Heading into the 2016 Shore Conference lacrosse season there is no question who the top team is.

Rumson-Fair Haven made history last season when it won the NJSIAA Group I title with an overtime victory over Mountain Lakes, becoming the first Shore Conference team to win a state group title. The Bulldogs return most of their starters and are ready to reclaim the Shore Conference Tournament title while aiming to get back to the state title game, this time in Group II.

The team on the rise is Manasquan, which reached the SCT semifinals last season and returns almost its entire team led by a standout junior class. The Warriors also have several promising freshman in the fold and should be a fun team to watch.

Southern graduated the senior class that put it on the map, including two-time Shore Sports Network Player of the Year Dylan Jinks, but the Rams should still be one of the best in the conference.

Longtime stalwart CBA is always in the mix, while teams like Ocean and Jackson Liberty are looking to continue their climbs up the conference ladder.

Rumson and Manasquan look to be in a class by themselves this season, but as the conference grows so does the competition. Last season was wide open outside of Rumson and Southern, and this year should see more of the same from the teams ranked third and lower.

Lacrosse Top 10


1. RUMSON-FAIR HAVEN (18-6, B North champs, SCT runner-up, SJ-I champs, Group I champs)

The Bulldogs return the core of their team coming off the program's first NJSIAA Group I title as they look to win another state championship and make a run in the Tournament of Champions. Senior Robbie Garavente, a returning SSN first-team All-Shore selection who is signed to Lafayette College, leads the offense on the attack line after scoring 80 points (46 goals, 34 assists) last season. The entire attack line returns for Rumson with seniors Griffin Schultz (30g, 16a) and Henry Sillen (29g, 18a) also back to give the Bulldogs arguably the Shore's top group up front. Juniors Charlie Curran and Colin Pavluk should also see significant time. Curran scored 20 goals with eight assists last season and Pavluk had 16 goals and three assists. Sophomore Wyatt Feinberg rounds out the second group of attackmen.

Juniors Bryan Hess and Matt Waters anchor the midfielders after playing crucial roles as sophomores. Hess, who is committed to Lafayette, scored 23 goals and had 45 ground balls last season while Waters scored 14 goals with six assists. Junior Ryan Tuorto (5g, 6a), senior Lachlan Hull (3g, 58 ground balls) and junior Alex Werner comprise the rest of the middies. Senior Butch Clark returns as the team's face-off specialist.

Rumson graduated standout defenders Cooper Cuje and Jack Moore, but return a very good group led by senior Ian Clarke (nine forced turnovers, 23 ground balls) and junior Emmett Jennings (19 forced turnovers, 25 ground balls. Junior Dan Maloney and sophomore Stephen Edler return after seeing time last season, and the group welcomes freshman Tommy Bavuso into the fold.

Rumson has a few options in goal with senior Kyle Knapp (.600 save percentage, 113 saves) and junior Conor Deverin (.700 save percentage, 106 saves) each back. Both started several games last season. The Bulldogs also have senior Daniel Browne (.800 save percentage, 16 saves).

After making history last season as the first Shore Conference team to win a state group championship and reach the T.O.C., Rumson has the goods to make another run at multiple championships. The Bulldogs are the favorite to take back the Shore Conference Tournament title after falling to Southern in last season's finals. Their schedule is brutal once again, but as we saw last season it's not about what happens in April. Rumson limped to an 0-4 start last year that had some predicting a down year. Instead the Bulldogs turned in their best season ever. Expect this group to be playing into late May.


2. MANASQUAN (15-4, B South champs, SCT semifinalists, SJ-I quarterfinalists)

The Warriors re-emerged as a Shore Conference power last season, and with almost their entire team returning plus a very promising freshman class Manasquan should be a championship contender at the division, conference and state levels this season.

Manasquan is led by a standout junior class that is headlined by returning leading scorer Jarrett Birch. The attackman scored a team-high 50 goals and added 17 assists last season and is off to a fast start this season. Junior Joe Tonkovich (23g, 17a) also returns, and the two are joined by standout freshman Canyon Birch, who is already committed to Army. The younger Birch has already made his presence felt with 11 goals in his first three games. Senior Joe Incorvati will also see playing time up front.

The Warriors biggest strength appears to be in the midfield where they have experience and depth. The first line of juniors Pat Felstedt (23g, 14a), John Moran (27g, 22a) and Devan Carroll (19g, 12a) are all returning starters, and another highly-touted freshman, James Pendergist, will see major minutes. Seniors Paul Krueger, Peter Degnan III and Conor Kinneally add depth with junior Matt Thermann serving as the face-off specialist. Freshman Riley Callahan could also see playing time. Senior Billy Wall is the long-tick midfielder and senior Matthew McGrady IV will serve as a utility player.

The defensive unit should also be a major strength for Manasquan with lock-down junior Kyle LeBlanc, a second-team SSN All-Shore selection, leading the way. Juniors Edmund Mallett, Chip Sarnasi and Tom Meyer along with senior Jim LaPoint form a tough unit. Freshman Jack Fabean III figures to be a cornerstone defender over his career and will also see playing time.

The Warriors have one of the top goalies in the Shore returning in junior Tom Pollock, who stopped 150 shots with a .610 save percentage last season. Freshman Mike LaPoint is the goalie of the future and will see action during the season.

The Shore got a glimpse of Manasquan's potential when the Warriors reached the SCT final four last season and gave eventual champion Southern a stern test. With a so many returning starters and some potential superstars entering as freshman, the time is now for the Warriors to make a serious run at an SCT title and go deep in the state playoffs.


3. SOUTHERN (18-1, A South champs, SCT champs, South Jersey Group IV quarterfinalists)

The Rams finally slayed the dragon that was Rumson-Fair Haven last season, beating the Bulldogs twice including a 16-6 win to claim the Shore Conference Tournament title, the first for an Ocean County school. Southern has reached three straight SCT championship games, won three consecutive Class A South division titles and won two state sectional titles over the past four years, but with a program-defining senior class having graduated the Rams have plenty of work to do to remain in the upper echelon of the Shore Conference.

The biggest loss was current University of Hartford freshman Dylan Jinks, a two-time SSN Player of the Year who scored an astonishing 420 career points and was one of New Jersey's best offensive players during his career. Also gone are standout midfielders Chris Smith and Shawn McManus, defenseman Mike Adragna and goalie Brendan Lefanto. Smith, McManus and Adragna were each first-team SSN All-Shore selections while Lefanto was on the second team. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but the cupboard isn't bare in Manahawkin. Several top players return and Southern has built a steady feeder program that should inject new stars into the lineup.

Senior attackman Nick Simonelli is the Rams' leading returning scorer after tallying 33 goals and 47 assists last season. He'll be joined on the attack line by junior Kyle Mulrane, who had 36 goals and nine assists last season. Sophomore Ryan McWhorter joins the starters after seeing limited time as a freshman. Junior Will Johnson is the top scoring midfielder after posting 26 goals with 10 assists, and brothers Jon and James Manzo team with him to form the first line of middies. Junior Giancarlo Disporto returns as a starter at defensive middie and senior Kyle Brown should also see time.

Despite graduating its top defenseman, Southern does return an experienced group of defenders to help first-year starting goalie Tristan Farina. Senior Evan Henken, an Eastern University recruit, senior defenseman/long-stick midfielder Anthony Triola and senior LSM Gordon Von Schmidt are all returning starters. Triola is committed to Hood College and Von Schmidt is headed to Albright.

The Rams remain the favorite in A South and are still one of the top teams in the Shore. Their offense can't possibly be as explosive as it was over the past four years, but their up-tempo style still has several capable scorers to keep them rolling. This is an important year for Southern's program to prove it can sustain heavy losses to graduation and consistently compete for championships.


4. CHRISTIAN BROTHERS ACADEMY (11-6, A North tri-champs, SCT quarterfinalists)

The Colts return their top four scorers from a season ago as they look to claim the outright division title and make a run at the Shore Conference Tournament championship.

A powerful attack line will be CBA's strength in 2016, as it features dynamic junior Nick Casner, potent scorer Michael Carroll and solid all-around senior Shay Walczak. Casner had 40 goals and 40 assists last season while Carroll, a sophomore, had a great freshman campaign with 44 goals and eight assists. Walczak netted 31 goals to go along with eight assists. Senior Cologialo Muscara was a 20-point player with nine goals and 12 assists last season, and will be the next man in up front.

Senior John Salcedo (17g, 13a) anchors the midfield with fellow seniors Justin Shea-Katz and Shane McGuiness. Seniors Chris Hayes and Andrew Rooney, and juniors Ryan Madalone and Finn Straine round out the returning midfielders.

The Colts will have to replace several key players in the back end, and how well they come together defensively will be a major key to their success. Junior Jack Koury and senior Trevor Einwechter lead the group with senior Gordon Paul and juniors Jack Croken and Richie Bartlewitz also in the mix. Junior Ryan McGuiness takes over as the starting goalie.

CBA should be a very good offensive team. The question marks are on defense and in goal where they are unproven. If the Colts can be a consistent defensive unit they should take the division title and challenge for the SCT title.


5. OCEAN (14-3, second place B North, SCT quarterfinalists, SJ-II quarterfinalists)

After a breakout season last year, the Spartans return their top three scorers as they look to make deeper runs in both the Shore Conference and state tournaments.

Senior Joey Appio was the best set-up man in the Shore last season with a conference-high 64 assists. He also scored 32 goals to finish with 96 points, the fourth best in the Shore. The team's leading goal scorer is also back with senior midfielder Erik Rant returning after scoring 60 goals and adding 12 assists, plus picking up 102 ground balls. Teaming with Rant in the midfield are senior Connor Daly, who netted 25 goals and added 29 assists last season, and sophomore Sam Hanna (27g, 15a).

Senior Alex Bravo returns as the face-off specialist after winning 70 percent of draws last season while the defensive is led by junior Clayton Hauck and sophomore Richie Bianchi. Junior David Walk is back as the starting goalie after making 145 saves with a .600 save percentage.

The Spartans have a lot back, but do have to replace some key parts such as ground-ball machine Steven Graziano and 50-point scorers Zack Karasic and Christian Goslin. Appio and Rant give Ocean two of the best players in the Shore, however, as it looks to continue its upward trend and try to reach the SCT final four.


6. RED BANK CATHOLIC (10-7, fourth place B North, SCT qualifiers)

Frank Finochio takes over as Caseys head coach after guiding Middletown South the last two seasons, and on his staff as an assistant is Don Femminella, who was Red Bank's coach for the last few seasons. They inherit a talented team that includes Sienna College-bound midfielder Brett Habich along with senior attackman Alec Mintz, senior midfielder Liam McArdle, senior goalie Matt Benjamin and sophomore midfielder James Mele.

Habich is a big, physical midfielder with a cannon of a shot, and is equally effective shooting or passing. He was an SSN third-team All-Shore selection last season and a first-team Class B North pick by the coaches. Mintz and McArdle had big games in a season-opening win over Marlboro and Mele is one of the top sophomores in the Shore Conference. Benjamin gives them an experienced goalie in front of a defense that has to account for the loss of SSN first-team All-Shore defenseman Matt Pieringer.

The Caseys should be near the top of the Class B North standings and make a play to reach the SCT final four.


7. FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP (15-6, A North tri-champs, SCT semifinalists, SJ-IV quarterfinalists)

The Patriots enjoyed their best season in program history last season in claiming a share of the Class A North division title and reaching the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals with a thrilling win over rival CBA. The challenge now is to sustain the success after graduating several standout players.

Ryan Eichner moves up from assistant to head coach, and the former SCT championship winner while the head man at Red Bank Catholic has a handful of returning starters looking to keep the Patriots among the Shore's best. Among the players Freehold Township lost to graduation are Class A North Player of the Year Billy Sasso, SSN first-team All-Shore defenseman Mike O'Brien, attackman Brandon Nunez and goalie Matt Schroepfer.

Juniors Josh Nastarowicz and Drew Dunn, and sophomore Chris Novella return after playing reserve roles last season and will form the top attack line. Senior Matt Lach will also see major minutes as an attacker. Junior Mike Ferdinandi is the top returning midfielder along with senior Jake Dudics and junior Mike Colicchia. Seniors Ty Sebor and Tyler Von Nessen, along with junior Shawn Poole, lead the defense.

The Patriots were blown out, 16-5 by Manasquan, in their season-opener, but it remains to be seen if that is a sign of growing pains for Freehold Township or if Manasquan is just that good.


8. JACKSON LIBERTY (11-7, third place B South, SCT quarterfinalists, SJ-III quarterfinalists).

Jackson Liberty's program reached new heights in 2015 by advancing to the quarterfinals of the Shore Conference Tournament, earning the program's first state playoff victory and beating rival Jackson Memorial for the first time. With a large group of returners at key positions the Lions look to build on that momentum and sustain a spot among the top 10 teams in the Shore.

Seniors Matt Ferullo and Tyler Kalmowitz lead the attack line with junior Randy Vengen, while seniors Christian Pongracz and Walter Matthies are the top returning midfielders. Ground ball ace Chris Stefanowicz is one of the top long-stick midfielder in the Shore Conference and gives the Lions great versatility. Sophomore midfielders Max Matthies and Thomas Ferullo along with junior attackman Ian O'Connor and junior middie Brad McKelvey round out the top offensive returners.

Seniors Austin Doel and Gio Colandrea lead the defense in front of standout goalie Christopher Mulholland. The Lions are out to a solid start at 2-0, including a 13-6 win over Howell.


9. WALL (9-7, second place Class B South, SCT qualifiers)

The Crimson Knights took a bit of a step back last season after graduating its top three scorers, but the emergence of a standout scorer and the growth of a previous reserve could have Wall enjoying a rebound season.

As a sophomore Mike Steppe was a second-line attackman, but as a junior he needed to assume more of a leadership role as the elder statesman up front. He flourished last season with 53 goals and 20 assists to finish top 15 in the Shore Conference in scoring. Finding secondary scoring was crucial, and that came from Michael McIntyre, who turned in a phenomenal freshman season with 41 goals and nine assists. Steppe and McIntyre will lead an offense that also includes senior midfielder Casey Foley, senior midfielder Lucas Iarossi, sophomore attackman/middie Tim O'Hern, junior attackman Chris Stone, junior middie Sean Ferguson and sophomore middie Ryan Kellett. Junior Evan Gacos is the face-off specialist.

Junior Joseph Belko, who is committed to Monmouth University, leads the defense with seniors Chris Kellett and Joe Fay and junior Jack Byrne. Senior Zach Harrell was the starting goalie last season and returns between the pipes. Freshmen Sean DeMott and Ryan Murphy will serve as his backups.


10. ST. JOHN VIANNEY (10-10, third place B North, SCT qualifiers)

Several teams have a legitimate claim for the final spot in the opening SSN Top 10, and its the Lancers with their solid group of returners that get the early nod.

Junior midfielder Ryan Gilfillan leads the way with seniors Tom Hanson, Conor Zielasnicki, Joe Rice and Gary Frost, junior Tino D'Amore and sophomore Josiah Walker also in the midfield. Junior Andrew Porretta leads the group of attackmen with junior Matt Swisher. D.J. Soriano is the top returning goalie in Class B North, and will play behind a defense that includes second-team all-division selection Mike Stapert, seniors Mike Gentile, Andrew Solari and Andrew Falcone and sophomore Ed Sheridan.

The key for St. John Vianney is consistency. The Lancers had wins over Freehold Township, Wall and Red Bank Catholic last season but also had a few disappointing losses.


Teams to watch:

Lacey (14-6, third place A South): Senior midfielder/face-off Ryan Mahon and junior midfielder Connor Wilson lead the way for the Lions with senior goalie Mike Trezza and senior LSM Corey Spatz leading the defense.

Howell (13-4, A North tri-champs): The Rebels graduated a ton and are very young and inexperienced this season. Senior midfielder Nic Rossi leads the way.

Toms River North (10-4, second place A South): Ryan Clancy, Josh Francis, Andrew Lombardi and Tom Butz lead a Mariners team looking to build off a successful bounce-back season.

Barnegat (10-5, fourth place B South, SCT quarterfinalists, SJ-I quarterfinalists): Rutgers recruit and senior midfielder J.J. McKenna leads the way for the Bengals after scoring 47 goals with 12 assists last season.


Lacrosse editor Bob Badders can be reached at badders@allshoremedia.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. 

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