Looking to escape

 SCOTT FRIEDMAN SCOTT FRIEDMAN Red Bank Catholic High School’s Steven Cimelewski, right, tries to break free from the hold of Middletown High School South’s Brendon Rumsby during their 170-pound match at the Old Bridge Ice Breaker Wrestling Tournament. Rumsby won this match; however, Cimelewski came back to take third place at the Clayton Clipper Classic at Clayton High School in Gloucester County on Dec. 26 and help the Caseys finish fourth in the team standings.

Spartans try to keep pace with Manasquan for A Central lead

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

Ocean Township High School’s girls’ bowling team is off to a 4-1 start and appears set to contend with Manasquan High School for the Shore Conference Class A Central title.

The Spartans have split a pair of matches against the Warriors, winning, 2-1, Dec. 1 and falling by an identical score on Dec. 22, despite a fine 545 series by junior Dana Henry, who also rolled a high game of 214 pins.

“It’s still early in the season, but it could very well come down to us and Manasquan,” Ocean Township coach D.D. Esposito said. “But we can’t take that for granted because we have other tough teams in the division.”

Ocean Township and Manasquan both stand at 4-1 and have identical game records of 15-2, which is the first tiebreaker, so the Jan. 25 match between the two schools will go a long way toward deciding the A Central championship.

Esposito’s team went 9-4 a year ago, but things have been much different this winter, as several Spartans have upped their averages significantly. Henry, Ocean Township’s leadoff bowler, averages 165 pins — 20 pins over her average last season.

Senior captain Angelica DeRose is averaging 152 pins. The three-year starter and four-year varsity veteran is 20 points above her norm of a year ago. To top things off, junior Jen Inguilli has shown an increase of about 25 pins and is averaging 175 pins this winter, with a high series of 555.

Then there’s anchor Alexis Case, who is also in her fourth varsity season and third as a starter. A cool customer under pressure, the Spartans’ co-captain averages 160 pins and made a key ninth frame spare to set up a big 10th frame in her team’s early season victory over Manasquan.

“Alexis handles the pressure very well,” Esposito said. “She’s been in tough situations before, and she finds a way to come through. She also has the ability to bowl bigger than her average whenever we need it.”

The development of Alexa Tieto has also been a plus. Esposito was impressed by the freshman during tryouts. The youngster gradually gained confidence and her scores rose from the 120-pin range to about 140 pins. As a result, Tieto has earned a spot in the starting lineup.

Ocean Township’s top reserves are junior Calli Feehan and sophomore Bella Ferraina, who will split time between the varsity and junior varsity team, which is also 4-1. Feehan is averaging 135 pins in varsity action, while Ferraina, who seems to have a knack for picking up spares, is at 132 pins.

“I’d like to see a little more consistency from all the girls,” Esposito said. “I want to see all of their games be good ones; not go from a big game to a small game. Those big games really help, though. We’re fortunate to have five bowlers who can roll a 200-plus in any given game. We’re also going to see a few 600 series before the season is over.”

The Spartans were scheduled to compete in the Winter Break Invitational Holiday Tournament, hosted by Matawan Regional High School and Keyport High School at Strathmore Lanes in Aberdeen Dec. 29. Ocean Township resumes its regular season Jan. 5 against Asbury Park High School.

Bulldogs confident in ability to rebound from 0-4 start

By MATTHEW ROCCO
Correspondent

The Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School girls’ basketball team was thrown into the frying pan to start the season, going winless through its first four games. Still, the Bulldogs believe they have the talent to climb up the ranks.

To open the season, Rumson-Fair Haven had to square off Dec. 18 with Manasquan High School, last season’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions winner and the team that knocked out the Bulldogs in the Central Jersey Group II finals. The Bulldogs made it a dogfight and lost by a mere six points, 50-44.

The Bulldogs traveled to St. John Vianney High School three days later to face the defending Non-Public A state champions. It proved to be another difficult day on the court for Rumson-Fair Haven, as the veteran Lancers pulled away for a 59-48 win.

Then it was off to the Mount St. Dominic Holiday Basketball Festival Dec. 26, where the Bulldogs ran into more trouble. The round-robin tournament started with a defeat at the hands of Rutgers Preparatory School, 50-41. Gill St. Bernard’s School survived a late comeback by the Bulldogs in a 47-43 game Dec. 27.

The four-game losing streak is not what the Bulldogs expected.

“They’re disappointed, but they know we have a lot of games to play,” head coach George Sourlis said at the onset of the Mount St. Dominic event.

Rumson-Fair Haven will get its chance to bounce back at home against Freehold Township High School Jan. 2, followed by a road matchup with Shore Regional High School Jan. 5.

In the close contest against Gill St. Bernard’s, the Bulldogs certainly saw reasons to be optimistic that things will improve. Rumson-Fair Haven showed off its sharp-shooting skills late in the game, coupled with an impressive defensive effort that held Gill St. Bernard’s to 12 points in the second half.

The Bulldogs fell behind by 17 points in the second quarter — the biggest deficit of the afternoon — but they had all of the momentum coming out of halftime. The Bulldogs surged back into the game with a 16-4 run fueled by four 3-pointers, two of which came from senior Sydney Sabino.

The Bulldogs sought to take control of the game as the clock neared the seven-minute mark. Senior Nicole Morris connected on her second 3- pointer of the game, putting the Bulldogs in front.

Gill St. Bernard’s rallied back with a 3-pointer of its own and held onto the slim lead until the final buzzer.

The Bulldogs can count on their defense improving even more as the season moves forward, Sourlis said. He also sees the team’s ability to share the basketball as a key asset.

“I have emphasized the point that every possession counts. If we can get more consistent and we play as hard as we can for every possession, our talent is good enough to win,” Sourlis said. “This group is motivated and focused.”

The Bulldogs benefit from having experienced seniors in Stephanie Lesko, Madison Maguire and Lindsey Morris, as well as Sabino and Nicole Morris.

Rumson-Fair Haven also has a strong junior class that includes Hannah Scanlan and Megan Volker, who had seven points and four rebounds against Gill St. Bernard’s. Scanlan led the Bulldogs that day with 11 points.

“We have a really good mix. The seniors have been terrific on and off the court, and the younger girls understand that they have to follow their lead if they want to win,” Sourlis said.

The longtime coach remains confident that Rumson-Fair Haven can build on what it accomplished a year ago. The Bulldogs made an appearance in the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals and lost a hard-fought battle to Manasquan, which suffered just two losses all season, in the sectional championship.

“We have to play more consistent for 32 minutes to beat the kind of opponents we’ve been dealing with,” Sourlis said. “By no means am I disappointed in them. Championships are not won in December.”

Mission Belief is NJ’s Horse of the Year

Trotting filly Mission Brief has been named the winner of the Secretary of Agriculture’s Trophy as New Jersey Standardbred of the Year for 2015.

Also selected New Jersey Sire Stakes Horse of the Year, Mission Brief will be honored Jan. 24 at the 59th Annual New Jersey Breeders Awards Luncheon at 1 p.m. at O’Connor’s Restaurant (formerly Charley’s Other Brother) in Eastampton.

Voted the nation’s 2-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year in 2014, she also won the Dan Patch Award as 3-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year in 2015.

The daughter of Muscle Hill-Southwind Serena wrapped up her 3-year-old campaign with 10 wins and three seconds in 14 starts, banking more than $1 million toward a career total of $1,599,587 for the ownership of the Burke Racing Stable, Our Horse Cents Stables, J&T Silva Stables and Weaver Bruscemi LLC. The Ron Burke trainee was regularly driven by Yannick Gingras.

Undefeated in her New Jersey Sires Stakes competition, including the $100,000 final at the Meadowlands, she also won the $307,040 Elegantimage at Mohawk Raceway, the $185,000 Zweig at Vernon Downs, the $187,400 Matron at Dover Downs, the $144,000 Continental Victory at the Meadowlands and the $174,000 Money Maker at The Meadows. She made a bid to best the boys in the $1 million Hambletonian at the Meadowlands, winning her elimination but finishing second to Pinkman in the $1 million final Aug. 8.

Bred by Steve H. Stewart, Black Creek Farm and Andrea Lea Racing Stables Inc., she sold for $150,000 at the Lexington Selected Sale.

At 2 years old, she won both the Merrie Annabelle and Breeders Crown, for nine wins in 13 starts and earnings just shy of $600,000.

She collected 150 of 156 votes for freshman honors in 2014 and 118 of 136 votes for 2015 divisional honors.

Her 1:50.3 mark still stands as the fastest mile by a 2-year-old trotter, male or female, and she lowered her personal best to 1:50.2 Nov. 12 on the five-eighths mile track at Dover Downs in the Matron Final.

Her sire, Muscle Hill, was the 2009 New Jersey Standardbred of the Year.

Tickets for the luncheon cost $40 per person and may be purchased from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, Division of Markets & Development, Horse Industry, PO Box 330, Trenton, NJ 08625.

For further information, email Lynn.Mathews@ag.state.nj.us or call 609-984-4389.

SPORT SHORTS

The Monmouth County Park System is keeping several of its golf courses open for play this winter: Bel-Aire Golf Course in Wall, Charleston Springs Golf Course in Millstone and Shark River Golf Course in Neptune. Golfers will enjoy reduced rates at these courses starting Jan. 1.

Weather permitting, courses are open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Both reserved tee times and walk-on play will be available. The tee time reservation system is available to those with golf cards. Golfers looking to purchase a golf card may do so at these courses. All cards will be sold at 2015 rates until 2016 rates are established. Weather permitting, the FootGolf course at Bel-Aire Golf Course will remain open through the winter.

To learn more about Park System winter golf, please visit www.monmouthcountyparks.com or call the Park System at 732-842-4000. For persons with hearing impairment, the Park System TTY/TDD number is 711.

The Monmouth County Park System, created in 1960 by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, is Monmouth County’s Open Space, Parks and Recreation agency.

Manalapan High School is seeking nominations for its Athletic Hall of Fame. For an application or additional information, call Supervisor of Extracurricular Activities John Hein at 732-792-7200, ext. 5011, or go to www.frhsd.com/manalapan.

The Edison Wizards Lacrosse Club is announcing registration for two boys teams: for grades 5-6 and grades 7-8.

Players will learn to play lacrosse from experienced coaches and players. The cost of registration is $100. Players are required to supply their own equipment.

Practice will be twice a week starting early March 2016. Games will be played on Friday nights and Saturdays.

Please visit www.wizardslax.com for information regarding registration. Call 732- 710-0310 for further information.

Central Jersey RedLegs will hold tryouts for the 11U 2016 spring and summer baseball season.

Winter workouts start the first week of January. Indoor tournaments, league play and multiple travel tournaments will be played.

Home fields are located in Michael Tighe Park, Freehold Township.

Contact Coach Tom at tfigliolino@aol.com for details.

Caseys’ girls start season 2-0 with sights set on sectionals

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School’s girls’ basketball team is off to a 2-0 start as the young Caseys look to contend for the NJSIAA Non-Public A title.

A year ago, RBC went 22-6 and made its way to the Non-Public A semifinals before falling to St. John Vianney High School. The good news for the Caseys is that only standout guard Alex Barazotti was lost to graduation.

“Last year, we accomplished quite a bit starting two sophomores and two freshmen,” Caseys coach Joe Montano said. “They played some tough games and gained the experience that they needed. That will make a difference for us.”

While RBC downed both Paul VI High School and Notre Dame High School in the state sectional, the Caseys were upset by Freehold Township High School in the first round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

Montano’s team got some measure of revenge this year when RBC bested Freehold Township, 63-28, in the WOBM Christmas Classic Dec. 20 in Toms River, as Hayley Moore led the way with 11 points and Maureen Coakley added nine points. The Caseys opened the campaign Dec. 18 with a dominant 70-11 win over Ocean Township High School. Montano got all of his players into the game.

Coakley averaged 9.5 points and just fewer than eight rebounds a year ago. The 5-foot-11 junior center gives RBC a strong presence in the paint. The Caseys will also depend on guard Josie Larkins for scoring. The junior is RBC’s best all-around offensive player and is able to drive to the hoop or connect from 3-point range as required by the situation.

Also back is sophomore guard Rose Caverly, who did a superb job running the point as a freshman. Montano reports that Caverly has looked stronger and quicker in the early going. Two other sophomores are likely to start as well: forward Katie Rice and guard Hayley Moore. At 5 feet 11 inches tall, Rice is another factor under the basket, while Moore, who also scored 11 points in the Ocean Township win, is a threat from the perimeter. “We have a talented group of girls, but the question for me is can we score enough points against good teams and can we hit the big shots?” the Caseys coach said. “Our defense is going to be good, but I want more offense.”

Off the bench, Montano can call on cocaptain Caitlin Carroll, a 5-foot-7 guard/forward who can score; hard-working 5-foot-8 senior forward Gillian Hansen, who is a solid defender; and sophomore guard Amanda Hart, who is another good outside shooter.

In addition, the Caseys will have both Jennifer Bagnell and Tia Montagne in the lineup. Both girls missed the bulk of the 2014-15 season with injuries. Bagnell, a cocaptain, is a 5-foot-8 forward with grit, and Montagne is a junior shooting guard who started as a freshman. Montano said he plans to bring them along slowly, but both will have significant roles.

RBC was scheduled to meet Wall High School at home Dec. 21 and to visit Red Bank Regional High School Dec. 22. The Caseys will meet Manchester Township High School Dec. 26 in the second round of the WOBM Christmas Classic.

Soaring to the basket

 STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Long Branch High School’s Marc Dennis drives to the basket between Colts Neck High School defenders Lloyd Daniels, left, and Brendan Clarke during the Dec. 18 game played in Long Branch. The host Green Wave won the season opener for both teams, 57-54.

Green Wave wrestlers open season with Neptune Classic win

By MATTHEW ROCCO
Correspondent

The Long Branch High School wrestling team got the winter started with a first-place finish at the Neptune Classic, showing off a strong senior class that is expected to carry the Green Wave this season.

The Green Wave secured the team title with 151.5 points, just in front of North Hunterdon High School (150.0). Fellow Shore Conference member Raritan High School (143.5) placed third.

The championship was led by Lamont Reid, a Green Wave senior. Reid took the gold medal at 182 pounds, while seniors Danny Mullan (152), Mike Shohet (170) and Joey Jasio (heavyweight) earned second place finishes in their respective weight classes. Bronze medals went to Rey Guzman (106), a freshman, and T.J. Conlon (138), another senior.

Long Branch’s veterans will be a major weapon for a team that has few returning starters in lower weight classes.

Reid, Mullan, Shohet and Jasio each recorded 20-win seasons in the previous campaign. Reid led the team with 29 wins, followed closely by Jasio’s 28 successful bouts. The Green Wave has more senior leadership in Conlon, Danny Rios, Vincent Vacarro, Alex Acevedo and John Tomlinson. Juniors Hunter Marhan and Justin Navarro are also in the mix for the top half of the roster. Below 132 pounds is where Long Branch gets younger, although the team sees plenty of upside. Guzman began his high school career on a high note, and sophomore transfer Chris Dean had a standout season as a Shore Regional High School freshman, compiling a 34-7 record and taking second place at 106 pounds in District 23.

The season-opening victory is also an early sign that the defending Shore Conference B North Division champions are primed for another championship run. In a 20-5 season a year ago, the Green Wave advanced as far as the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinals. The team amassed the second-best point total at the competitive NJSIAA District 22 tournament, where Long Branch had seven medalists. The Green Wave even added a silver medal from the Grapple at the Garden.

But it will not be an easy ride to a fourth consecutive division title, given the presence of formidable opposition, including Ocean Township High School and Wall Township High School.

Long Branch faces a tough road in the state tournament as well. The team was moved up to Group IV after spending just one season in Group III. The shift puts Long Branch into competition with Jackson Liberty High School, Jackson Memorial High School and Brick Township High School for a sectional crown.

Heath built legendary cross-country program at CBA

SPORTS VIEW

Tim Morris

The words “great” and “legend” get thrown around so often that they have almost lost their meaning.

In the case of retired Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) cross-country coach Tom Heath, those words hardly do him justice.

Heath, who stepped down as the Colts’ head coach after another championship year, leaves as one of the greatest coaches in any sport in New Jersey high school sports history. His legacy is unsurpassed. He is synonymous with cross-country in this state and, in the process, elevated the sport.

His list of accomplishments is staggering. There is the record 21 NJSIAA Meet of Champion (MOC) crowns, which includes the last six straight. There are the 27 group state titles, as well as team average course records all over New Jersey and New York (Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx and Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls). Maybe the most impressive achievement is winning the Nike Cross Nationals national championship in 2011.

 Tom Heath’s Christian Brothers Academy cross-country teams won a record 21 NJSIAA Meet of Champions titles during his unparalleled career.  LARRY LEVANTI/CBA Tom Heath’s Christian Brothers Academy cross-country teams won a record 21 NJSIAA Meet of Champions titles during his unparalleled career. LARRY LEVANTI/CBA However, when asked what stands out the most to him over his unprecedented career, his reply was the streak.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said.

The streak is CBA’s ongoing national record for consecutive dual-meet victories, which began in September 1974 and continued through the 2015 season. The mark now stands at 343.

The mark is a tribute to CBA’s unmatched depth. The Colts were so deep that Heath was able to run his B or even C team in most dual meets and rest his top runners. In that way, as Heath noted over the years, everyone contributed to the streak.

One of the Shore coaches linked to Heath’s streak is Colts Neck High School’s Jim Schlentz. In 1981, the streak was at 94 when Schlentz’s St. John Vianney High School team tied the Colts in a dual meet but lost on the sixth-runner tiebreaker. It was the closest any team came to CBA during its unfathomable five-decade streak.

“I like running against CBA,” Schlentz said. “The only way to get better is to race against the best.”

The Cougars’ coach, who has had his share of success in the sport (his 2006 Colts Neck girls were MOC champions), spoke highly of what Heath and CBA have been able to accomplish.

“To be at the top all those years is remarkable,” Schlentz said.

The Cougars’ coach had a simple explanation as to why the Colts have stayed on top all this while. “They outwork everybody,” Schlentz said. Heath, a CBA graduate who was a sprinter on the track team, took over as head coach of the cross-country team in the fall of 1971.

“There was a tradition at CBA for crosscountry,” Heath said.

Heath, though, took the program to high levels.

Heath noted that not being a cross-country runner was, in a strange way, an advantage for him.

“I never ran distance, which is probably good,” he said. “I never knew pain.”

There was no secret formula behind CBA’s and Heath’s success. He pointed out that it starts with recognizing that kids are smart. He explained they have to work hard, put in their miles in training and stay injury free. Pretty simple stuff, but something it seems only the Colts could achieve year-in and year-out.

I have watched the CBA program over the years as it went from a state power to national champion. I, like most, used to think, “Hey, anyone can coach CBA.” He gets the talent, but after observing Heath over the years and seeing how his runners were always ready for November and the biggest races of the season, I began to appreciate what he has done more. Getting your runners to come through when it matters in a single race takes more than talent. It takes coaching. In Heath’s case, it’s great coaching.

I remember the shocked faces of the Cherokee High School runners a few years ago when they were the heavy favorites to win the MOC only to have CBA take it from them as the Colts ran above their season-level. They did it this year, rebounding from a loss in the group championships the week before to snatch a 21st MOC title.

The 2012 MOC stands out as CBA’s signature win. With superstorm Sandy pushing the MOC back, it conflicted with the Nike Cross Northeast Regional. Heath couldn’t run his starters for fear that it would impact them at the regional three days later and jeopardize their chances of qualifying for the nationals. So he gambled on his “B” team, resting his top five runners.

“I told [the MOC runners] there was no downside,” Heath said. “If you do bad, I’ll take the blame. Just relax and be focused.”

The Colts all went out and ran their Holmdel Park personal bests for a stunning triumph that was a testament to CBA’s tradition.

When the Nike Cross Nationals started up to produce a national champion, did anyone doubt that Heath and the Colts would win it? They did in 2011, raising the profile for New Jersey cross-country. The Colts were also the runner-up in 2013. They’ve made the national championships the last six years.

It’s hard to think about it now, but it wasn’t always this way for Heath and his harriers. He pointed out that he lost the Monmouth County championships the first four times his teams competed in it. Clearing that hurdle opened the door for what would follow.

“As soon as you win something, you realize it’s not as hard to win as you thought,” he said. “It was the same thing with the states (MOC). I thought it was impossible. Then you win it, and it’s not as hard to do.”

How do you get everyone to race so well at the same time?

“You just have the kids relax and realize it’s just another race and it can be won,” Heath said.

Now that Heath has retired, he said that he won’t appear at any cross-country meets next year so as to not be seen as looking over the shoulder of the coach who has the impossible task of following him. He may not be at Holmdel Park next year, but his shadow certainly will be.

Young Jersey Blues positioned for region hoops tourney run

By TIM MORRIS
Staff Writer

 Brookdale Community College’s Jordan Little goes up between two Ocean County College defenders during the Dec. 10 game played on Brookdale’s home floor, Collins Arena in Lincroft. The Jersey Blues held on to beat the Vikings, 71-69.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Brookdale Community College’s Jordan Little goes up between two Ocean County College defenders during the Dec. 10 game played on Brookdale’s home floor, Collins Arena in Lincroft. The Jersey Blues held on to beat the Vikings, 71-69. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The Brookdale Community College men’s basketball team has had an almost complete turnover of its roster from last year.

Long Branch High School graduate Terrel Cox, who plays point guard, is the only returnee.

Yet, despite having nine freshmen on the team, Paul Cisek’s Jersey Blues are sporting a 9-2 record and are very much in the conversation about the best teams in Region 19.

“We’ve started off pretty good,” said Cisek, who is in his 25th year as Brookdale’s head coach. “We’re young and we’re learning from our mistakes.

“These kids are talented. I’m not surprised at our start.”

Sophomore Mason Jones, from Manchester Township High School, played for Brookdale two years ago, and his return is giving the Jersey Blues a lift.

“[Jones] has a lot of potential,” Cisek said. “He’s shooting the ball well from three and he gets to the basket. He’s quick.

“He can do it all, and he plays at an intense level.”

Jones’ impact on the team has been big. He leads the team in scoring with 21.8 points per game and assists with three per game.

Jones gives Brookdale a second ball handler to go with Cox, which is even more important this year because of the new college rule changes.

The shot clock is now 30 seconds (down from 35), and there is no five-second rule. A ball handler can now hold onto the ball, which brings the dribble-drive into play even more.

“It’s hard to defend,” Cisek said. “It’s changed the game. It rewards quick guards.”

In Cox and Jones, the Jersey Blues have guards who can take advantage of the new rule. Brookdale is running more and getting easy baskets because of its backcourt.

Those breakouts and fast breaks are made possible because the Jersey Blues have been able to control the backboard.

“This is the biggest team we’ve had here,” Cisek said.

The 6-foot-8 Jordan Little (Perth Amboy Tech) and 6- foot-5 Dillon Salva (Bishop Ahr) provide a strong, physical inside presence.

Between them, they are averaging more than 21 rebounds a game. Little has 12.2 boards per game, while also averaging 3.4 blocked shots a game.

The duo is also giving the team 29 points a game, as they each average 14.5.

Sky Harris (Cardinal McCarrick) is the team’s small forward. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and athletic, he can rebound and finish. He’s averaging 11.6 points and 4.8 rebounds.

Brookdale’s freshmen are making their presence most felt off the bench. They add both production and depth.

Already, the depth has made a difference in games with Brookdale wearing teams out and winning games in the second half.

“We’ve been fortunate because of the depth of our young freshmen,” Cisek said.

First off the bench is Howell High School graduate Aaron Trimble, who is a scorer. He’s adjusting to college ball and getting better with each game. His Rebels teammate from last year, Will Kocsis, helps out up front. He’s 6 feet 5 inches tall.

Kerry Kirkwood (Neptune) is the backup point guard, and he has the speed and ball handling the position requires.

Another impact freshman is Old Bridge High School graduate Dante Whipple, whom Cisek described as a raw talent.

These five freshmen are still figuring out the game, according to Cisek. One area where youth is most visible is defense, which needs continuity and familiarity. It has made Cisek stray from his preferred man-to-man

“We’ve been forced to play zone, 2-3 and 1-2-2,” Cisek said.

The solid start by the Jersey Blues (7-2 in region play) has them well positioned for a high seed in the Region 19 Tournament, which is Feb. 27-28 at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

As Cisek knows, the Jersey Blues have a lot of basketball to play before then.

“There’s a lot of parity [in Region 19] this year,” Cisek said. “You have to win at home and beat the teams you should on the road.”

The Jersey Blues have a decided edge playing at the Collins Arena, where they’ve been close to unbeatable. Brookdale opens 2016 at home Jan. 9 against Sussex County Community College at 2 p.m., and Union County College visits Jan. 16 at noon.