Boys Basketball – Marlboro Closes 2021-22 No. 1 in the Shore Sports Network Top 10
The last decade of Shore Conference basketball has seen a number of programs either claim the No. 1 ranking in the area for the first time in a long time or for the first time ever. There was Point Pleasant Beach in 2014, Rumson-Fair Haven 2015, Mater Dei Prep in 2016, Ranney in 2018 and Manasquan in 2020. It used to be safe to pencil CBA, Neptune or perhaps Lakewood into the top spot but those days have been over for several years now.
This year, another program landed in the top spot for the first time and for Shore Conference historians, it might be the most improbable ascension to the No. 1 ranking at the Shore ever. Sure, Marlboro is a Group IV school, but it is one that had no history of basketball success up until five seasons ago – when the Mustangs made it to the Shore Conference Tournament final for the first time ever. They also did it with five starters who all grew up together in the same town, which is not the norm in modern, competitive high-school basketball.
The season started with those expectations and Marlboro delivered all season long, particularly at the end. There were other teams in the top spot for a time: CBA started 10-0 and took over the top spot with a win over Marlboro, then Red Bank Catholic overtook CBA for the No. 1 perch and held it until the end of the Shore Conference Tournament. It was an exciting chase for the title and while Marlboro was no underdog story heading into the year, the Mustangs are the epitome of an underdog program that made the climb to the top.
1. Marlboro (28-3, 11-1) Preseason Rank: 1
After coming within two points of winning an unofficial Shore Conference title in the shortened 2021 season, Marlboro entered this season with the target on its back as the No. 1 team in the preseason, despite never having won any of the following in the history of the program: an outright division title, a Shore Conference Tournament championship and an NJSIAA sectional championship. Three months later, the Mustangs claimed all three, embracing the expectations, dealing with some early-season adversity and beating some of the best teams in the area and from around the state to win Class A North, the Shore Conference Tournament and the Central Jersey Group IV championship – all for the first time. The Mustangs also added a 28th win by beating Lenape in the Group IV final to earn an appearance in the Group IV final and despite losing to North Jersey power Elizabeth, the Mustangs acquitted themselves well at Rutgers University.
Early 2023 Forecast: All five starters will graduate in the spring, so Marlboro will have a much different look in 2022-23, but the culture is established and the expectation to compete for the Class A North public division title will remain.
2. Manasquan (25-6, 12-0) Preseason Rank: 5
With two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup from opening night on, this year might have seemed like a rebuilding year for a team that has routinely churned out 20-win seasons over the last decade with seniors and juniors often leading the way. Over the last few years, though, coach Andrew Bilodeau and his Warriors have proven they can win with talented underclass talent and while this year’s group was unproven, it certainly proved to be talented. The Warriors took some early lumps against Rutgers Prep and St. John Vianney, dominated the Class C North division, rallied for a run to a fourth straight Shore Conference final and a third straight NJSIAA sectional title, and finished with 25 or more wins for the third straight full season.
Early 2023 Forecast: Outside of senior center Matt Solomon and bench contributor Dan Hyland, Manasquan’s entire regular rotation is due back next season, led by Darius Adams, Ryan Frauenheim, Griffin Linstra and Alex Konov. The Warriors are the early favorite to be No. 1 in the Shore Conference to open 2022-23, but their sights will be set on finally getting Manasquan boys basketball its first overall state championship. That could depend on whether or not the Warriors are in the same group as Camden, which is expected to again be a nationally-ranked team with a national schedule next season and could wind up in the same group as Manasquan after the Warriors got away from the Panthers for this season.
3. Red Bank Catholic (24-5, 9-1) Preseason Rank: 2
Marlboro undoubtedly had its best season ever, but there is also a case to be made that this Red Bank Catholic team is in the running for best boys teams ever assembled at RBC. They reached the No. 1 ranking in the conference and were the No. 1 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament for the first time ever and came within an earshot of winning the South Jersey Non-Public A championship for the first time since 1977. The Caseys did not win any outright titles this season – they shared the Class A Central title with Rumson, lost in the WOBM Christmas Classic final, lost in the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals and lost in the aforementioned sectional final – but they were legitimate contenders for everything and a bounce of the ball away from claiming a postseason trophy.
Early 2023 Forecast: While the Caseys will miss three-year starters Alex Bauman, C.J. Ruoff and Cyril Arvanitis, they have an exciting nucleus returning in Gioacchino Panzini, Zach Meeks, Ryan Prior and Colin Cavanaugh – none of whom will be seniors next year.
4. Christian Brothers Academy (17-7, 8-4) Preseason Rank: 6
It was a strange, up-and-down season for CBA, which makes a little more sense when you consider the Colts started only one senior and played two regularly. Defense was hardly ever an issue for them, but sometimes scoring was a challenge and it bit them in a handful of Class A North games, as well as in a home loss to Immaculata in the first round of the state tournament. Within that roller coaster, however, were some major wins: Marlboro, Ranney, St. John Vianney and two over Rumson-Fair Haven. The second win over Rumson earned CBA a trip to the Shore Conference semifinals and although their run ended there, the Colts gave No. 1 Marlboro a scare before ultimately losing, 45-37.
Early 2023 Forecast: Seniors Pat Lautato and James Durney were significant contributors and will be missed next season, but the Colts bring back four talented starters in juniors Will Bradley and Joe White, sophomore Peter Noble and freshman Justin Fuerbacher.
5. Rumson-Fair Haven (21-4, 9-1) Preseason Rank: 4
A dominant team for much of the season, Rumson overcame a key injury to senior Geoff Schroeder during the first six games to catch fire in the final month-and-a-half of the season. The only teams the Bulldogs could not figure out were Camden – which no one in New Jersey has since the start of 2019-20 – and CBA, which knocked off Rumson twice. The loss to the Colts in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals will be a tough one to get over, because Rumson might have had a legitimate chance to beat Marlboro and Manasquan the rest of the way. Despite that disappointment, the Bulldogs bounced back to win their third Central Jersey Group II championship in the last six year, blowing out all four sectional opponents before eventually running into Camden in the Group II semifinals.
Early 2023 Forecast: Rumson started five seniors this season, so the Bulldogs will have a much different team in 2022-23. Despite that, Rumson has routinely reloaded and while the names and faces will be different, the style will likely look similar to how it has for the last 14 years.
6. St. John Vianney (20-8, 10-0) Preseason Rank: 8
This past season came with a number of milestones for St. John Vianney, which ascended to the No. 3 spot in the Shore Conference for the first time in program history, as well as won its first ever outright Shore Conference division title, according to head coach Ryan Finch. It was also the first time since 2005-06 the Lancers won 20 games, as well as the first time since 2006 they had a First Team All-Shore players chosen by the coaches in senior Nate Williams. The Lancers scored early wins over Manasquan and Manchester to carry their resume throughout the year and finished off with a payback win over Donovan Catholic to get to 20. SJV also played competitive games against Marlboro and CBA during the year.
Early 2023 Forecast: The Lancers will have to figure out life without Williams, who carried them most nights during this past season, but there is some talent set to return. While Williams and Omar Calderon depart, current sophomore Dylan Seay, junior Connor Howard and junior Kyle Verriest will lead a returning group that should keep the Lancers in the Top 10 mix.
7. Ranney (22-6, 12-0) Preseason Rank: 3
After a slide to the bottom of the Top 10 and all the way to No. 12 in the actual Shore Conference Tournament seeding, Ranney cleaned up its Top 10 resume to close out the year and finishes up in the No. 7 spot. The Panthers did lose to Raritan, but also picked up wins over Manchester and Jackson Memorial before the NJSIAA Tournament even started. Ranney suffered ugly losses to Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan, but those are two of the top three teams in the conference. Finally, when the season was on the line, Ranney came through, making a run to the South Jersey Non-Public B Final and losing a mostly-competitive game to Trenton Catholic – the No. 4 team in the state at the time.
Early 2023 Forecast: There is always uncertainty with Ranney, whether it is the Panthers bringing in impact transfers as they did in years past, or losing them like they when Elijah Perkins (Camden) and Ryan Zan (Rutgers Prep) transferred ahead of this season. As it currently stands, Ranney is slated to bring back a solid trio of Isaac Hester, Drew Buck and Zack Davis, with Charles Anyichie, T.J. Braswell-Brown and Brandon Klatsky all moving on in graduation.
8. Jackson Memorial (20-8, 9-3) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
The last four teams in the Top 10 had breakout seasons, starting with a resurgent Jackson Memorial program. The Jaguars won 20 games and reached the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals for the first time in eight years, while also making it all the way to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals for the first time in 10 years. Although Jackson Memorial did not win the Class A South championship, it played a challenging schedule that netted them wins over Manchester, Raritan and Holmdel and losses to Red Bank Catholic, Manasquan, Marlboro, Ranney and Trenton.
Early 2023 Forecast: It appears as though the best is yet to come for Jackson Memorial, which is set to return a strong crop of seniors in 2022-23. Senior Steven Bado was an all-division performer who will leave a void in the lineup, but Mehki Cherry performed well off the bench down the stretch and could very well make it an all-senior lineup along with 2021-22 starters Samir Padilla, Respect Tyleek, Keith Adame and Charlie Meglio.
9. Manchester (23-6, 12-0) Preseason Rank: 10
The Hawks have had some talented teams over the last two decades but none that accomplished what this year’s team did on the whole. For the first time in 18 years, Manchester made it to the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament and for the first time in nearly as long, the Hawks won an outright Shore Conference division championship. The 23 wins also set a program record and the only reason the Hawks were eliminated in the sectional semifinal round of the NJSIAA Tournament is because they ran into Camden. Other than the Camden losses, Manchester’s losses in 2022-23 were all to Shore Top 10 teams: Marlboro, Red Bank Catholic, Ranney, Jackson Memorial and St. John Vianney.
Early 2023 Forecast: Manchester losses a special senior group, led by starters Savon Myers, D’Maari Brown, Amari Petty and Jordan Dupont. The Hawks do, however, bring back 6-foot-7 center Evan Weiner and some promising younger talent around which to build and an expectation of winning left over from this season.
10. Brick Memorial (20-7, 10-2) Preseason Rank: Not ranked
For the first time in 13 years, Brick Memorial claimed a Class A South division championship and for the first time in 12, the Mustangs made it all the way to the sectional semifinal round of the NJSIAA Tournament, losing to Robbinsville by one point in the Central Group III semis. Brick Memorial showed some chops in big games, even in losing at Robbinsville, which watched the Mustangs wipe out a 10-point second-quarter deficit. The rub on Brick Memorial at the start of the Shore Conference Tournament was a lack of challenging games outside the division, but after losing to Manchester in the SCT round of 16, the Mustangs picked up a win over St. John Vianney and put forth a solid showing in the NJSIAA Tournament.
Early 2023 Forecast: Brick Memorial graduates an All-Shore-caliber center in Luke Braaten, but will return three key starters in Josh Michigan, Brian Starrett and Dorian Alston as seniors, plus emergent bench contributor Jeremiah Crispin – also a senior. With that core back, plus Jackson Memorial, Toms River North and Toms River East all bringing back most of their rosters, Class A South should be as competitive as it has been in a while.
The Next Five
Raritan (18-8, 5-5) – The Rockets can make a good case for that No. 10 spot with a head-to-head win over Ranney and a run to the Central Jersey Group II semifinals, which ended in heartbreak with a one-point at Bound Brook. Despite losing some senior production and leadership, Raritan is slated to return a good group of seniors-to-be next season.
Holmdel (16-11, 5-5) – With one of the youngest rosters in the Shore Conference, Holmdel emerged as a team on the cusp of a Top 10 spot and should break through at the start of 2022-23 with what will be a junior-heavy squad.
Donovan Catholic (16-9, 10-2) – The Griffins picked up four especially important wins during the season that kept them in Top 10 contention: Freehold Township in the WOBM Christmas Classic, Central during the regular season, and Keyport and St. John Vianney in the Shore Conference Tournament. With a senior-heavy team, Donovan Catholic will look different next year.
Howell (13-11, 6-6) – Speaking of teams that will look different, Howell says goodbye to a group of four seniors – Zach Emery, Joe Dupuis, Dylan McVeigh and Nick Gallo – who helped the Rebels compete with the best of the Shore Conference. It did not end in a Top 10 finish, but the Rebels picked up a big win at CBA, beat Freehold Township in the NJSIAA Tournament and gave Marlboro a serious scare for about 27 minutes in the Central Jersey Group IV quarterfinals.
Keyport (19-7, 10-2) – The Red Raiders had their best season since 2003-04 and this year’s team was an inch away from joining that team as a sectional champion from Keyport High School. A furious comeback in the Central Group I final came up short, but Keyport still racked up 19 wins in its best season in nearly two decades.