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With a lightened load of games in 2021 and a number of high-profile programs still waiting to open their seasons, the first in-season installment of the Shore Sports Network Top 10 does not feature a lot of movement. With that being said, every game is magnified in 2021 – not only because there are fewer of them but because that fewer collection of games will determine the eight teams that get to play for the de facto Shore Conference championship during the final week of the season.

Starting next week, we will give you a look at how the entire Shore Conference ranks leading up to playoff week, but for now, we’ll highlight the 10 best teams in the conference in the moment. See where we stand heading into February and check back next week as we begin to forecast the postseason picture.

1. Manasquan (2-0) Preseason Rank: 1

In two games, Manasquan has not done anything to lose its No. 1 spot in the rankings, but the Warriors will have to wait for a chance to prove they are indeed the Shore’s best team in 2021. Manasquan and Ranney were scheduled to meet twice in the upcoming week and that meeting will, at the very least, have to wait until later in the season with Manasquan shutting down for two weeks to follow COVID-19 protocol. So far, Ben Roy looks like the Player of the Year front-runner again and while the Warriors are still working out their rotation and finding new roles, senior Andrew Solomon has been an early bright spot as a new starter.

2. Ranney (2-0) Preseason Rank: 2

Neptune stayed with Ranney in the two games this past week, but the Panthers showed at different points late in those games that they are going to be really difficult to put away. They boast four players 6-foot-6 or taller and on top of that, they appear to have the best backcourt duo in the Shore Conference. Returning junior standout Elijah Perkins and sophomore transfer Isaac Hester are off to fast starts, with Hester erupting for 30 points in Friday’s win at Neptune and Perkins scoring 20 on 9-for-11 shooting in the same game. This coming week was supposed to offer an opportunity for Ranney to jump to No. 1, but that will have to wait with Manasquan shutting down. A win at CBA on Saturday, however, could inch the Panthers closer.

3. Marlboro (0-0) Preseason Rank: 3

The Mustangs will finally open their season Thursday against St. Peter’s Prep, which should provide a good look at how ready the Mustangs are following their quarantine and how good they might be once they get rolling. The season was supposed to start with two games vs. rival CBA and Manalapan’s shutdown wiped out what was supposed to be Marlboro’s new opener, but there is still plenty to look forward to this week. On top of that, the two CBA games are scheduled to be made up so Marlboro will still have a chance to make its case as one of the Shore’s best.

4. Christian Brothers Academy (0-1) Preseason Rank: 4

With Marlboro shutting down during the first week, CBA had to pick up an opponent and made the trip to Princeton to face a prep-school program in Hun. While the Colts were saddled with an opening-night loss, they got to get work in against a balanced, well-prepared team that should further prepare CBA for its tough Shore Conference schedule. The Colts start this coming week against an improve, 2-0 Freehold Boro team out to make a statement, followed by a visit to the Academy by No. 2 Ranney.

5. Red Bank Catholic (2-0) Preseason Rank: 5

The Caseys handled their business in two games vs. a rebuilding Long Branch squad and showed off their array of young talent in the two wins. Juniors Alex Bauman and Cyril Arvanitis each had a big scoring night last week, classmate C.J. Ruoff was in double-figures both games, and freshmen Zach Meeks and Gio Panzini both made their presence felt. RBC has winnable games to open the season, but after facing Shore Regional twice this week, the Caseys are scheduled to face a Monmouth Regional team that beat RBC once last year. After those first six games to open the year, the schedule picks up with a final six against Holmdel, Red Bank (twice), Rumson-Fair Haven (twice) and Ranney.

6. Wall (0-0) Preseason Rank: 6

After being the first Shore Conference team to shut down, Wall returned to practice last week and its scheduled to be back on the floor for their first game of the season Tuesday against Neptune in a rematch of last year’s NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game. The Crimson Knights return four experienced, battle-tested starters who have seen significant minutes over the past two seasons, so if any team can handle being locked out for two weeks and jumping back in against a competitive opponent, Wall would be among the most equipped.

7. Holmdel (2-0) Preseason Rank: Not ranked

It has only been two regular-season games and a scrimmage, but Holmdel is quickly showing it has not fallen off all that much – if at all – after graduating most of its 2020 rotation that went 23-5 and finished No. 2 at the Shore. For what it’s worth, the Hornets beat Rumson-Fair Haven in a preseason game, then convincingly handled a well-coached Colts Neck team littered with successful two-sport standouts. Alex Baker is again showing an All-Shore form, seniors Ryan Bradley and Kyle Polivka have flourished in bigger roles, and freshman James Vallillo has made an instant impact as a perimeter scorer. The schedule gradually picks up over the next two weeks, with two upcoming games against a promising Middletown North team and two more next week against a talented St. John Vianney squad that will lead into a Feb. 12 game at Red Bank Catholic.

8. Neptune (0-2) Preseason Rank: 8

Neptune’s No. 8 ranking remains intact despite a 0-2 start to the 2021 season. The Scarlet Fliers stayed close with Ranney on opening night and were within striking distance in the third quarter again on Friday before the Panthers pulled away. The schedule is unforgiving and a out-of-pod game against Manalapan is now off because of Manalapan’s shutdown, so Neptune is going to have an even tougher time finding wins. As the Fliers showed against Ranney, though, they can compete at a high level and if they can beat Wall once this week, that would be a significant statement in trying to build a postseason resume.

9. Rumson-Fair Haven (1-0) Preseason Rank: 9

After winning a hard-fought battle against Ridge-Road-rival Red Bank, Rumson found out it had to shut down for two weeks because of a COVID case on Red Bank’s team that might have exposed the players on the Bulldogs. It is a discouraging episode to be sure, but the Bulldogs will be back in time to play some good competition that will give them a chance to move into the top eight. Of course, the challenge will be staying sharp for two weeks and staying healthy for the remainder of the year – particularly Rumson’s standout junior duo of Geoff Schroeder and Scott Gymesi.

10. Freehold Township (1-0) Preseason Rank: 7

Freehold Township is another top-10 team that had to shut down this past week due to a COVID-19 case. It is gut-wrenching setback for a team with 10 seniors who could wind up losing two games on the schedule against No. 3 Marlboro – which would have represented an opportunity to nail down a top-eight spot for the postseason. Freehold Township is still in line to get two shots at CBA and there is a chance the Patriots could make up one or two of the games they lost due to the COVID-19 protocol, but it will be a long two weeks for a senior-heavy Patriots team hungry to end 2021 on a high note.

 

Dropped Out

Mater Dei Prep (0-2) Preseason Rank: 10 – The Seraphs took their licks in losing to Olympus Prep and the Patrick School but that should get them ready for games against Don Bosco, Trenton Catholic and Ranney. In order to grab a spot in the championship playoff pod, the Seraphs will have likely have to steal one of those games.

 

Edit: This post was updated to reflect that it was not a case at Manalapan that exposed Freehold Township to the virus. Manalapan has also shut down for two weeks after playing Freehold Township on opening night.