NJSIAA BOYS LACROSSE GROUP 1 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

WHO: Manasquan (21-0) vs. Mountain Lakes (16-2)

WHEN: Wednesday, May 29, 5 p.m.

WHERE: Feeney Field at Shore Regional High School - 132 Monmouth Park Hwy, West Long Branch, NJ

MANASQUAN’S ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Defeated Dayton, 19-0, in the first round of the sectional tournament; defeated Madison, 16-8, in the quarterfinals; defeated Shore Regional, 16-2, in the semifinals; defeated Glen Ridge, 10-2, in South Group 1 sectional final.

MOUNTAIN LAKES’ ROAD TO THE STATE FINAL: Defeated Parsippany, 16-0, in the first round of the sectional tournament; defeated Hackettstown, 16-2, in quarterfinals; defeated Kinnelon, 14-2, in semifinals; defeated Glen Rock, 12-4, in North Group 1 sectional final.

MANASQUAN’S BEST WINS: 15-2 and 12-7 over Christian Brothers Academy; 13-2 and 14-4 over Rumson-Fair Haven; 11-7 over Bridgewater-Raritan; 16-2 over Shore Regional; 18-2 over Southern Regional.

MOUNTAIN LAKES’ BEST WINS: 18-3 over Ramapo; 15-3 over Northern Highlands; 14-6 over Don Bosco Prep; 6-4 over Ridgewood; 10-3 over Chatham; 13-8 over West Morris Central.

MANASQUAN STAT LEADERS 

-Canyon Birch, Sr., A: 115 goals, 50 assists

-Ryan Anderson, Sr., A: 48 goals, 66 assists

-Casey Mulligan, So., A: 34 goals, 26 assists

-James Pendergist, Sr., M: 24 goals, 12 assists

-Robert Pendergist, Fr., M: 15 goals, 6 assists

-Casey Campbell, Sr., M: 19 goals, 3 assists

-Mike Page, Sr., LSM: 10 goals, 2 assists

-Matt Franzoni, Jr., M: 12 goals, 4 assists

 

MOUNTAIN LAKES STAT LEADERS 

-Trevor Glavin, Sr., A: 48 goals, 45 assists

-Spencer Goodbar, Sr., M: 46 goals, 9 assists

-Tristan Plotts, So., M: 36 goal, 8 assists

-Drew Brennfleck, Sr., M: 20 goals, 13 assists

-Matt Palazzi, Sr., M/A/FO: 16 goals, 15 assists, 117 ground balls, 71% face-off win percentage

-Mike Cabana, Sr., A: 20 goals, 7 assists

-John Holda, Jr., M/FO: 66% face-off win percentage, 56 ground balls

-Harrison Thompson, Sr., G: 76 saves, .593 save percentage

Manasquan senior LSM Mike Page. (Photo by Paula Lopez/palimages.com).

Over the last five seasons, Manasquan’s boys lacrosse team has transformed itself from a solid Shore Conference program to the area’s flagship team and one of the top squads in all of New Jersey. The Warriors have won multiple division titles, three straight Shore Conference Tournament championships and three NJSIAA state sectional titles. The trophy case is well-stocked, but there is still one notable void.

On Wednesday, Manasquan and its program-defining senior class will try to leap over the one hurdle it has yet to clear and bring home a New Jersey state group title. To do so, however, the Warriors will have to defeat one of the state’s storied programs led by a legendary coach in the midst of a vintage season.

Standing in Manasquan’s way is Mountain Lakes, the No. 2-ranked team in the NJ.com Top 10 that, like No. 4 Manasquan, is loaded with Division 1 talent and led by a fantastic senior class. The Lakers cruised to their seventh straight North, Group 1 sectional crown with a 12-4 win over Glen Rock and have their eyes set on claiming their fifth Group 1 title in the last seven years. Mountain Lakes’ leader, head coach Tim Flynn, is a mythic figure in lacrosse in the Garden State with 672 career victories, which is fourth nationally and the most of any active coach in the country. He’s been the Lakers’ head coach since 1979 and has presided over numerous championships.

Manasquan and Mountain Lakes met in last season’s Group 1 final with the Lakers jumping out to a 6-2 lead after the first quarter and never looking back on their way to a 16-7 win at Livingston High School. Mike Cabana sank a game-high six goals and Brown University recruit Trevor Glavin dished out a whopping nine assists, but it was the play of face-off ace Matt Palazzi that keyed Mountain Lakes’ fast start, which featured two goals in the game’s first 90 seconds. Palazzi, who is committed to the University of Pennsylvania, dominated the face-off X and also scored a pair of goals. Manasquan just didn’t have enough possession early on and Lakes’ dangerous offense capitalized on its major advantage in offensive-zone time.

Manasquan’s face-off combo of Max Pauwels and Quinn Burns has a major challenge in front of it, no doubt, but the Warriors can counter with excellent wing play from senior LSM Mike Page and senior midfielder Riley Callahan. The damage can also be minimalized if Manasquan can prevent Palazzi from winning draws clean and releasing free into the offensive zone.

Manasquan senior defenseman Jack Fabean. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell).

Another counterpunch for a dominant opposing face-off middie is a defense that can consistently get stops and clears, and Manasquan certainly has that. Senior defenseman Jack Fabean, a University of Richmond signee, leads a talented and aggressive Warriors defense that has allowed a paltry three goals per game this season. Fabean combines uncanny instincts with great stick skills to lead the way in front of another of Manasquan’s standout seniors, University of Tampa-bound goalie Mike LaPoint. Junior Tommy Shaughnessy and sophomore Mike Farrell team with Fabean to form a top-level close defense unit. Page is among the state’s best LSMs and the Syracuse signee has been dynamite this season whether it be guarding the opposition’s top midfielder, forcing turnovers in the middle of the field or contributing to the offense with transition points (10 goals, two assists).

The offense Manasquan will be trying to slow down is led by Glavin and senior midfielder Spencer Goodbar, both of whom are committed to Brown University, along with University of Virginia-bound senior midfielder Drew Brennfleck, senior Mike Cabana, sophomore Tristian Plotts and of course Palazzi on face-offs. Palazzi has been more of an offensive mainstay this season, as well, with career-highs in goals (16), assists (15) and points (31) to go along with a fantastic 71% winning percentage at the face-off X.

For Manasquan’s offense, the conversation starts with the most prolific scorer in New Jersey history: senior attackman Canyon Birch. The Penn State signee has scored 389 goals and recorded 554 points in his record-setting career and has banked a state-leading 115 goals and 50 assists for a state-best 165 points this season. He is the focal point of Manasquan’s offense and of course the top bullet point in the game plans for opposing teams.

Manasquan senior attackman Canyon Birch. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell).

While Birch is the headliner, the Warriors’ offense is much more than one player. Senior attackman Ryan Anderson is one of the more underrated players around and has over 100 goals and 100 assists in his career, including 48 goals and 66 assists this season. Rutgers University recruit James Pendergist is a do-it-all threat in the midfield and his younger brother, freshman middie Robert Pendergist, has come on strong in the second half of the season and elevated his play in Manasquan’s most important games. Joining Birch and Anderson on the attack line is sophomore Casey Mulligan, a burgeoning star who has a knack for the net that all great attackman possess. Senior Casey Campbell and junior Matt Franzoni are also starters in the midfield while Riley Callahan specializes mostly as a defensive midfielder and junior Mike Cielecki gets runs as a second-line middie.

Manasquan sophomore attackman Casey Mulligan. (Photo by Richard O'Donnell).

Opposing Manasquan’s high-powered offense with be a Mountain Lakes defense that has allowed 4.8 goals per game this season. Syracuse-bound goalie Harrison Thompson backstops a unit that is senior-laden with Carter Fordyce, Harp Lane, Gavin Maute, Cameron Parsa and Markus Truumees.

The Lakers will have their eyes focused on Birch, obviously, and Manasquan certainly knows that. Opposing teams have thrown infinite schemes at the Warriors over the last two years to try to slow down Birch, and while those efforts have at times limited his goal totals, Manasquan’s offense as a whole has not suffered. Birch’s presence on the field creates headaches for opponents and opportunities for the Warriors because he can score from anywhere in the offensive zone, is a gifted passer and is unselfish. Teams try to double-team him and often slide early, and that means another highly capable player is going to have time and space. Birch having a big game clearly bodes well for Manasquan, but if Mountain Lakes is hellbent on locking him off, the Warriors have the ability to forge a balanced scoring attack and make the Lakers adjust.

Mountain Lakes is the favorite on Wednesday for a variety of reasons. The Lakers are the higher-ranked team, have a sensational pedigree and championship history, played a great schedule and are led by one of the great lacrosse coaches in America. There’s also the stigma that lacrosse teams south of the Driscoll Bridge don’t belong in the same conversation as the teams from Morris, Somerset, Bergen and Union counties. But to discount this Manasquan team would be a mistake. This is a group that is battle-tested, a group that has developed calluses and scars from a few heartbreaking losses and a group that has been waiting for this very moment since being handled by Mountain Lakes in last year’s state final. The motivating factors for the Warriors are powerful ones, and as good as the team lining up against them is, Manasquan has the goods to climb the mountain.

Prediction: Manasquan 13, Mountain Lakes 11.

 

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.

 

Sign Up For The SSN Newsletter

Please fill out this form to sign up for the Shore Sports Network newsletter.