Redbirds’ boys look to keep winning, progressing on court

ALLENTOWN

By WAYNE WITKOWSKI
Correspondent

 Tristan Millett is the only returning starter from the Allentown High School boys’ basketball team that finished 16-10 last winter. Despite heavy losses to graduation in June, the Redbirds are off to a 3-1 start.  MATT DENTON Tristan Millett is the only returning starter from the Allentown High School boys’ basketball team that finished 16-10 last winter. Despite heavy losses to graduation in June, the Redbirds are off to a 3-1 start. MATT DENTON Allentown High School’s boys’ basketball team a year ago went 16-10 and had a welcome rebound from the previous season when the Redbirds did not break through with their first victory until the season was about half over.

With a 3-1 start on the current season, fans are hoping that winning will become more a part of the team’s fabric despite rebuilding after four starters graduated.

“I think the first game we came out strong and in the second game, we were out of character a bit and struggled,” coach Jay Graber said, as Allentown opened with a 79-41 victory over Lawrence High School Dec. 18 and then lost to the Hun School, 67-40, Dec. 19. “We have to pass the ball a little more and be a little more patient. Against teams like [Hun], you can’t make mistakes like we did last year, and you have to be a little more disciplined.”

It showed in the victory over Nottingham High School, 63-52, Dec. 22 in the getaway game before the holiday break. Nahshon Taylor led three players in double-figures, scoring 17 points. Bekim Nikovic scored 15, while Tristan Millett dropped in another dozen. Allentown led, 36-21, at halftime. “I think their playing together for a long time helps. No one on the team is selfish,” Graber said. “They know how to get it done and to build on it.”

Last year’s team developed that knack, but Dan Bascara, Hal Shaw, Austin Moy and Xavier Roldan are graduated. Millett is the only returning starter.

But Taylor, a junior guard, and senior forwards Nikovic, Hunter Gerling and Luke Newman, the tallest starter at 6 feet 4 inches tall, gained some experience last year to fit well into this year’s starting lineup. Four other players are ready to contribute through the season: senior swingman Peyton Jackson, senior guard Matt Blazier, 6- foot-1 junior forward Anthony Alexander and freshman guard Elijah Kelly.

They showed the chemistry that goes with years of playing together in the latest game of their four-game, season-opening stretch Dec. 27 in the 33rd annual Primetime/ ESCIT Tournament hosted by Trenton Catholic Academy. The Redbirds demolished two-time defending NJSIAA Group II champion Newark Tech High School, 54- 33. Millet, with a game-high 14 points, led four players in double-figures in a balanced attack typical of last season’s success. Gerling and Blazier each scored 11 points, and Nikovic had 10. The win moved Allentown into the championship game Dec. 28 against Archbishop John Carroll High School of Wayne, Pennsylvania, which beat New Hope-Solebury High School (Pennsylvania) in the other semifinal.

Allentown took an 11-0 lead to start the game against Newark Tech and led, 34-11, at halftime. Newark Tech slipped to 0-3.

Graber is more concerned with progress for the moment and then competing in the Colonial Valley Conference Patriot Division.

“I’m not worried about [the division race], but taking it one game at a time,” Graber said. “They have to work hard and produce and not look back. They’re progressing well, I think. They have to keep working together.”

Along with passing the ball a bit better, Graber said his team must play tough on defense. Each player has a role to fill.

For Millett, Graber said it’s his leadership and controlling the ball at the point. Newman has been playing well, according to Graber, and plays hard, especially on defense, where he has rebounded strongly. Nikovic needs to continue to be versatile scoring from outside and inside, the coach said. Graber said Gerling needs to continue to shoot with confidence as a good, pure scorer, and Taylor also shoots well and has a lot of energy.

Blazier also has been providing a lot of energy coming off the bench and has limited the team’s turnovers.

Graber said last year’s team, the first group he had coached for all four years, showed signs of turning things around that he hopes will carry over to this season.

“They took it personal and put in a lot of time and effort. They won tough games,” Graber said.

The team reached the Mercer County Tournament quarterfinals, where it lost to Hamilton High School West and lost early in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III state tournament to Nottingham.

This year’s team is looking to make the postseason and perhaps go a little farther. For now, Graber is taking things slowly, as many new starters and new varsity players get accustomed to their new roles.

Girls’ basketball

Allentown’s girls basketball team went on a 21-9, second-quarter surge for a 30-18 halftime lead, and it rolled past Nottingham, 63-41, Dec. 22.

Sophomore guard Ryan Weise led the way with 21 points for Allentown (2-1), while seniors Bianca Santos at forward and Kali Hartshorn at guard added 12 and 10 points, respectively.

Redbirds’ Hartshorn reaches 1,000 career points in opener

ALLENTOWN VARSITY REPORT

By WAYNE WITKOWSKI
Correspondent

 Allentown High School’s Nicholas Campbell, top, controls Barnegat High School’s Austin Walker during their 182-pound match at the Ice Breaker Wrestling Tournament held at Old Bridge High School. Campbell advanced by scoring a pin. Allentown High School’s Nicholas Campbell, top, controls Barnegat High School’s Austin Walker during their 182-pound match at the Ice Breaker Wrestling Tournament held at Old Bridge High School. Campbell advanced by scoring a pin. Four starters return from an Allentown High School girls’ basketball team that enjoyed its winningest season at 23-5 as it shoots for its third straight Colonial Valley Conference (CVC) Patriot Division championship.

Allentown is off to a 1-1 start and opened its season Dec. 18 with a 67-26 victory over Lawrence High School. In her fourth year starting, guard Kali Hartshorn posted her 1,000th point and finished the game with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Hartshorn reached the milestone midway through the second quarter on a driving layup and also was fouled on the play, converting the free throw for a 28-8 lead.

Forward Dea Pesciotta was the last Redbirds player to reach the 1,000-point mark in 2009.

The Redbirds’ offense features the explosive scoring of sophomore Ryan Weise; the 3-point shooting she brings with teammates Hope Narozniak, a senior, and Sarina Campanella, a junior; and the leadership of Hartshorn, a senior who usual plays point guard.

However, the Redbirds’ strength is their defense.

“Things are going well. We have experience and depth, and we like to have our defense feed our offense. And we run a lot in transition,” coach Linda Weise said. “We have the ability to score from 3-point range and can go inside with Bianca [Santos], Katie [White] and Hadley [Borkowski].”

Santos, a senior, and White and Borkowski, who are both sophomores, all measure around 5 feet 11 inches tall. White scored 14 points in the opener, while Santos had 10.

Santos scored 12 points Dec. 19 as Allentown lost to Life Center Academy, 54-39, in the Trenton Boys and Girls Club Classic in Princeton. Towering center Imani Lewis scored 24 points for the winners, who are 9- 2. Allentown trailed, 22-9, but got no closer than eight points. Campanella chipped in nine points.

“I’m pleased with their effort and not quitting,” coach Weise said, calling Lewis a big difference-maker. “And we struggled a bit to get the ball in the basket.”

Allentown hosted Nottingham High School Dec. 22 and will play Hillsborough High School at 1 p.m. Dec. 28 in the Monroe Christmas Tournament. On Dec. 30, the consolation game of the four-team bracket is at 1 p.m. and the championship game is at 5 p.m.

Allentown returns its top scorers from last season. Ryan Weise, who can play both guard spots, led the team with an average of 14 points per game last season, followed closely by Hartshorn (13 points and three assists a game) and Santos, who dropped in a dozen points per game as she benefitted from good entry passes to start her power moves to the hoop. Narozniak showed the ability to come up with big-scoring games. They often come at significant times and included 12 points off four 3-pointers in Allentown’s 53-35 victory over Ocean Township High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III quarterfinals last year. The Redbirds lost in the next round to Neptune High School. They also were upset in the Mercer County Tournament semifinals as the No. 2 seed by No. 6-seed Trenton Catholic Academy, which eventually won the title.

The Redbirds are aiming this year to get to both championship games for the first time.

“We know it’s not going to be easy because we’re going to get everyone’s best effort, and we have to be ready,” coach Weise said.

“The key is we have to communicate. We have a lot of talent — a lot of young talent — but the post players are a secret weapon,” said Hartshorn, who is headed next fall to the University of Maryland for lacrosse.

Hartshorn, who also played soccer at Allentown, and said she’d like to get to the Mercer County Tournament finals.

“We always set that goal and to hopefully win the division,” she said.

“We can definitely compete and contend if we work together.”

Seniors Erica Cramer and Camille Flim bring good experience as guards coming off the bench. While Flim is regarded more as a slasher to the basket and Kramer pulls up for reliable jump shots, both also show good passing ability, which coachWeise regards as another strength of the team. White and Borkowski performed strongly enough last season inside that the coach does not have to worry too much if Santos gets into foul trouble. Marin Hartshorn, a sophomore and Kali’s younger sister, also plays forward.

“Katie and Hadley have some experience, and look for them to step up and fill in at forward when needed. And I feel comfortable that Marin can hold her ground,” Weise said.

They look to make up for the graduation losses of forwards Alyssa Lebers, a starter, and Christa Lebers. Lamesha Burgess was a solid role player coming off the bench who also graduated.

Weise said Kali Hartshorn’s experience and savvy make her an extension of the coach on the court.

“She brings the drive and competitiveness to this team,” the coach said.

Weise also spoke of the drive of her daughter, Ryan, who quickly adapted to varsity level basketball as a freshman last season.

Although Ryan Weise was deadly at times beyond the 3-point arc, her coach said she’s not a one-dimensional player.

“She has the ability to get around people to drive and dish, and it’s also her defense — her ability off our half-court trap to get steals,” the coach said.

On the other end, Hartshorn has had the knack to break through traps and zone defenses, which helped her get named to the CVC Coaches first team for the third straight year. Ryan Weise and Santos were second-team selections. Narozniak also earned praise for her play and confidence she has shown during the preseason.

“She’s shooting the ball well and defending well,” the coach said.

The Redbirds will be put to a major test Jan. 5 against perennial CVC power Notre Dame High School and have another big showdown against Ewing High School later in the month. Both games are at home.

Allentown has a winning attitude on the bench as well from assistant coach Dina Wells, who coached Allentown’s field hockey team to a 16-1-3 season, with its lone loss coming to Moorestown High School, 2- 1, in the Central Jersey Group III finals.

Boys’ basketball

Luke Newman scored 17 points to lead Allentown to a 79-41 home-court victory Dec. 18 over Lawrence in the season opener. Hunter Gerling added 13 points for Allentown, while Matt Blazier scored 10.

Allentown led, 45-17, at halftime.

Allentown lost to the Hun School, 67- 40, Dec. 19. Bekim Nikovic had a teamhigh 16 points with three 3-pointers, and Nahshon Taylor added 12 points.

“I think we came out strong in the first game, and in the second game we were out of character a bit and struggled,” coach Jay Graber said. “On offense, we need to be more patient. Against teams like that, every mistake costs you. We need to be a little more disciplined.”

Wrestling

Jordan Rugo at 170 pounds and Zach Turner at 182 won their weight classes as Allentown finished sixth in the team standings at the Ice Breaker Tournament Dec. 19 at Old Bridge High School. Drew Romein at 132 pounds was a consolation winner and Theodoros Vlahos finished fourth at heavyweight.

“For the first tournament, they did some very good things,” said new coach Mitch Nock. “But there are some things we have to build on.”

The Redbirds had a dual meet Dec. 23 at Hightstown and compete in the Hawk Classic Dec. 28 at Manchester Township High School.

Ice hockey

In a 5-0 victory over Lawrence/Hightstown Dec. 18 at Mercer County Park, John Francis, John Martin and Joe Pontrelli scored goals in the first period for the Robbinsville/ Allentown co-op ice hockey team.

Shawn Camisa and Josh Rosenbaum added goals for the Ravens (7-2) in the second period, and Nick Koch made a dozen save in goal. Lawrence is 2-5-1.

Rosenbaum nets hat trick to lead Ravens’ rout over Pirates

A hat trick from Josh Rosenbaum and two goals each from John Martin and Shawn Camisa led the Robbinsville Allentown Ravens co-op ice hockey team to an 8-2 victory over winless West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South Dec. 11 at Mercer County Park.

Liam Hartmann scored the other goal for the Ravens, who improved to 5-1.

Rosenbaum and Martin scored twice each in a five-goal first period, with Hartmann collecting the marker. Rosenbaum netted his third goal of the game in the second period, and Camisa, who also had a pair of assists, scored his first of the game in the same period. Camisa added a tally in the third. John Francis had four assists in the game, and Joe Pontrelli had two. Justin Cooper, who shared time in net with Joey Nolan and Luke Young, made 11 saves.

Against River Dell-Westwood Dec. 8 at Ice Land in Hamilton, Francis scored a pair of goals in the third period to snap a 1-1 tie, as the Raven went on to win, 3-1.

Martin and Camisa assisted on a goal by Rosenbaum in the second period before River Dell tied the game up later in the period.

Nick Koch made 20 saves in net.

Going up for the layup

 MATT DENTON MATT DENTON Allentown High School’s Beckim Nikovic soars to the basket on his way to making a layup against Trenton Catholic Academy during a Dec. 9 preseason scrimmage in Allentown. On Dec. 18, the score will count, as Allentown tips off the 2015-16 regular season at home against Lawrence High School.

Veteran Redbirds to wrestle under new head coach Nock

ALLENTOWN

By WAYNE WITKOWSKI
Correspondent

Returning state qualifiers Zach Turner and Jordan Rugo, who are both seniors, head a nucleus of six returnees that will lead Allentown High School’s wrestling team — a District 25 runner-up last year — into the 2015-2016 campaign. It begins Dec. 19 with the Icebreaker Tournament in Old Bridge.

They will do it under the third wrestling coach in three years at Allentown: former SUNY Brockport wrestler Mitch Nock. Matt Merritt, who succeeded longtime coach Larry Kimport last season, said he had to step down for this season because of a family emergency.

“We have a really good mix — good underclassmen with senior leadership,” Nock said. “Just about the entire team is back. They’re good role models with the freshmen. We have a lot of newcomers who worked hard in the offseason.”

Nock recognizes their dedication.

“They’re passionate about wrestling,” he said. “They’ve worked hard and they’re great kids, great students and a pleasure to coach every day.”

Nock understands the rewards of commitment as a late bloomer himself at Marlboro High School before going on to wrestle at Brockport for teams that had 19 All-Americans and, in three of his years, were ranked among the top five teams in NCAA Division III. Nock received a master’s degree at Montclair State University in recreation leadership studies and sports management.

Over the past nine years, he worked in guest relations at Madison Square Garden and also was a day-to-day volunteer coach at Marlboro under William Werntz. When he learned of the opportunity to coach his own team and got the position, Nock left Madison Square Garden to teach as a substitute in Allentown’s physical education department and coach the Redbirds’ wrestlers.

“Both of my parents were teachers. It was my dream of being a teacher,” Nock said.

George Roth, a former head coach at St. Rose High School, is Nock’s assistant.

Rugo has a dream to return to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, something his older brother, Alex, did before embarking on a college career at Ithaca College. Jordan Rugo, who won 37 bouts last year, and Turner, who won 36, were district champions and thirdplace finishers in Region 7 last year at 152 and 182 pounds, respectively. Rugo will move up to wrestle either at 160 or 170, but Turner remains at the same weight.

Also part of that nucleus are seniors Theodoros Vlahos, a third-place finisher in the district at 220; Connor Marks at either 145 or 152; and 120-pounder Sebastian Rizzo, who lost in districts to the eventual state champion from Steinert High School; and sophomore Liam McDermott at 160.

“Rizzo is a good wrestler — one of the leaders in the [wrestling] room,” Nock said.

Last year’s team finished just below .500 and Nock, seeing the potential for this season with a deeper lineup and good balance throughout the weight classes, said he added teams from Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties to the schedule.

“[We will compete] not just [against] Mercer County so we could get the best competition possible,” Nock said.

The team opens its dual-meet schedule Dec. 23 at Hightstown High School before the holiday break and does not have a home match until mid-January.

Nock said time will tell how well this team will do, but one thing he said is certain.

“People will know some of their names at the end of the season,” the coach said.

Millstone Magic 10U captures USABL Central West fall title

Millstone Magic’s 10-year-old baseball team won its first championship when it took the fall segment of the USABL Central West division playoff championship.

Suffering only one loss, Millstone beat Crossbridge of Lambertville, 9-8, on a walkoff hit by Parker Sloss with the bases loaded. It completed a comeback from a 7- 0 deficit, and Max Kuchar took the win in relief. Antonio Dominici and Frank Mara hit well in the comeback for the champions.

“It’s the dedication of these 11 kids to training and practice,” said manager David Dominic, who is the founder and coach of the New Jersey Cheetahs softball program that includes five teams of different age groups from 12U to 23U. “For a group of 10-year-olds, they’re able to play well in all three phases of the game, and their baserunning is better than other teams. They won as a group — no individual that stood out. We had Parker [Sloss] at the bottom of the lineup, and he had the game-winning hit [for the championship].”

Pitchers Gavin Elwell, Scott Bruett, Decklyn Pratt and Kuchar shared the pitching duties, and Ryan Kotler was the catcher. Hitting was balanced and the fielding was reliable, Dominici said. The infield included Luke Wiedau at first base, Antonio Dominici at second base, Frank Mara at shortstop and Bruett at third base when he wasn’t pitching. Sloss and Pratt shared innings in right field, Michael Mastromino was in left and Tyler Emkin played in center field.

Don Elwell, John Kuchar, Fred Wiedau and Matt Emkin were the coaches.

Players will regroup next month for offseason training at Game Time Performance in Hamilton. The season resumes in mid-March.

Switching gears to indoor track

 STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Allentown High School’s Matt Gregor competes in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III cross-country championships at Thompson Park in Jamesburg. The Redbirds’ distance runners will now turn their attention to the indoor track and field season.

Millstone Junior Midgets capture Eastern Region title

By WAYNE WITKOWSKI
Correspondent

The Millstone Eagles Junior Midget Pop Warner team achieved a first for the program when it beat Schenectady Belmont, New York, 20-18, for the Eastern Region championship at Watchung Hills.

The region title game Nov. 28 is the farthest any team can advance in that weight class, which has a range of 95 to 135 pounds, and the Eagles were the first Millstone team to reach the region finals. Most of the team is made up of players from Millstone and Allentown, with two from Manalapan and another from Monroe.

Vincent Spitalieri, an eighth grader from Manalapan, caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter from quarterback Dan Merkel, a seventh grader from Millstone, and Christopher McCrea kicked the deciding conversion. Conversion kicks count for two points in Pop Warner and McCrae, an eighth grader from Allentown, was reliable on conversions and also made seven field goals on the season, including the longest from 38 yards.

McCrae tackled the Schenectady-Belmont quarterback on fourth down at the 19- yard line as the game ended.

Merkel scored on a quarterback sneak from 4 yards out on the opening drive. Sean Mulligan, an eighth grader from Millstone playing quarterback, dove into the end zone from a yard out for a touchdown in the second quarter.

It was the first championship game appearance in the 25-yard history of the program — the first 15 years based out of Allentown and the last 10 out of Millstone.

Three years ago, the same group of players as Junior Pee Wees won Central Jersey and state championships and reached the semifinals of region play.

This time, they reeled off seven playoff victories, including three in Central Jersey and four in the regions — the prior six all in convincing style. In Central Jersey, they beat Old Bridge, 33-0, North Edison, 32-6, and Edison, 30-20.

“It was something to see — a little town playing big-city programs that have a much larger drawing pool and doing so well,” coach Ben Minton said.

Millstone beat Manasquan, 35-14, St. Cecilia of Woodbridge, 36-13, and Centerville from Camden, 33-12, in region play, which included teams from New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington D.C. The region covers 25 conferences and 500 organizations. “We talked every day at practice about what it would take to reach that goal,” said Minton, who has coached nearly the same group over the past three years with his staff of Dan Merkel, Tony Abarno and Dan Giacolonia from Millstone, Shawn McCrea from Allentown and Andrew Alvarez from Fort Lee.

Eleanor Czysz was team administrator.

“They’re a tremendous group of athletes on both sides of the ball. They had success but were a very humble group that took care of business and moved on, which is very unique,” Minton said. “They learned a life lesson about setting high goals and working to attain them.”

The Eagles, competing in Central Jersey Division III, went 5-2, but both losses came to larger Division II opponents. Gino Giacolonia, an eighth grader from Millstone, was the wingback, and Millstone eighth grader Chris Forte also carried the ball. Tyler Minton, an eighth grader from Millstone, helped open up holes for the productive offense along with left tackle Dave Villani (eighth grade, Millstone), left guard Dennis “Rudy” Healy (sixth grade, Allentown), center Joe Martone (seventh grade, Manalapan), right guard T.J. Sico (seventh grade, Millstone) and right tackle Quinton Autry (eighth grader, Millstone). Ramsey Benflau, a seventh grader from Millstone, also was a contributor on offense.

Many doubled-up on the 4-2-5 defensive alignment. Mulligan and Autry were the ends, Sico and Villani were the tackles, Minton and Giacolonia were outside linebackers, Millstone eighth graders A.J. Abarno and Ajai Kenyatta were inside linebackers and Merkel played safety.

Millstone eighth graders Liam Hixenbaugh and Renzo Bagatoli rotated in on the defensive line.

The team has a good future. Although many graduate into the high school ranks, Millstone’s Pee Wees beat West Windsor- Plainsboro, 42-13, for the Central Jersey title. It lost, 12-6, to Manasquan in its region opener.

Ravens go 2-1 to open hockey season

Joe Pontrelli opened the scoring with a goal off a pass from Liam Hartmann and John Francis scored two goals off passes from Shawn Camisa and Joshua Rosenbaum for the Robbinsville-Allentown Ravens co-op ice hockey team. Wall High School rampaged for nine goals from there, however, for a 10-3 victory Dec. 4 at Mercer County Park. It set the Ravens down to 2-1 on the season.

Nick Koch made 34 saves.

The Ravens went to 2-0 when they beat West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North, 9-0, as Hartmann, Rosenbaum and John Martin each scored twice. Camisa, Brian Eder and Aiden Fredericks put in the other goals, and Pontrelli had three assists.

Joe Nolan made 30 saves.

SPORT SHORTS

Central Jersey Umpire Association is looking for men and women who enjoy baseball and would like to make extra money. The group has many games on weekends, weeknights and weekdays from 7U to summer college level.

Cadet training for 2016 will begin in February. Call or email Ron Marino for more info at 732-829-8036 or cjuaumpire@gmail.com. Experienced umpires wanted as well.