We're nearly halfway through the regular season and both the weather and the action are starting to heat up around the Shore Conference.

There have already been some big games between powerhouse teams as well as some upsets that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. The top five remain unchanged from our preseason rankings, but after that everything has been thrown into a blender. Teams have taken turns knocking each other off at a crazy rate, and if this is an indication of what to expect when the Shore Conference Tournament rolls around it's time to batten down the hatches.


Lacrosse Top 10


1. Rumson-Fair Haven (5-1). Last week: No. 1

The Bulldogs stumbled out of the gates with a 7-6 loss to Caldwell, but immediately rebounded with a 9-5 win over South Jersey Group III champion Shawnee. That started a string of five straight victories with wins over Allentown, St. John Vianney, Christian Brothers Academy and Shore. Through six games, senior attackman Robbie Garavente and junior midfielder Bryan Hess each have a team-high 13 goals with Garavente also leading in assists (9) and points (22). Senior Ian Clarke and junior Emmett Jennings have led a defense that has yielded just 4.2 goals per game in front of senior goalie Kyle Knapp. Senior Butch Clarke has won 63 percent of face-offs and has a team-high 30 ground balls. The Bulldogs have four straight home games upcoming, including tough nonconference battles with St. Augustine Prep and Bergen Catholic.


2. Manasquan (7-1). Last week: No. 2

The Warriors suffered their first loss of the season in falling 11-6 to Moorestown, the No. 5 team in New Jersey, but up to that point had dominated every team on their schedule. Manasquan opened the season with a 16-5 win over Freehold Township before posting wins over Colts Neck, Red Bank and Red Bank Catholic. After a 12-5 road win over head coach Sean Cunningham's alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy, the Warriors defeated Toms River South and Jackson Liberty to start 7-0 before losing to the Quakers. Junior attackman Jarrett Birch has been on fire to start the season with 26 goals and 13 assists in his first eight games. His younger brother, freshman attackman Canyon Birch, has been dynamite as well with 29 goals and nine assists. Manasquan already has five double-digit goal scorers while leading assist man Joe Tonkovich has dealt out 18 helpers. Junior face-off midfielder Matt Thermann has been unbelievable in winning 75 percent of draws while picking up a Shore Conference-best 87 ground balls. Manasquan has another monster nonconference game against Summit on Wednesday before getting into the teeth of its Class B South schedule.


3. Southern (6-0). Last week: No. 3

The Rams haven't missed a beat so far after graduating a historic senior class, earning wins over Oakcrest, Holmdel, Jackson Liberty, Toms River South, Jackson Memorial and Toms River East. A much-anticipated clash with Rumson-Fair Haven was postponed, and a make-up date, if there will even be one, has not been determined. Junior Will Johnson has a team-high 19 goals through six games while senior Nick Simonelli leads in points with 12 goals and 13 assists. Junior Kyle Mulrane has 14 goals and nine assists, and senior James Manzo also has double-digit points with eight goals and seven assists. This coming week the Rams take on Lacey as they try to take another step toward their third straight division title.


4. Christian Brothers Academy (4-3). Last week: No. 4

The Colts may have three losses, but it's hard to penalize them too much when the combined records of the teams to beat them is 20-3. CBA has as loss to St. Joseph (Metuchen) as well defeats against Rumson and Manasquan, the top two teams in the SSN Top 10. They are on a three-game winning streak since losing 10-3 to Rumson, however, with wins over Peddie, Howell and Middletown North. A large slate of games awaits this week with contests versus Colts Neck, Don Bosco Prep, Marlboro and Neptune.


5. Ocean (7-0). Last week: No. 5

The Spartans have yet to be challenged in storming out to a 7-0 record, but the toughest part of their schedule is still to come. Ocean has wins over Neptune, Middletown South, Barnegat, Ranney, Holmdel, Middletown North and Long Branch so far, but just one of those teams (Middletown South) has a winning record. They play Red Bank on Tuesday to kick off a string of five straight Class B North games. Also this week they host St. John Vianney and travel to Shore Regional. Seniors Erik Rant and Joey Appio were two of the top scorers in the Shore Conference last season and have picked right up with a combined 96 points already. Rant has a conference-high 35 goals to go along with 16 assists while Appio, who led the Shore in assists last season, has 28 setups plus 17 goals. Junior Sam Hanna (18g, 18a) and senior Connor Daly (18g, 10a) have also gotten off to strong starts. Junior goalie David Walk has stopped 80 percent of shots on goal.


6. Brick Memorial (7-0). Last week: unranked

The Mustangs are off to their best start in program history and best opening to a season since starting 6-1 in 2012. Their top win so far is a 10-9 overtime victory over Wall. Brick Memorial also has wins over North Brunswick, Marlboro, Toms River East, St. Rose, Brick and Jackson Memorial. The schedule takes a tougher turn this week with a crucial Class A South game against Toms River North, plus matchups with Toms River South and Lacey. Balanced scoring has fueled the Mustangs as they have six players with 10 or more points and four with at least 10 goals. Senior Billy Porter leads the way with 24 goals and 11 assists. Junior Gavin Murphy has 19 goals and 13 assists and junior Henry Moran leads the team in assists with 18 to go along with seven goals.


7. Wall (6-1). Last week: No. 9

The Crimson Knights' only loss came in overtime to Brick Memorial, and they own lopsided victories over Red Bank and Jackson Liberty among their six wins. Wall has also defeated Marlboro, Neptune, Point Boro and Brick. Senior Mike Steppe and sophomore Michael McIntyre have led the way on offense with a combined 81 points. Steppe has 23 goals and a team-high 24 assists while McIntyre leads the team in goals with 27 and has added seven assists. Tim O'Hern is third with 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points. Senior goalie Zach Harrell has stopped 82 shots. A big week is in store for Wall with games against St. Rose, No. 2 Manasquan, St. John Vianney and Donovan Catholic.


8. Howell (5-3). Last week: unranked

I debated over which team to put in this spot for a good 30 minutes. There are triangles with nearly every team that could realistically stake a claim to one of the three remaining spots in the top 10. The amount of "Team A beat Team B but lost to Team C" and so on scenarios are already ridiculous, so I'm going with the hot hand. Howell picked up a big win in downing previously unbeaten Toms River North, 11-5, on Monday. Junior attackman Drew Bukowiec (20g, 12a), senior midfielder Nic Rossi (12g, 13a) and junior attackman Ryan Damielo (18g, 3a) have led the way for a team that has won five of its last six since starting 0-2. The only loss in that span was to No. 4 CBA. Howell will look to keep rolling with games against Neptune and Middletown South this week.


9.  Toms River North (5-1). Last week: unranked

The Mariners were unbeaten until falling to Howell, 11-5, but have a chance to get some momentum right back. They take on No. 6 Brick Memorial in a key Class A South game this week as they try to jump the Mustangs and keep pace with No. 3 Southern in the division race. The Mariners will also face Brick this week.


10. Freehold Township (3-3). Last week: No. 7

As tempting as it was to do a top nine this week (kidding), I had to pick one team to go here. Freehold Township did just lose, 11-8, to rival Colts Neck, but I believe they have the best body of work with wins over Shore and Red Bank Catholic. The other options were St. John Vianney, which just lost to Holmdel, 4-2, a Red Bank Catholic team the Patriots just beat or Red Bank, which just beat RBC but lost to St. John Vianney. The Pats get the nod this week, but are on a short leash. They will be heavily favored in games against Marlboro and Neptune this week, but a game against Red Bank on April 25 will help clear what has become a very murky picture in the bottom half of the rankings.


Dropped out: 

No. 6 Red Bank Catholic (4-3)

No. 8 Jackson Liberty (4-4)

No. 10 St. John Vianney (5-3)


Team to watch:

Shore (4-3): Albany-bound senior midfielder Doug Goldsmith has been a force for a Blue Devils squad that is on the cusp of the top 10. Two of their three losses have come in overtime to Toms River North and Freehold Township, while the other is to No. 1 Rumson. They still need a marquee win, but will get the chance with some important Class B North games on the horizon.

Red Bank (4-4): The Bucs picked up a big win, 14-7 over rival Red Bank Catholic as senior Cole Smolokoff went off for eight goals. With offensive standouts Brian Fagan and Ryan Gilmartin, plus one of the Shore's best goalies in senior Jon Pierce, the Bucs are dangerous.


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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