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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of the spring season of New Jersey high school sports, dealing a crushing blow to everyone in the athletic community. No group has been hit harder than the athletes, especially seniors who were getting ready to enjoy their final season as a high school athlete.

All athletes were robbed of something, but there is a subset of players who will not get to partake in what was going to be their breakout season. For some seniors, the 2020 season was set to be the exclamation point of their career, a season where they finally put it all together to become one of the Shore Conference’s best. For others, this was going to be the year they finally got their chance to shine after being stuck behind superstars.

The best of the best in the Shore Conference are well known, and we’ve highlighted them in varying capacity throughout the spring. This time, we wanted to find out which boys lacrosse seniors were set to break out, so we reached out to each Shore Conference head coach to get their input. Over the next week, we’ll be featuring those players.

The feature will be broken down by division, which there are four of for boys lacrosse in the Shore Conference.

 

BREAKOUT SENIORS

CLASS B NORTH

 

HOLMDEL

David Burke, defenseman/LSM: Burke picked up 64 ground balls last season and also contributed four goals and seven assists. He will continue his career at Drew University.

“David was a senior leader for our team and was to be the focal point of our defense,” said Holmdel head coach Brendan Quinn. “He mainly ran LSM last year but his role was going to be expanded this year. He was going to be asked to do a lot for us on the defensive side of the ball.”

Christian Esposito, attackman: After a reserve role as a sophomore, Esposito was set to be a starting attackman for the Hornets as a junior before a fractured wrist in the preseason ended his season. He was again on track to be a starter for this season. He will attend Rutgers University in the fall.

“Christian was another senior leader of our team,” Quinn said. “He worked incredibly hard to get back to full health and was having a strong offseason and pre-season before COVID-19 shut down the season.”

 

MANASQUAN 

Matt Franzoni, midfielder: Franzoni has been among the most talented players in the Shore but has only played a combined two years of high school lacrosse. He played his entire freshman season at St. John Vianney before transferring back to his home district of Manasquan. He had to sit out the first half of his sophomore year after transferring and then during his junior year lost half the season to injury. He took a back seat to star midfielder James Pendergist and of course state scoring record-holder Canyon Birch, but was an integral part of Manasquan winning two Shore Conference Tournament titles and two NJSIAA South Group 1 sectional titles. He finished with 13 goals and four assists last season for the top-ranked Warriors and will continue his career at Marist College.

“He helped us tremendously on our run through the Shore Conference Tournament and on the way to the group title game (as a sophomore) and last year he lost half the season to an injury but was able to make it back in time to help us reach the group title game again,” said Manasquan head coach Sean Cunningham. “He was a no-brainer pick as a captain for this season and was – in my opinion – a legit candidate to be the Shore Conference Player of the Year when it was all said and done. Marist is getting one of the most athletic players I’ve ever coached and someone that’s always stood out on the field for us.” 

Mike Cielecki, attackman: Missing out on a senior season is especially rough for a player like Cielecki, who had patiently waited his turn while being stuck behind a tremendous group of attackmen, which last season included Canyon Birch, Ryan Anderson and Casey Mulligan. Despite the roadblocks, he still pushed for playing time and managed to tally 11 goals and six assists. He could have had a huge 2020 season.

“Mike was one of the best attackmen in the Shore last season but was stuck behind a loaded unit,” Cunningham said. “He was still good enough for us to try and find ways to get him on the field since he always made plays when he was out there. I was predicting a 90-point season for him at the X for us and I know he would have delivered on that.”

Quinn Burns, midfielder: An unheralded yet solid utility player for the Warriors, Burns found himself in the face-off circle, playing the wing, serving as a transition middie and playing on the man-down unit. He’s one of those players who are so crucial to have on a championship team because of the versatility he provides.

“Q-Burt has been a solid role player for us over the past two seasons doing a little bit of everything,” Cunningham said. “He’s a great overall middie that would have continued in that mild of throwback two-way mids we’ve been fortunate to have over the past several years. ?He would have helped give us a great 1-2 punch again at face-offs and running the wing, and has the offensive acumen to put up a good number of points for us, as well.” 

Tyler Callahan, LSM: Manasquan has been stacked at close defense and long-stick midfielder over the past few years, especially so in 2019. Callahan has played LSM, close defense and short-stick defensive midfielder for Manasquan throughout his career as an invaluable asset for the Warriors.

“Tyler is a natural LSM but started for us at close defense during his sophomore year where he really cut his teeth,” Cunningham said. “Last season he shifted to short-stick defensive midfielder since it made us a stronger team overall. His selflessness is a big reason why he was an easy choice for captain this year. He was moving back to his natural spot this season but was also an option for us to use as a D-mid to add depth and strengthen a man-down unit.”

 

NEPTUNE 

Tyron Hutchinson-Puryear, midfielder/face-offs: “Ty was our face-off guy who came on strong at the end of last season on offense,” said Neptune head coach Rob Schulte. “He’s quick and plays great defense.”

Hutchinson will continue his career at Rosemont College. 

Justin Bennett, defenseman: “Going into his third year as a varsity starter Justin really developed into our team’s best leader,” Schulte said. “He was named captain and was by far our best defensive player.” 

Ryan Gannon, midfielder: “Ryan was on pace for 35-plus goals last year when an elbow injury cost him over half the season,” Schulte said. “He was going to be our main offensive threat from the midfield and looked strong at practice at the start of this season. Unfortunately, losing most of his junior season and all of his senior season, he’s been overlooked by college teams. He will continue his academic career at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) next year.” 

Jared Poplawski: “A four-year varsity attackmen with three years as a starter,” Schulte said. “He was a consistent threat as a lefty attackman who looked poised to have another strong season as a goal-scorer.”

 

OCEAN 

Jack Nies, face-offs/defensive midfielder: “Jack had an incredible wrestling season and was going to continue his success on the lacrosse field this spring,” said Ocean head coach Kevin Preston. “He is a beast at the face-off X and is one of the better short-stick D-middies in the Shore. He would have been a standout player this year, leaving his mark on all parts of the field.”

Nies will attend American University on a wrestling scholarship.

 

RED BANK CATHOLIC 

Jack Zenkert, attackman: A third-team All-Shore selection last year, Zenkert had a huge junior season with 66 goals and 27 assists but RBC’s coaching staff believed he could have had an even bigger year as a senior. He is the leading returning goal-scorer in the Shore Conference and put together a three-year total of 152 goals and 48 assists for an even 200 points. He will attend Clemson University and play for the club lacrosse team.

“He would have had over 100 points this year for us and would have been up for player of the year and All-American,” said RBC head coach Don Femminella. 

Luke Gueci, defenseman: Gueci was a third-team All-Shore player last year and one of the top returning defenseman in the Shore Conference. His 161 ground balls were the fourth-most in the conference. He will continue his career at the Division 1 level at Manhattan College.

“He does everything for us, even face-off at times,” Femminella said. “He covers the other teams’ best players and is also an offensive threat with a long pole. He’s great on ground balls (258 in his career) as well as four goals and nine assists. Luke would have been a first-team All-Shore player and maybe up for All-American.” 

Kyle Harms, defensive midfielder: Harms missed his entire junior year with a knee injury but was ready to return as a lockdown defensive midfielder who counts great speed as one of his attributes. He is committed to play collegiately at Georgian Court University.

“He would have had a huge year,” Femminella said. “He clears, plays wing, covers top players and plays man-down. In his short career, he has 77 ground balls, 2 goals and 6 assists. He would have been an all-division player this year, if not All-Shore.” 

Jack Pollackov, attackman: Pollackov played midfield his first three years but was slated to move to the attack line to replace Ryan Schellin, who was the Caseys’ leading scorer last season. He had 18 goals and 36 assists in his career.

“I think he would have had a huge season and would have been an all-division player,” Femminella said. “He could have had at least 70 points for us as our No. 2 scorer.” 

Kyle Boggio, midfielder: A four-year starter, Boggio tallied 31 goals and 30 assists for his career. Femminella estimated Boggio could have nearly equaled those totals in his senior year.

 

RED BANK 

AJ Abarno, midfielder: Abarno tore his ACL during his freshman year and then played a limited role as a sophomore. Things began to click during his junior year when he scored 15 goals and added 11 assists.

“He was coming off a terrific senior year in football and we were anticipating getting similar production in lacrosse,” said Red Bank head coach Matt Norman. 

Brady Gilmartin, attackman: Gilmartin would have been a four-year varsity attackman. Over the past two seasons, he totaled 24 goals and 28 assists, including 14 goals and 23 assists last season. The Bucs were expecting him to blow past those totals as a senior.

Tor Haugenes, attackman/midfield: Haugenes did not play lacrosse as a freshman but was highly productive as both a sophomore and a junior, combining for 41 goals, 56 assists and 85 ground balls, including 22 goals and 30 assists last season.

“He would have been a major focal point of the offense,” Norman said. “He put in tremendous effort in the weight room during the offseason to get bigger, stronger and faster and was likely to move to the midfield. He was also slated to be one of our two senior captains.”

Kevin Screen: defenseman: Screen is a four-year starter who as a senior was going to be the leader of the Bucs’ defense corps. Along with Haugenes, he was going to be a team captain.

“This was going to be his year to command the defense and lock up the No. 1 opposing offensive player to showcase his abilities,” Norman said.

 

RUMSON-FAIR HAVEN

Sam Mannino, midfielder/attackman: The 2020 season would have been Mannino’s third at the varsity level, and through his two years on the field he played a variety of offensive roles for the Bulldogs. Rumson utilized his skills all over the offensive zone, from X to the top of the box. He tallied 28 goals and 11 assists last season. He will continue his career at Washington and Lee University.

“(Sam) has been an offensive utility knife for us, playing attack or midfield, in front of the cage or behind it,” said Rumson head coach Marc Moreau. “His improvement from last year from a skill standpoint, athletic standpoint and IQ was off the charts. Sam worked incredibly hard over the last year to be a complete lacrosse player and as coaches we were excited to see this play out on the playing field.” 

Liam Horan, defenseman: Rumson has had many first-team All-Shore defensemen over the years and Horan was trending to be the next. Including 2020, Horan was a three-year starter at close defense and was set to be the leader of the Bulldogs defense unit. He will continue his career at Gettysburg College.

“He has been a steady on-ball defender and has improved his skill and athleticism each year,” Moreau said. “However, the jump from last year to the beginning of this season has been tremendous. He is now the leader of the defense. He understands all the moving parts and he puts himself in a position where he is making his teammates better and, in turn, our team defense was getting better. He was ready to be a shutdown defender and leader at that end of the field. As coaches, we are disappointed we were not able to see this come to fruition.” 

Rowan Goldin, midfielder: Goldin began his career as an attackman but moved to the midfield for his sophomore and junior years. He tallied 35 goals and 21 assists last season for a balanced Rumson offense. He will continue his career at Kenyon College.

“He has always played much bigger than his size,” Moreau said. “Rowan was poised to be that consistent, everyday offensive threat in our offense. He has all the skill in the world and the experience he gained the previous two years had put Rowan in a position to be dominant. We wished we could have seen this play out.”

“Even though we did not get to see these guys compete this spring, the coaches at RFH are excited for them to continue their lacrosse careers and cannot wait to watch them play at the next level,” Moreau said.

 

WALL 

Ethan Doyle, attackman: Doyle sank 45 goals with 10 assists last season and was gearing up for an even more high-octane season. 

John Knight, midfielder: “John came into our first day of practice in the best shape I’ve ever seen him,” said Wall first-year head coach Victor Rivera. “He was really going to help us defensively while being a weapon in the clearing game. He was second on our team last year in ground balls and was destined to lead us in that category this year.” 

James Plisky, midfielder/attackman: Rivera was planning to deploy Plisky as both a midfielder and on the attack line to maximize his offensive versatility.

Brendan Richey: Richey was the backup varsity goalie for the last three years and was set to take over the starting job as a senior.

“Being the JV coach prior to this year I was able to watch Brendan grow as a goalie and he was more than ready to lead the defense this year,” Rivera said.

“John, Ethan and Brendan were all captains going into this year and did a tremendous job leading our team in offseason workouts and practices,” Rivera added. “Each player made my job as a first-year head coach a lot easier because of their outstanding leadership on and off the field. Our team is headed in the right direction going into next year and that is a testament to all our seniors. They truly will be missed!”

 

 

 

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.