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Last year’s version of the Shore Conference Class A Central division was one of the most impressive collections of teams in the Shore Conference, led by division co-champions Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven – both of which finished ranked in the top five of the conference to close out the year. With both of those teams getting switched to Class B North as part of Shore Conference realignment, the defining characteristic of this year’s Class A Central division is that not only is the division now home to three teams that finished last place in their 2021-22; all three also failed to win a single divisional game in doing so.

Beyond the addition of three cellar-dwellers from 2021-22, the division brings in a St. John Vianney team that had one of its best seasons ever last year on the way to a Class B North title and a top-four seed in the Shore Conference Tournament. The Lancers should settle into spirited rivalries with crosstown rival Holmdel and nearby Raritan, as all three shape up to be solid teams this year.

As for the three teams that finished at the bottom of their respective divisions last year, there is guaranteed improvement built in, but there should be genuine improvement as well considering each team did enough last year to feel optimistic about the groups they bring back. It’s not likely enough to contend for the division title, but at least one of them is likely to click and add some depth to an overall solid division.

In predicted order of finish

1. St. John Vianney

Last year’s St. John Vianney team rode a monstrous season by Nate Williams to a Class B North division championship and a No. 4 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, although their SCT stay was short thanks to an upset at the hands of Donovan Catholic in the round of 16. The Lancers will also have to replace steady guard Omar Calderon and talented forward Dylan Seay, who transferred to Camden for his junior year. With Williams, Seay and Calderon moving on to graduation, St. John Vianney will have to remake its image into a team that relies more on its balance and overall athleticism to outduel opponents.

Four of the five St. John Vianney starters heading into this season were significant contributors last year, with seniors Connor Howard and Kyle Verriest each starting as well. Senior Jordan Winnik earned minutes after becoming eligible following his transfer into the program and will be a perimeter option thanks to his ability – like Howard and Verriest – to slash and shoot. Sophomore Aiden Ur, meanwhile, played as a freshman and is ready to take over at point guard.

St. John Vianney will get some additional upside with the transfer of 6-foot-5 forward Emanuel Domingo from Sayreville, who is still looking for his breakout season at the varsity level after averaging just over three points per game as a sophomore. The bench will also be lined with varsity letter-winners looking to step up their overall contributions and that would go a long way toward getting St. John Vianney back among the Shore Conference contenders after Williams carried the Lancers there a season ago.

St. John Vianney senior Connor Howard. (Photo: Tom Smith |
St. John Vianney senior Connor Howard. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Head Coach: Ryan Finch, seventh season
2021-22 Record: 20-8 (10-0, first in Class B North)
Key Losses:
Nate Williams, 6-3, Guard; Omar Calderon, 6-3, Guard; Justice Brayboy, 5-9, Guard; Liam Thomas, 6-1, Forward; Dylan Seay, Jr., 6-5, Forward (Transferred to Camden)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Aiden Ur, So., 6-2, Guard

Connor Howard, Sr., 6-3, Guard

Jordan Winnik, Sr., 6-2, Guard

Kyle Verriest, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Emanuel Domingo, Jr., 6-5, Forward (Transferred from Sayreville)


Off the Bench

Deon Jackson, Jr., 6-3, Forward

Joe DeBlasio, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Michael Goodrich, Jr., 6-6, Forward

Alex Jurado, So., 5-11, Guard

Anthony Vaccaro, Jr., 6-0, Guard


2. Raritan

Last season featured some impressive feats by Raritan, which won 18 games and came within seconds of reaching the Central Jersey Group II sectional final. Keeping up in a division with both Rumson-Fair Haven and Red Bank Catholic, however, proved to be too much to overcome and the Rockets finished in the middle of the Class A Central pack. With both of the co-champions gone, however, and St. John Vianney not in the division as a defending Class B North champion, Raritan will set its sights on the top of the standings as it welcomes back a solid core from the 2021-22 team.

The loss of standout guard Justin Rivera to graduation is Raritan’s biggest graduation hit, but the Rockets will benefit from the return of second-leading scorer Jack O’Leary, plus fellow returning starter Matt Agar and a pair of experienced bench players in Jack Coleman and Billy Tigar. O’Leary will again be a top scoring option along with Tigar and Mike Diller on the perimeter, while Coleman will look to pick up some of the production lost with the graduation of Tyzaya Smith.

With an all-senior starting five, Raritan will not be relying too much on youth to carry the team to the next step. Junior Alex Gargiulo will be a key contributor coming off the bench, but Mike Casiano and Justin Guccione are two more seniors in that mix as well. With so many seniors in the fold, Raritan’s urgency will be as high as any team in the Shore Conference and after watching its season end at Bound Brook on a last-second, game-winning shot, the Rockets will be plenty motivated.

Raritan senior Jack O'Leary (12) takes on Holmdel sophomore James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Raritan senior Jack O'Leary (12) takes on Holmdel sophomore James Vallillo. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Head Coach: Denis Caruano, 18th season
2021-22 Record: 18-8 (5-5, tied third in Class A Central)
Key Losses: Justin Rivera, 5-11, Guard; Tyzaya Smith, 6-3, Forward; Jason Trotta, 6-5, Center; Lucas LaVilla, Sr., 6-0, Guard

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Billy Tigar, Sr., 6-0, Guard

Mike Diller, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Matt Agar, Sr., 6-1, Forward 

Jack O’Leary, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Jack Coleman, Sr., 6-4, Forward


Off the Bench

Alex Gargiulo, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Justin Guccione, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Michael Casiano, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Sean Burnett, So., 5-8, Guard

Cameron Gabloff, Fr., 6-0, Guard


3. Holmdel

Holmdel closed out the 2021-22 season with three sophomores and one freshman in the starting lineup – all of whom posted at least one 20-point game for a Hornets team that had its share of success despite its youth. Over the last several months, however, rising sophomore Evan Romano transferred to St. Rose and current junior James Vallillo is recovering from foot surgery that is likely to keep him out until late December or early January, according to coach Sean Devaney. Those two losses take some air out of Holmdel’s proverbial balloon, but the Hornets are still in position to compete at a level similar to what they reached last year.

Even with half of last year’s quartet out, Holmdel returns the top two scorers from last year in point guard Nick Seeloch and wing Ben Kipnis. The two all-division standouts as sophomores will have to balance becoming more of the focus on offense, while also looking to involve Holmdel’s new starters. Senior Matt Baker will work in at center, while junior Daxx Corniero and senior Dre Pollock profile as more frontcourt pieces, which could take Kipnis away from the basket on the offensive end.

With a slightly older team, Holmdel’s biggest improvement should come on defense, particularly if Vallillo is moving around well upon his return. He is a standout athlete when healthy and Seeloch and Kipnis have both shown an ability to cause chaos on defense as well. Health will be an x-factor and if Vallillo bounces back, Holmdel should be able to stem the tide of losing Romano and make a run at the Class A Central crown.

Holmdel junior Nick Seeloch guarded by Raritan junior Lucas LaVilla. (Photo: Tom Smith |
Holmdel junior Nick Seeloch guarded by Raritan's Lucas LaVilla. (Photo: Tom Smith |

Head Coach: Sean Devaney, 17th season
2021-22 Record: 16-11 (5-5, tied third in Class A Central)
Key Losses:
Saverio Bodnar, 5-9, Guard; Evan Romano, So., 6-3, Guard (Transferred to St. Rose)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Nick Seeloch, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Ben Kipnis, Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward

Matt Baker, Sr., 6-2, Center

Daxx Corniero, Jr., 6-0, Forward

Drew Pollock, Sr., 5-11, Forward


Off the Bench

James Vallillo, Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward

Will Gilfillan, Jr., 6-2, Center

Andrew Piscatelli, Jr., 6-4, Center

Ireoluwa Adesina, So., 5-10, Guard

C.J. Karis, So., 5-9, Guard

Luke Schneider, Jr., 6-3, Center

Connor Brown, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Jack Vallillo, Fr., 5-10, Guard


4. Matawan

Out of the three teams in Class A Central that finished last in their division, Matawan had the most encouraging season and not just because the Huskies managed to win six games outside of divisional play. Matawan played only one senior with any regularity last season and is set to return a young squad under first-year head coach Matt O’Brien after the young nucleus gained a lot of experience a year ago.

While there are not a lot of seniors on the Matawan squad, the Huskies will be led by a good one in Colin Haluska. The four-year varsity contributor led the team in scoring at 13 points per game a year ago and can score both inside and outside. He will form a potentially-dynamic duo with sophomore Chauncy Brown, who turned in an impressive senior season in which he averaged 11.4 points per game. Classmates Jayden Elijah – an imposing, 6-7 center – and point guard Amir Martinez will add more production as starters from the Class of 2025.

Chris Galasso is tracking as the fifth starter, with fellow junior Cameron Cooper and senior Aaron Kalish both set to share minutes in a bench role. Depth could wind up a strength for Matawan, but for the Huskies to keep pace with the top teams in this division, they will need  Haluska and the starting sophomore core to hit their stride from the jump.

Head Coach: Matt O’Brien, first season
2021-22 Record: 6-21 (0-10, sixth in Class A Central)
Key Losses:
Kyle Haliburton, 6-2, Forward

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Amir Martinez, So., 5-11, Guard

Chris Galasso, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Jayden Elijah, So., 6-7, Center

Colin Haluska, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Chauncey Brown, So., 6-3, Forward


Off the Bench

Cameron Cooper, Jr., 6-0, Guard/Forward

Aaron Kalish, Sr., 5-8, Guard

Kahlil Herbert, Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward

Colin Chechel, Jr., 6-1, Forward

Brian Charles Gagneron, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Andrew Fanelli, Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward

Tyler Gunn, Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward

A.J. Fumarola, Sr., 6-0, Guard/Forward

Morgan Blake Gagneron, So., 5-11, Forward

E.J. Gutridge, So., 6-2, Forward

Kishan Solanki, Jr., 6-2, Guard/Forward

Jack Ivers, So., 5-10, Guard

Welman Crooms Jr., Fr.

Trevor Cole, Fr.


5. Freehold Boro

It is difficult to sugarcoat a season that ended with an unsightly 0-21 record, but there were a few opportunities last year for Freehold Boro to feel at least mildly encouraged. The lineup was very young overall, with Christia DiGiso, Will Hon and Brian Tassey all starting as underclassmen – including Tassey as a freshman. The Colonials also lost some close games to a number of quality programs: Lacey by two points in overtime, Colts Neck by three, Neptune by one, Toms River North by three and Middletown North by three. It’s hardly consolation when a team does not get one opportunity to celebrate a win, but those games could easily go the other way now that Freehold Boro is a year better.

DiGiso and Passey will be the top producers for Freehold Boro over the next two seasons and they are hoping to start to see the makings of a dangerous duo this winter, including on the defensive end, where Tassey blocked better than two shots per game. Hon will also be a stable presence in the back court along with DiGiso and senior returnee Mike Bisaha, who contributed off the bench as a junior.

Junior Sam Cranwell rounds out the starting five that, even with some help from the bench, will hold the key to unlock some wins for the Colonials after getting shutout in 2021-22. With some close calls last year to learn from and plenty of players back who experienced those games first hand, all signs point to a significantly better season for Freehold Boro.

Head Coach: Ben DiBiase, 13th season
2021-22 Record: 0-21 (0-10, sixth in Class B North)
Key Losses:
Joe Caleo, 5-11, Guard; Timmy Springer, 6-0, Guard

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Christian DiGiso, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Will Hon, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Mike Bisaha, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Brian Tassey, So., 6-2, Forward

Sam Cranwell, Jr., 6-0, Forward


Off the Bench

Haidyn Reed, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Cam Crooms, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Damier Lester, Fr., 5-11, Guard

Mike Cush, Fr., 5-10, Guard

Matt Giufridda, Jr., 6-0, Forward

Aidan Hamlin-Woolfolk, So., 6-2, Forward

Kevin Gartz, Sr., 5-11, Guard


6. Long Branch

Like Freehold Boro, Long Branch lost 21 gams in 2021-22, but the Green Wave distinguished themselves from their new division mates by winning a game against Sayreville in the Buc Classic consolation bracket. The Green Wave also did not have a lot of close losses to boast, but it didn’t help Long Branch playing in a Class A North division with the likes of Marlboro, CBA, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Middletown South – nary a pushover in the bunch. Later in the year, however, the Green Wave put together competitive games against Ocean and Brick, which were something to build on heading into the offseason.

The Green Wave come back this season with senior swingman Bruce Gooding leading the way after leading Long Branch in scoring as a junior. Gooding lost some backcourt support with the graduation of Christian Rodriguez and the graduation of promising guard Devin Jones, who transferred to Jackson Memorial for his junior season. The Green Wave will have some inside presence with which to back up Gooding, with Anubis Roman and Amari Menter back in the lineup as 6-2 forwards.

Senior Roberto Perez will assume point guard duties when Long Branch wants to get Gooding off the ball, while 6-5 junior Peter Da’Cruz has the look of an x-factor for Long Branch’s season given his size and room for growth in his game. There is undoubtedly work to do for Long Branch, but the Green Wave showed at the end of last year that teams more its speed could be beat and now, they are positioned to play more winnable games, especially with a proven scorer back.

Head Coach: Darnell Tyler, third season
2021-22 Record: 1-21 (0-12, seventh in Class A North)
Key Losses:
Christian Rodriguez, 5-9, Guard; Justin Fisher, 5-7, Guard; Devin Jones, Jr., 5-10 (Transferred to Jackson Memorial)

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Roberto Perez, Sr., 5-7, Guard

Bruce Gooding, Sr., 6-2, Guard

Peter Da'Cruz, Jr., 6-5, Forward

Anubis Roman, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Amari Menter, Sr., 6-2, Forward


Off the Bench

Havier Gonzalez, So. 5-5 Guard

Richard Rivera, Jr. 5-8 Guard

Jermandy Rosado, Jr., 5-7, Guard

Joseph Corley, So., 6-0, Forward

Ny'Shaun Gayle, Sr., 6-1, Forward


Class A Central Starting Five (With 2021-22 Stats)

Nick Seeloch, Holmdel (14.0 points)

Ben Kipnis, Holmdel (13.5 points)

Jack O’Leary, Raritan (12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds)

Connor Howard, St. John Vianney (6.6 points, 3.7 rebounds)

Colin Haluska, Matawan (13.0 points, 4.0 rebounds)


Breakout Players to Watch

Emanuel Domingo, St. John Vianney

Jack Coleman, Raritan

Jayden Elijah, Matawan

Brian Tassey, Freehold Boro

Jordan Winnik, St. John Vianney


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