WALL TWP. - The 2015-16 season was the first in which former Mater Dei coach Bob Klatt had not been a head coach in 19 years and in that same season, while jumping on board as an assistant under head coach Matt Kukoda at Wall High School, he watched from afar as his former team won its first division championship in 11 years and its first ever Shore Conference Tournament title.

Four years later, Klatt got his next head coaching opportunity and on Monday night, his team got him that long-awaited division title.

After failing to clinch the outright Shore Conference Class B North division title in two losses last week, Wall - the No. 10 team in the Shore Sports Network Top 10 - finished the job Monday by beating Colts Neck, 51-45, for the program's second division title in five years.

Wall junior Quinn Calabrese defended by Colts Neck senior Sean Tice. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Wall junior Quinn Calabrese defended by Colts Neck senior Sean Tice. (Photo by Matt Manley)

"If you told me coming into the year we would be B North champs and be 14-5 heading toward the Shore Conference Tournament, I would have thought, 'Maybe next year,'" Klatt said. "They are a young group, they work hard, they love being around each other and the coaches love being around them. It's just a great atmosphere. "

Klatt was dismissed as Mater Dei's head coach just before his 20th season in favor of Ben Gamble, who won two Shore Conference titles in three years before resigning. Klatt joined Kukoda's staff the year after the Crimson Knights won their last B North title in 2014-15.

Kukoda, who coincidentally led Wall to a division title in his first season as head coach as well, stepped down after the 2017-18 season and Klatt shifted to head coach.

"This has been a great opportunity for me, not just this year but coming on with coach Kukoda four years ago," Klatt said. "I did want to prove - prove to myself - that I could still do this. It's good to see the kids having success and responding to what we're teaching."

Wall's young, balanced, cohesive squad was on full display Monday night in bringing home the division title. Its Senior Night ceremony honored just two seniors - Trey Dombroski and Cam Johnson - and those seniors combined for two points on the night.

Sophomore Pat Lacey scored a game-high 17 points to pace Wall's offensive attack and junior Quinn Calabrese (12 points) and freshman Colin Ackerman both reached double-figures as well.

"We definitely felt like we had a legitimate shot to win (the division) this year," Lacey said. "We just come out every day and try to execute what we're trying to do in practice and in the games."

At 16.6 points per game, Calabrese leads Wall in scoring and that number has come down over the last two weeks after peaking at over 19 per game. Although he poured in four points below his season average, Calabrese came through with one of the game's biggest baskets - a drive the the basket for a two-handed dunk that gave Wall the lead for good at 42-40 with 4:30 left to play.

Colts Neck was playing for a spot in the Shore Conference Tournament, which it could have clinched with a win. Head coach Lou Piccola is also one win away from the 600th of his career and should he and his team pick that win up on Thursday against Neptune or Saturday against Freehold Township, the Cougars would qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament despite graduating five starters from last year.

Senior Brian Hill led Colts Neck with 16 points while senior Andrew Abujawdeh scored 10 of his 12 in the second half. Sophomore Rich Lee also chipped in 10 points for the Cougars.

Wall won its first 10 Class B North games and was the first Shore Conference team to clinch at least a share of a division championship. Last week, however, Wall dropped a home game to Neptune and then lost on a three-pointer at the buzzer at Ocean. With Neptune on a seven-game division winning streak, Wall had to win its way to a division championship.

"I think this will help us as we get into February and hopefully into March," Lacey said. "We have played a lot of close games so we have gotten used to being in these situations."

Last year's Wall team failed to qualify for the Shore Conference Tournament by one game despite then-senior Steve Geis leading the Shore Conference with 778 points for the season (28.8 points per game). Without its top scoring source from a year ago, the Crimson Knights have overhauled their approach with Klatt at the helm.

"They are learning on the job," Klatt said. "They come to work hard every day and we're not showing them the report card - they just put the work in and we don't worry how it's going to turn out. Everything this year is a bonus. It's a young group, it's a fun group. I have some great young assistant coaches. Everything we accomplish this year is a bonus."


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