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The state tournament is here and the conclusion of the team portion of the season is on the horizon. By the end of the week, the No. 1 team in the Shore Conference will have cemented itself as the undisputed top dog.

That team will almost certainly be whoever emerges from the loaded South Jersey Group 5 section. The top three teams in the Shore all reside there and the winner will be the overwhelming favorite to bring home the overall Group 5 title. As long as that happens it will be an easy choice this time next week.

The Shore Conference should be well-represented Sunday in Toms River and could realistically have six teams win sectional titles. As always, it will be an eventful seven days.

1. Howell (22-1). Last week: No. 1

The Rebels earned the coveted No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group 5, finishing second in power points but leapfrogging Toms River North because of a head-to-head win. Howell won its 15th straight Class A North division title and repeated as Shore Conference Tournament team champion. The Rebels’ lone loss this season is to Delbarton and they own wins over Toms River North, High Point, Jackson Memorial, Long Branch, South Plainfield and Manalapan. Whether the Rebels host Toms River North or Southern in the sectional final it figures to be another epic showdown between Shore powerhouses. They open up the state tournament against Lenape on Monday night.

 

2. Toms River North (16-4). Last week: No. 2 

The Mariners are the No. 2 seed in South Jersey Group 5, which means they’ll get Class A South rival Southern at home in the semifinals. Toms River North beat Southern, 28-26, on Jan. 14 and ended up winning its second straight division title. The Mariners also own wins over Lacey, Paulsboro, South Plainfield, Jackson Memorial, Brick Memorial and West Essex. Their four losses are to Howell, Group 4 favorite Kingsway, Phillipsburg and Non-Public South A favorite St. Augustine Prep. If the Mariners are to win their first group state title they will most definitely have earned it given the teams they’ll have to go through. First up will be Eastern Regional in the quarterfinals on Monday night.

 

3. Southern (15-1). Last week: No. 3 

The reigning Group 5 state champions have the toughest road in South Jersey Group 5 in that they’ll have to beat Toms River North and Howell on the road in a three-day span to win a third straight sectional title, but the Rams are built for the postseason. Their lone loss on the season is to Toms River North, so you know they’re looking forward to a rematch with much more on the line. Southern boats wins over Jackson Memorial, Brick Memorial, Middletown North, Phillipsburg, South Plainfield and High Point. Southern opens its title defense against sixth-seeded Washington Township.

 

4. Brick Memorial (14-3). Last week: No. 4

The Mustangs are the top seed in the Central Jersey Group 4 section and will be looking for their first sectional title since 2015. In all likelihood, Brick Memorial will have to go through three Shore Conference teams to get there, starting with crosstown rival Brick in the quarterfinals. The sectional also includes second-seeded Jackson Memorial, third-seeded Long Branch, fifth-seeded Colts Neck and seventh-seeded Freehold. The Mustangs are hoping junior Nick Torre, a region qualifier who transferred from Point Boro but was injured upon being eligible to wrestle, will be ready to make his debut. If that happens, Brick Memorial will have one of the state’s best stretches from 106 to 138 pounds.

 

5. Middletown North (17-1). Last week: No. 5

The Lions enter the state tournament feeling strong after a thrilling last-bout victory over Colts Neck to claim the Class B North division title. The Lions have only one loss on the season, which came to Southern, and own wins over Ocean, Wall, Point Boro, Middletown South and Raritan. Middletown North is in a very tough section and is the No. 3 seed in North 2, Group 4 behind top-seeded North Hunterdon and No. 2 Phillipsburg. They open up with Scotch Plains-Fanwood.

 

6. Jackson Memorial (10-8). Last week: No. 6 

It’s been an up and down season for the Jaguars but a sectional title is still within reach. Jackson is the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group 4 and will begin the state tournament against Freehold. The Jags’ grueling schedule that included matches with Monroe, Southern, Toms River North, Brick Memorial, Howell, Colts Neck, Kingsway, Bergen Catholic and Pope John has them battle-tested and ready for the big stage.

 

7. Rumson-Fair Haven (13-3). Last week: No. 7 

The Bulldogs clinched the Class A Central division title last week, their first since 2003. They hope it’s just the first championship they win this season as they turn their attention to the Central Jersey Group 2 tournament. Rumson is the No. 3 seed as it searches for the program’s first sectional championship. To do so they’ll have to get through Delran and then probably Point Boro to get a crack at South Plainfield in the final. The Bulldogs have some holes in their lineup but they are also excellent in several spots, especially from 145 to 220. Will it be enough to send Rumson to Toms River?

 

8. Manalapan (22-3). Last week: No. 8 

The Braves haven’t won a sectional title since 1992, but that could very well change come Friday night. Manalapan is the No. 1 seed in Central Jersey Group 5 and is the favorite in a sectional that also includes Hunterdon Central and Monroe. Hunterdon Central isn’t the powerhouse it’s been over the past few years but the Red Devils know how to win in February. Monroe is similar to Manalapan in that the Falcons have been in the mix but haven’t been able to get past the sectional heavyweight. Monroe and Hunterdon Central will likely duke it out in the semifinals and, assuming Manalapan takes care of business, it should be there waiting for the winner in the final. The Braves host New Brunswick in the quarterfinals.

 

9. Long Branch (17-3). Last week: No. 9

The Green Wave are the No. 3 seed in Central Jersey Group 4 and will open the tournament against Hightstown. To win a sectional title Long Branch will have to deal with familiar opponents as Jackson Memorial is the No. 2 seed and Brick Memorial is the No. 1 seed. The Central Jersey Group 4 section has been loaded with Shore teams for many years and a conference team has won the section every year since 2004. Long Branch is an underdog and doesn’t match up particularly well with Brick Memorial should it get that far, but the Wave would gladly take any opportunity to wrestle for a sectional title.

 

10. Point Boro (13-3). Last week: not ranked

The Panthers jump back into the Top 10 thanks to the best overall resume of the other teams in contention. Point Boro has losses to Middletown North, West Deptford and Point Beach (on criteria), but after the Beach-Boro match Point Beach went on a tailspin. The Panthers, meanwhile, own wins over Ocean, Toms River East, Hightstown and Lacey. Point Boro secured the No. 2 seed in Central Jersey Group 2 and will open up against Cinnaminson.

 

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.