NJSIAA Tournament of Champions


Sunday, March 19

At Pine Belt Arena, Toms River

No. 2 Manasquan (30-2) vs. No. 3 Red Bank Catholic (28-3), Noon

The Red Bank Catholic and Manasquan girls basketball teams have already played twice during this past regular season, but Sunday’s meeting between the Shore Conference Class B North rivals will be anything but routine.

In fact, the meeting will represent a first for the Shore Conference, which is in the midst of a run of dominance among all of the conferences in the state.

Sunday at Pine Belt Arena, Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic will represent the Shore Conference in the Tournament of Champions final four despite the fact that neither of them played in the Shore Conference Tournament championship game. This will mark the first time that has happened in the semifinals or finals of the T of C.

The NJSIAA Tournament of Champions began in 1989 and that was both the first and last year that the Shore Conference was not represented by at least one team. Although the Shore has been in the T of C in some form or fashion during the tournament’s 29-year history, games pitting two Shore opponents against one another have only recently become a regular occurrence.

There have been 13 Shore-vs.-Shore games in the T of C prior to Sunday’s game and nine of them have come since 2007. Of those 13, 11 have been a matchup in which at least one of the teams played in the Shore Conference Tournament final.

The first time two Shore Conference teams that did not make the SCT final met in the Tournament of Champions was in 2000, when Toms River North defeated St. Rose in the quarterfinal round. It happened again in 2009, when Colts Neck defeated Rumson-Fair Haven in the quarterfinals before upsetting Malcolm X Shabazz in the following round and losing to St. John Vianney in the final.


Tournament of Champions games between Shore teams

1996: Red Bank Catholic vs. Rumson-Fair Haven (Semis)

1997: St. John Vianney vs. RBC (Semis)

2000: Toms River North vs. St. Rose (Qtrs)

2000: RBC vs. TR North (Final)

2007: Rumson vs. RBC (Qtrs)

2009: Colts Neck vs. Rumson (Qtrs)

2009: SJV vs. Colts Neck (Final)

2010: Neptune vs. SJV (Final)

2011: Neptune vs. SJV (Semis)

2012: Manasquan vs. St. Rose (Semis)

2015: St. Rose vs. SJV (Semis)

2015: Manasquan vs. St. Rose (Final)

2016: SJV vs. Manasquan (Final)


While the historical element of the above facts may or may not register with the players on either side Sunday, the strength of the conference reflected in those facts is not. The Red Bank Catholic players said they knew all along their toughest test in reaching the T of C semifinals would be beating St. John Vianney in the South Jersey Non-Public A semifinals, and they were right. RBC needed a late surge to get by the Lancers – who beat Red Bank Catholic in the SCT semifinals – and since then have won three games by an average of nearly 18 points.

Manasquan’s SCT run ended in overtime at the hands over eventual champion St. Rose in the semifinals. Since that loss, the Warriors have routed four of their six opponents and also beat a strong Newark Tech team, 68-61. The lone close call Manasquan escaped was against another Shore Conference opponent, Rumson-Fair Haven. Two Dara Mabrey free throws with 0.2 seconds left helped Manasquan survive, 67-66, and had Rumson pulled that win out and made it as far as Manasquan has, there would be a Shore Conference team that did not even reach the semifinals of its conference tournament playing for a Tournament of Champions title.

It should also be noted the two teams in the other semifinal – top-seeded Rutgers Prep and rival Franklin – are also the products of a county (Somerset) that has produced quality teams in recent years. Bound Brook also made the T of C this year, giving Somerset County half of this year’s Tournament of Champions participants.

Newark schools have also had dominant stretches in the Tournament of champions, but the broad range of participants from the Shore Conference since 2007 give the conference depth to go with dominance. Rutgers Prep and Franklin are the two best teams in Somerset County without much dispute, but St. Rose might object any notion that the winner of Sunday’s game could be considered one of the two best teams in N.J. considering St. Rose won the conference tournament. Meanwhile, St. John Vianney can claim a postseason win over one of the teams and Rumson was a controversial foul call away from beating the other.

This much is certain: Manasquan and Red Bank Catholic will play Sunday to determine which team will represent the Shore Conference in the Tournament of Champions final on Monday in Trenton. One of the two will have a chance to win the ultimate prize in N.J. basketball and stake its claim as the best team in the state – even if a few of their neighbors from the Shore remain unconvinced who the best team in the Shore Conference really is.


Manasquan vs. RBC this season

December: Mabrey carries Manasquan past RBC

January: Lola Mullaney's buzzer-beater sinks RBC