It’s not every year that a boys basketball team at Marlboro enters the year with the expectations the Mustangs had for themselves in 2016-17.

The program had not won a Class A North championships since the early 1970’s, had never been past the round of 16 in the Shore Conference Tournament and had never won an NJSIAA sectional title, but the returning talent suggested this year could put an end to all of that waiting.

Those expectations took a dramatic hit before the calendar even made it to Christmas. Senior standout P.J. Ringel broke his left hand during the preseason, sophomore Dylan Kaufman started the season on the bench due to illness and senior Emir Anda – who missed all of his junior season due to a torn ACL – suffered a torn ACL in his other knee in just the second game of the season after scoring 19 points in an opening-night win over Neptune.

Before the season started, Mustangs fifth-year head coach Mike Nausedas had to stretch an already shallow rotation that was originally designed to be seven very good players. Although injuries appeared poised to end Marlboro’s hopes of a banner season, Nausedas kept the ship on course and still managed to lead his team to the best season in program history. For his efforts during Marlboro’s 18-7 season, he is the Shore Sports Network Coach of the Year.

Marlboro has been on a steady rise under fifth-year head coach Michael Nausedas. (Photo by Ray Richardson)
Marlboro has been on a steady rise under fifth-year head coach Michael Nausedas. (Photo by Ray Richardson)

Ringel’s hand injury cost him the first eight games of the season, but Marlboro managed to go 8-2 without him. Upon Ringel’s return, Marlboro lost a pair of regular-season meetings against Freehold Township and Neptune, which spoiled any chance the Mustangs had to win the Class A North division championship.

The postseason, however, gave the Mustangs new life and that’s when they made school history. After earning a first-round bye as the No. 6 seed in the Shore Conference Tournament, Marlboro routed perennial Ocean County power Lakewood in the round of 16 to reach the quarterfinals of the conference tournament for the first time in program history.

Marlboro was not finished making history. In the next round, the Mustangs upended A North champion Freehold Township, 69-59, to reach the Shore Conference Tournament semifinal.

While that was, arguably, the biggest win in school history at the time, it did not stay that way for long.

Two days after beating Freehold Township, Marlboro faced No. 2 seed Ranney, which was ranked No. 6 in N.J. at the time. Marlboro led most of the way and with the game tied at 43 in the final minute, senior Dan Weiss drilled a go-ahead three-pointer to break the tie and ultimately propel the Mustangs to a 50-47 upset win over the Panthers.

Playing in the Shore Conference Tournament final for the first time ever, Marlboro led, 32-29, late in the third quarter before Mater Dei Prep finally caught fire from the floor and put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter. It was a disappointing end to an improbable run, one that upset the notion that both Mater Dei and Ranney would coast into the SCT final.

With a deep SCT run weighing on its collective legs, Marlboro’s stay in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV playoffs was shorter than the Mustangs hoped. After beating Princeton in round one just two days after playing in the SCT final, Marlboro bowed out of the tournament with a 61-52 loss to Sayreville.

Photo by Larry Murphy
Photo by Larry Murphy

Nausedas did enough winning to earn the Coach of the Year honor, but he also showed a sense of the moment that is bigger than basketball. In that state tournament win over Princeton, the Mustangs held a sizable fourth-quarter lead and Nausedas was about ready to remove his starters. On that particular day, though, he told senior Salomon Nachum – a special needs student and the team manager for three years – to suit up and be ready to play if the time came.

The time did come and Nausedas pointed to Nachum – affectionately known within the Marlboro community as “Shlomo” – and told him to take the court for live game action during the state tournament. Not only did Shlomo get to play in a state tournament game; he made a shot. He snatched up the rebound on his own miss and fired it back up for his first career basket, which, again, came during state tournament play.

Nausedas and athletic director Dave Ryden were hoping to pick up a game between the Shore Conference Tournament and state tournament to give Nachum a chance to have a moment like that, but Marlboro’s deep SCT run prevented that. Instead of ruling out the possibility, Nausedas kept an open mind and was ready to give his hard-working manager a chance to shine if the opportunity presented itself.

Marlboro also played the season in front of the backdrop of personal tragedy for Ringel, who lost his father, Jack, in a car accident on Oct. 30. Jack Ringel was a Hall of Fame coach at Grady High School in Brooklyn and his influence on the Marlboro team was significant. The Mustangs embraced playing for Ringel while he was out and followed his leadership once he returned.

Now that Marlboro’s best season in recent memory is over, Nausedas will try to keep it going while returning two starters next year. There is a foundation in place for the Mustangs to carry their success into the coming years, but even if this year represents the apex for the foreseeable future, it was a memorable ride that Nausedas and his boys gave Marlboro High School.


Honorable Mention

There is not normally an honorable mention section to the Coach of the Year article, but there were so many exceptional jobs done within the Shore Conference this year and they should not go unrecognized.

Rory Caswell continues to raise the bar at Toms River North (28-3) and his sixth season was the best of his tenure. The Mariners won a school-record 28 games, reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals for the third straight year and made it to the South Jersey Group IV final for the first time in program history. Toms River North lost to Shawnee in triple-overtime in the sectional final and had the ball trailing by one point with 20 seconds left an SCT semifinal loss to Mater Dei.

Chris Champeau is just two years removed from winning Coach of the Year and despite the ever-growing expectations, Rumson exceeded them this year. The Bulldogs lost all-time leading scorer Brendan Barry to graduation and 6-6 junior shot-blocking savant Elijah McAllister to two knee injuries, but still managed to go 24-3 and win the program’s first NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II title in 44 years.

The Central Jersey Group IV bracket is one of the more balanced brackets in the state, which make’s Freehold Township’s three consecutive trips to the sectional final all the more impressive. Brian Golub led the Patriots back to the sectional final this year as part of a 26-3 campaign that also included the team’s first outright A North title since 2012.

Tyler Schmelz took over the program at his alma mater, Red Bank Catholic, a year after the Caseys missed the Shore Conference Tournament and graduated their two leading scorers. RBC enjoyed a bounceback year under Schmelz, finishing 17-10 and winning a share of the Class B North division title. Red Bank Catholic also beat Neptune on the road in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament and beat Paul VI in the first round of the South Jersey Non-Public A playoffs.

Finally, Mater Dei Prep entered the season with sky-high expectations and lived up to them by winning the Shore Conference Tournament championship and finishing the season 25-4 under coach Ben Gamble. Once the Seraphs got Kyle Cardaci in the mix in mid-January, they won 16 straight games before losing to Tournament of Champions winner Patrick School in the state tournament. In Gamble’s two years, Mater Dei is 51-6 with two Shore Conference Tournament titles.


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