-1 in Pod A)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Nick Devane, Sr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Jaden Anthony, Sr., 6-1, Guard (RS)

Nolan Schubiger, Sr., 6-0, Guard (R)

Tristan Author, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Max DiPietro, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Key Losses

Jay Silva, 6-6, Forward

Luke Infurna, 6-0, Guard

Jake Barbierri, 6-1, Forward

Bruk Paul, 6-1, Guard

Off the Bench

Eugene Savoy, Sr., 6-2

Connor Curtain, Sr., 6-6

Josh Smith, Sr., 5-9

Justin Silva, Fr., 6-2

Thomas Menegus, Jr., 6-6

Caden Schubiger, So., 5-11

 

Toms River South

Last season started in promising fashion for Toms River South, which opened the season 3-3 and got major production out of players like Gavin Migliori and Gerry Ferrigno. The season went south from there, however, as the Indians lost their last nine games ahead of graduating four out of five starters.

The good news for Toms River South is Migliori is back after turning in a breakout junior season in 2021, during which he led the Shore Conference in three-pointers (40). Fellow seniors Aidan Folsom and Colin Raimann are also back and ready to jump into the starting lineup, as is junior returnee Easton Slack. Joining the four guards is 6-6 senior Bobby Kukfa, who will make an immediate impact down low after playing his early high-school years in Delaware.

Getting off to a strong start will again be on Toms River South’s to-do list – an attainable goal with an opener vs. Lakewood, but one that gets harder to maintain with consecutive games vs. Marlboro and Brick Memorial before Christmas. In the big picture, it will be more important for the Indians to maintain some consistency and improve over the course of the season.

Head Coach: Vin Arminio, second season
2021 Record: 3-12 (2-8 in Pod A)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Gavin Migliori, Sr., 6-0, Guard (RS)

Colin Rainmann, Sr., 6-1, Guard (R)

Aidan Folsom, Sr., 6-0, Guard (R)

Easton Slack, Jr., 6-2, Guard (R)

Bobby Kukfa, Sr., 6-6, Forward (Transfer from Cape Henlopen, Del.)

Key Losses

Neil Kwincinski, 6-0, Guard

John Gallo, 6-1, Guard

Jack Huber, 6-2, Forward

Gerry Ferrigno, 6-2, Forward

Dominick Catz, 6-0, Guard

Off the Bench

Jordan Jones, So.

Maziah Brown, Jr.

Robert Peirson, So.

Jarrod Johnson, So.

Kai Barckley, So.

Manny Torres, Sr.

 

Toms River East

Last season was a pure, unadulterated rebuilding year for Toms River East, which graduated its top three players from 2019-20 and also lost another starter who opted not to play just before the start of the season. That confluence of events led to a one-win season and, looking on the bright side, at least the Raiders were able to pick up a win – by double digits, no less, against Toms River South.

This year, the tenor is different. There is still plenty of growing for Toms River East to do, but the Raiders bring back a team full of juniors and sophomores who got experience while playing the maximum 15 games – another accomplishment for Toms River East in an otherwise difficult season. Dylan Russell is the top returnee after starting as a sophomore last season and will get help in the starting lineup from classmates Manny Vargas, Jacob Mathus and Soren Wilson.

Wing Jason McKelvey will be the sophomore in the staring five and will probably be leaned on for whatever he can do with his 6-1 frame considering he, Russell and Wilson are the only players on the team listed above 6-0. Still, Toms River East’s questions around size are nothing compared to what the Raiders had to figure out last year and this roster should be ready for a much more competitive season in 2021-22.

Head Coach: Tom DeRiggi, third season
2021 Record: 1-14 (1-8 in Pod A)

Projected Lineup

RS – Returning Starter
R – Returning Varsity Player

Manny Vargas, Jr., 5-10, Guard (R)

Jacob Mathus, Jr., 5-11, Guard (R)

Soren Wilson, Jr., 6-3, Forward/Center (R)

Jason McKelvey, So., 6-1, Guard/Forward (R)

Dylan Russell, Jr., 6-2, Forward (RS)

Key Losses

Charlie Monica, 6-1, Guard/Forward

Dylan Hall, 6-4, Center

Xavier Kless, 5-10, Guard

Mike Anselmo, Sr., Guard

Niko Swenson, Sr., Guard

Off the Bench

Greg Mazzo, Jr., 5-11

Steven Scorsone, So., 5-11

Jason Markovitch, So., 5-9

Jack Hesslein, Jr., 5-11

Jayce Sefick, Sr., 5-9

 

Division Starting Five (With 2021 Stats)

Samir Padilla, Jr., Guard, Jackson Memorial

Respect Tyleek, Jr., Guard, Jackson Memorial

Jaden Anthony, Sr., Guard, Southern (9.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.8 steals)

Justin Soranno, Sr., Forward, Central (17.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks)

Luke Braaten, Sr., Center, Brick Memorial (10.0 points, 6.7 rebounds)

In the Rotation

Gavin Migliori, Sr., Guard, Toms River South (14.9 points, 2.3 assists, 40 3-pointers)

Lamir Mitchell, Sr., Guard/Forward, Toms River North

Keith Adame, Jr., Guard, Jackson Memorial

Josh Michigan, Jr., Guard, Brick Memorial (8.5 points)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Nick Devane, Sr., Guard, Southern

Ryan Baker, Sr., Guard, Toms River North

Miles Chevalier, So., Guard/Forward, Central

Dorian Alston, Jr., Forward, Brick Memorial

Mekhi Cherry, Jr., Guard, Jackson Memorial