Trojans off to strong start with sights on division title

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

Middlesex County College’s Brittany Clayton, left, dribbles around the Community College of Philadelphia’s Saviare Gilliam during a recent game in Edison. The Middlesex women’s basketball team is having a great season. The women are 12-1 overall and in first place in the Garden State Athletic Conference and Region 19. SCOTT FRIEDMAN Middlesex County College’s Brittany Clayton, left, dribbles around the Community College of Philadelphia’s Saviare Gilliam during a recent game in Edison. The Middlesex women’s basketball team is having a great season. The women are 12-1 overall and in first place in the Garden State Athletic Conference and Region 19. SCOTT FRIEDMAN BISHOP AHR

It was an auspicious beginning for the Bishop George Ahr High School girls’ basketball team last season, as the usually high-octane Trojans went 6-5 early.

However, after an embarrassing 65-37 loss to Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) White Division foe Monroe Township High School in mid-January, Bishop Ahr decided enough was enough and went on a nine-game winning streak, taking 12 of their last 15 overall, to end with a respectable 18-7 record.

Kevin Harper, entering his 26th season as head coach, is hoping last year was just an aberration and that the return of six players who saw frequent action — three of which started — will enable the Trojans to contend for the division crown. Bishop Ahr was off to a 2-0 start before it met Union Catholic High School Dec. 28 in a holiday tournament and will resume regular-season action Jan. 2 when it hosts North Brunswick Township High School.

The Trojans have been led by senior guard Lauren Barlow, who wasted no time eclipsing the 1,000-point plateau for her career by scoring 24 points in a 72-64 season opening victory over Sayreville War Memorial High School Dec. 18. Barlow executes the offense as well as any court general in the GMC and will be a key to Bishop Ahr’s success.

That is not to say senior forward Jenna Harsh won’t make a major impact. Harsh stands 6 feet tall and is a force in the paint.

She is currently 200 points shy of 1,000 and should reach that mark this season. Junior guard Elle Cimilucca is the other returning starter. The rest of the roster includes senior Jillian Ramirez; juniors Sarina Rodriquez and Brianna Jackson; sophomores Virginia Lagdameo, Elyssa Jackson, Kelly Harmon and Sara Decker; and freshmanMorgan Maguire. 

“We have high goals this season,” Harper said. “We should compete for the White Division title, but teams like [defending division champion] Monroe Township and Sayreville will be in the mix, too.”

Boys’ basketball

Before the season began, Bishop Ahr boys basketball coach Dennis O’Keefe was uncertain as to the makeup of the starting lineup, which turned out to be a good thing. He used the pre-season to test different combinations and appears to have developed a rotation that is deep and talented.

The Trojans started the season 2-1 and could be a serious contender for the GMC Blue Division title if things continue to develop according to plan.

“We’re strong on defense, we can rebound and we’re intelligent,” O’Keefe said. “We know we’ll be going against quality teams in the division, so we need to keep developing.”

Based on the three early season contests, the scoring will come from seniors Donald Fackina (10 points per game) and Corey Ciszek (13.3 points per game), junior Sean Kudelka (13.6 points per game) and sophomore Alex Santiago (14.6 points per game. Santiago and Ciszek have been particularly effective from beyond the 3-point arc, and Kudelka has averaged eight rebounds a game.

Others who have seen frequent playing time include seniors Robert Golden, Kieran Hodder, Abe Koppal and Dane Lupton and junior Andrew Weiler. The rest of the roster consists of senior Eric O’Keefe, juniors Dudley Engram and Billy Taylor and sophomores Ryan O’Leary and Jordan Wells.

In addition to playing teams in the Blue Division twice, Bishop Ahr will go up against a number of non-conference opponents this season in order to be more prepared for the better teams the Trojans will face in the GMC and state tournaments. When the season resumes after the holiday break, Bishop Ahr visits North Brunswick Jan. 4, is home to Hackettstown High School Jan. 6 and Carteret High School Jan. 8.

EDISON

The Edison High School girls’ basketball team is 0-3 early in the season, but don’t write off the Eagles just yet.

The three losses — to East Brunswick High School, Piscataway Township High School and Demarest High School — are against quality teams and may not be a true indication of Edison’s potential.

“We are young, athletic and play with a lot of heart,” first-year head coach Frank Eckert said. “Our greatest strength is our determination to succeed.”

If there is a liability, it’s the lack of scoring. In their three losses, the Eagles have failed to reach the 40-point mark. Freshman Samira Sargent is the leading scorer, averaging 12 points. The other members of the rotation are seniors Ashley Hunt and Tatiana Yourstone, junior Bianca Newsom and freshmen Daniella Marmol, Siuly Silva and Kernisha Chester.

Other members of the roster are juniors Idalise Mendez and Lauren Cassella, sophomore Victoria Giordano and freshman Lourdes Marasigan.

Edison’s chief challenge will be competing in the GMC Red Division, not only against Piscataway and East Brunswick, but also against other quality teams such as South Brunswick High School and Woodbridge High School.

“Being that we’re young, we are looking to improve in every aspect of the game,” Eckert said. “The goal is to play better day by day.”

Metuchen girls hoops team to rely on its young players

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

 Middlesex Community College’s Ziykara Hicks, driving for two in a recent game at the Community College of Philadelphia, was named the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Week when she averaged 25 points, three steals and 3.5 assists a in leading Middlesex to a pair of victories. The Middlesex women’s basketball team is 11-1 overall, first in the GSAC with a 7-0 mark and tops in Regional 19 with a 10-0 record.  MATT DENTON Middlesex Community College’s Ziykara Hicks, driving for two in a recent game at the Community College of Philadelphia, was named the Garden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) Player of the Week when she averaged 25 points, three steals and 3.5 assists a in leading Middlesex to a pair of victories. The Middlesex women’s basketball team is 11-1 overall, first in the GSAC with a 7-0 mark and tops in Regional 19 with a 10-0 record. MATT DENTON METUCHEN

If the first game is any indication, the

Metuchen High School girls’ basketball team will lean on a core of underclassmen for success this season.

In a season-opening game against Mother Seton Regional High School Dec. 18, the Bulldogs romped to a 55-19 victory, led by junior Brooke Bandola and sophomore Rory Josell, who scored 12 points each, along with sophomore Kerri Ferrell, who had 17 rebounds. In addition, senior Kelly Burke was a major force on defense with six steals.

The other members of the starting rotation include seniors Alexa Craft-Zaletel and Emily Buchanan.

First-year coach Max Wexler said the roster features a number of non-seniors, but much of the core group has been together for multiple seasons and the chemistry that’s developed will serve them well.

“The young players are capable of putting up big numbers in any game,” he said.

“They read each other very well, which is so important when it comes to generating an effective attack.”

Still, Wexler understands consistency only develops over time, so he’s anticipating some growing pains before his team fully matures.

“When we do put it all together, we can become a very good, well-rounded team,”

Wexler said. “Our goal is to win the

[Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC)]

Blue Division and be competitive in the [NJSIAA] Central Jersey Group II bracket.”

In addition to those mentioned, the roster features senior Katharine Chura, juniors Tina and Tori Czochanski, sophomores Allison Carr and Ginny Clarke and freshman Emily Glutz.

Following a non-conference loss to Bayonne High School, 43-32, Metuchen hosted division games with Middlesex High School Dec. 21 and Dunellen High School Dec. 23.

EDISON

The Edison High School boys’ basketball team opened the season Dec. 18 with a 54-33 loss to Sayreville War Memorial High School and hoped to rebound when it hosted New Brunswick High School (0-1) Dec. 21.

According to head coach Charlie Mohr, who enters his 13th season at the helm, the Eagles’ lack size, which makes rebounding a challenge. To make up for that, Edison (6- 16 last year) hopes to rely on an up-tempo offense that capitalizes on the team’s overall speed.

The starting lineup consists of seniors Brandon Radd (point guard) and John Zanfordino (forward), junior guards Justin Turner and Joe Cudakiewic and sophomore guard Haaziq Daniels.

The rest of the rotation includes juniors Alpha Tarawally and Kenny Guido, while the roster also includes seniors Visshal Suresh Kannan and Kenny Guido and juniors Alpha Tarawally, Dominic Kurtyan, Cecil Bonds, Moiz Manzoor and Tahj Campbell.

Outside of competition in the GMC White Division, the Eagles’ boys are joined by the girls basketball team and cheerleaders performing drills at a pep rally held in

J.P. STEVENS

Piscataway for children with special needs.

The J.P. Stevens High School boys’ basketball team got off to a positive start by defeating Monroe Township High School, 56-23, in another GMC White Division contest Dec. 18. Based on the scoring in that victory, the Hawks will benefit from a balanced lineup that returns intact except for one starter.

Alex Corrigan led the scoring with 15 points, followed by Mike Lionikis and Rishav Ghosh, who contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“We possess good experience in the front and backcourt,” said seventh-year head coach Bobby Jones, whose team finished 10-15 last year. “We fully expect to compete for the division title. We’re also looking to win a few rounds in the GMC Tournament, qualify for the states and get at least past the first round.”

The starting lineup consists of seniors Jay’Von Blacknall, Corrigan, Lionikis, and Shivan Patel, and junior Javon Scott. Backing them up are senior Mike Katims, junior Ghosh and sophomores Brad Dervishaj, Dylan Zamora, Tyrese Conover, Jesse Shiluli, Rohan Rao and Frank Diserio.

Among the community projects sponsored by the Hawks is a fundraiser that provides proceeds to an area homeless shelter.

Falcons aim to return as serious state hoops threat

VARSITY REPORT

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

ST. JOSEPH

I t would have been impossible for last season’s St. Joseph High School of

Metuchen basketball team to top the previous year’s achievement.

All the Falcons did in 2013-14 was win the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions and, in the process, send four scholarship starters to the college ranks, including Karl- Anthony Towns, who spent a year at the University of Kentucky before joining the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves as the top overall draft choice.

As it was, St. Joe’s ended 2014-15 with a 21-5 record, including another Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division title. Only one starter graduated from that team, Marcus Ashamole, and the addition of senior Tyus Battle (Syracuse University commit) to a rotation that is rich in talent and depth should make the Falcons a serious threat to duplicate what they did two seasons ago.

The architect of this formidable program is Dave Turco, who is in his 10th season as head coach. Turco will call on seniors Breein Tyree (University of Mississippi commit), Branislav Vujadinovic, Bryan Carley and Bryce Lane, as well as juniors Michael Granda and Xavier Townes. All are seasoned and understand what winning is about, but it’s the addition of Battle, who played at Gill St. Bernard’s School last year, that solidifies St. Joe’s chances of winning back the Tournament of Champions title.

 Brookdale Community College’s Sky Harris, right, a Cardinal McCarrick High School graduate, dribbles around Ocean County College defender Mike Golden during the Dec. 10 game won by Brookdale, 71-69, on the Jersey Blues’ home court, Collins Arena.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Brookdale Community College’s Sky Harris, right, a Cardinal McCarrick High School graduate, dribbles around Ocean County College defender Mike Golden during the Dec. 10 game won by Brookdale, 71-69, on the Jersey Blues’ home court, Collins Arena. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Other members of the talent-rich squad include seniors Deladem Adadevoh and Jose Medina Jr.; juniors Dexter Jackson, Letrell West and Malachi Walker; sophomore Alanzo Frink; and freshman Khalif Battle, Tyus’ brother.

The Falcons’ streak of five consecutive GMC Tournament titles was interrupted by Colonia High School last year, but look for them to be favored to begin a new streak this season. Beyond their regularly scheduled Red Division games, St. Joe’s will play quality teams throughout the state, beginning with its participation in the Jingle Bells Jubilee Holiday Tournament at the Paterson Charter School. The tournament, which takes place Dec. 26-29, will feature such powerhouse teams as Gill St. Bernard’s, Columbia High School, Plainfield High School, St. Joseph High School of Montvale, Immaculate High School, Paterson Eastside High School and Hackensack High School.

METUCHEN

Last year is one the Metuchen High School boys basketball team would like to forget for a variety of reasons.

Shortly before the season began, reserve Conor McCadden succumbed to a terminal illness, and the team’s 7-17 record was simply the by-product of a program that never recovered from the shock of losing a teammate.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs return only one starter, Danny Flaherty, so the job of improving on last year’s record will be difficult. The junior swingman averaged 5.7 points per game and will be looked upon as the main offensive threat. To compound the lack of experience issue, senior Evan Collier transferred out of the district.

Second-year head coach Guy Jensen said sophomore forwards Danny Russell and Danny Petto will likely see playing time.

Other roster members include seniors Nate Walter and Jaime Sims; juniors Justin Briggs, Thomas Christian and David Weiss; sophomores Sohan Ullal and Riley Watkins; and freshman Ethan Lebovitz.

Jensen’s immediate objectives are influenced by the lack of depth.

“We need to develop varsity-ready players and keep everybody healthy,” he said. “When you’re as young as we are, every opponent is going to be the favorite. If I was to pick a favorite in our division (GMC Blue), Spotswood stands out as a team who has played together for over three years.”

Bowling is a sport that gets an early start to the winter high school season. As a result, Edison High School’s boys and girls have already participated in matches and are each off to solid starts.

The Eagles’ girls are 4-1 after finishing 17-3-2 a year ago; however, Kayla Johnson, one of the top bowlers in the state, graduated, leaving a huge vacancy. However, a core of seasoned bowlers ensures Edison will continue its winning ways.

Senior Abby Buchany (160 average) will be the anchor and hopes to be a factor in the GMC Individual championships later in the season. She is joined by another senior, Stephanie Kawall, who looks to improve her 146 average.

Junior Samantha Salzone is the top returning bowler for average (174) and finished 19th in the GMC Individuals, while junior Touri Holmes averaged 161 and finished 23rd in the GMC Individuals.

Victoria Johnson, the only sophomore, is looking to improve her 142 average from last season. Samantha Osiadacz, Evelyn Peralta, Alyssa Augustine, Raagavi Maniannan and Andrea Martinez are freshmen new to the sport.

The boys (10-7-1 last year) are led by senior Tom Leone, who averaged 214 last year and finished runner-up in the GMC Individuals. He will be joined by junior Chris Maminskas, who averaged 161.

Sophomore Jason Smith, who specializes in two-handed bowling, returns with his 186 average and will be joined by Raleigh Gough, who averaged 148. A newcomer to the program is senior Philip Pagan, who has shown promise in practice matches.

Rounding out the roster are junior Matt Andrzejczak (140 average) and Jitarth Sheth (115 average), both of whom are working hard to break into the lineup. Freshman Spencer Heisler is new to the sport, and he is learning fast what he needs to do in order to succeed on the varsity team.

“This season, I’m fortunate to have Deana Loria as my assistant coach,” head coach Tracie Smith said. “She’s a former youth bowler and brings a lot of support to the program.”

SPORT SHORTS

Due to popular demand, the Mansfield University baseball program will host an expanded nine sessions of its Christmas Baseball Clinics this year, including a Mini Camp option for those seeking a more intensified experience.

A long-time stocking stuffer tradition, the seven sessions are broken down into age groups of 5-6, 7-8, 9-11, 12-14 and 15-18, and they are offered Dec. 27 and 28 and Jan. 2.

Costs for the clinics range from $30 to $80 per player. Registration is available by calling Harry Hillson at 570-404-2632. Call for team rates.

You may also register on the Mansfield baseball webpage at www.GoMounties.com and click on the baseball page and then on the Camp and Clinic page.

Items for the Sport Shorts column may be sent to tmorris@gmnews.com. Please send items at least two weeks prior to a registration deadline or tryout date.

St. Joe’s looks for another strong season on the ice

VARSITY REPORT

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

Middlesex Community College’s Nazjae Imes, left, looks for an open teammate during the team’s Dec. 3 game against the Community College of Philadelphia in Edison. Middlesex scored 104 points in the victory. The women’s basketball team is off to a 6-1 start overall and 6-0 in Region 19 play.

Middlesex Community College’s Nazjae Imes, left, looks for an open teammate during the team’s Dec. 3 game against the Community College of Philadelphia in Edison. Middlesex scored 104 points in the victory. The women’s basketball team is off to a 6-1 start overall and 6-0 in Region 19 play.

ST. JOSEPH

It might seem like the St. Joseph High

School of Metuchen ice hockey team, a member of the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC), inflates its record each season at the expense of league opponents.

That is far from the case. True, the Falcons are far and away the dominant program in the GMC and have not dropped a conference game in two years. Their streak of GMC tournament titles currently stands at four.

The six other members of the conference are, of course, on the schedule, but the rest of the Falcons’ games are against some of the best programs in the state, in addition to out-of-state matches. St. Joe’s goal is, and always has been, to prepare for the state tournament, which begins in February.

Head coach Ryan Carter stays away from predicting how his team will finish.

“Our goal is to improve every day. The wins and championships are by-products of this process,” he said. “We will work relentlessly hard in finding a way to improve every day.”

Carter’s statement reveals why St. Joe’s has maintained a high level of consistency through the years. The roster has been blessed with outstanding talent and this year is no exception with the likes of seniors Michael Nisky, Ryan Hille, Reece Young, Nick Sondej, Mike Sabella, Joe Mortillaro, Thomas Bauer, Travis Literate and Thomas Dietzel. Besides being the team leaders in scoring and defense, it is the responsibility of the upperclassmen to impress upon the new members of the team that success only comes through hard work.

“This not only extends to the varsity but junior varsity,” Carter said. “High school hockey has a defined shelf life, and players need to take advantage of their opportunities. The two things our seniors do that make us different than other programs is that they believe in each other and our ability. When a group of student-athletes embrace that mindset, it becomes infectious and everyone buys into that immediately.”

The results speak for themselves. Coming off a year in which St. Joe’s finished with a 17- 3-2 record, the Falcons dominated Woodbridge High School, 12-2, in the season-opener and were scheduled to meet Colonia High School Dec. 7. The Falcons step outside the GMC for games against Montclair Kimberley Academy Dec. 9 and Red Bank Catholic High School Dec. 11 to close out the week.

Nisky will join a long list of players who went on to play beyond high school. Before the season began, the senior had 40 career goals and 165 points, and he posted two assists in the Falcons’ victory over Woodbridge. In spring 2014, the senior was drafted by the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL), which is considered the top junior development league in the country. That does not preclude Nisky, an outstanding student, won’t end up with a full college scholarship at some prestigious institution.

For their careers, Bauer has registered 30 goals and 75 points, Mortillaro has 17 goals and 36 points, Young has five goals and 18 points, Sondej has nine goals and 29 points and Hille has four goals and seven points.

“I do think hockey is continuing to grow in the GMC, but the process has been slow,” he said. “Every GMC team can now say they have multiple athletes that play travel hockey, which is a huge improvement from a few years ago. I believe the sport will continue to grow, but it is still going to take time.”

EDISON

That’s the position the Edison High School hockey program finds itself in. The Eagles, which supplement its roster from crosstown J.P. Stevens High School, opened the season with two losses — 5-3 to the Frisch School and 14-7 to South Brunswick High School. This follows last year, when Edison finished with a 3-17 record.

A major bright spot is the play of junior forward Robert DeStefano, who finished with 38 goals last season, which was tops for New Jersey high school players returning this year. He has four goals in the early going, including a hat trick against South Brunswick. Seniors Mike Tutalo (three goals) and Tom Wales return to the blue line and provide Edison with size and experience. Also returning are forwards Chuck Youse (seven goals, eight assists last year) and Dan Lesch (five goals last season). Freshman Anthony Gardner is a solid addition and has a goal and an assist. Sophomore Parker Mckenna is now the full-time goaltender after part-time duty a year ago.

“We’ve hit a bit of a lull, numbers-wise, in town,” coach Russ Berner said. “But the talent level of our players continues to increase. Our regular starting five can compete with most teams in conference, but we need to develop depth from within, and that takes time.”

Berner said the program is somewhat handcuffed by the lack of a youth program, which results in some players taking to the ice for the first time once they join the team.

“That’s a disadvantage compared to most of the teams in the conference, where the players have skated for almost a decade,” Berner said. “But on the positive side, kids get the opportunity to play hockey when they might otherwise not have the opportunity.”

Moving forward, Berner said the program will improve with an increased emphasis on involving more players in hockey when they are of middle school age when they continue their development and be ready when they enter high school.

NJSIAA Meet of Champions


 Metuchen High School’s Jake Beacher (2436) runs past a pair of harriers on his way to the finish line at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park Nov. 21. He was the No. 1 runner for Metuchen, which finished 17th in the team competition.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Metuchen High School’s Jake Beacher (2436) runs past a pair of harriers on his way to the finish line at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions at Holmdel Park Nov. 21. He was the No. 1 runner for Metuchen, which finished 17th in the team competition. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR

Bulldogs solid on gridiron despite missing state playoffs

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

Before closing the book on the fall high school season, it’s worth looking back at some of the more notable accomplishments by area teams.

Arguably the top performance by a football team was the one by Metuchen High School, which didn’t even qualify for the state playoffs. The Bulldogs put together a 7-3 record, led by a dominant defense that pitched four shutouts and a productive offense that scored 40 or more points in five victories.

The one hiccup that cost Metuchen a Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Blue Division title and a berth in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I playoffs was a heartbreaking, 27-24 loss to Spotswood High School Nov. 7.

Still, Bob Ulmer, whose third season in his second stint as coach is now complete, was proud of how his team performed, especially a special group of seniors who willingly switched positions for the sake of improving the team’s effectiveness on both sides of the ball.

Trevor Figau, who split quarterback duty with Jake Lebovitz last year, became Metuchen’s feature running back and eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the final game of the season, a 49-19 victory against traditional rival Highland Park High School. Lebovitz responded as fulltime quarterback by nearly doubling his completions (52) in addition to handling the signalcalling duties.

Finally, Peter DiMeglio, an undersized fullback, assumed the position after a successful offseason in the weight room and proved to be a solid blocker and excellent cornerback on defense. He punctuated his career with three interceptions in the Highland Park victory.

Ulmer also had high praise for lineman Fabian Maragh, who was dominant on both sides of the ball, and Jarrett Sims, who was a physical presence at linebacker after being out the entire season a year ago.

With those seniors playing their last games, Metuchen will be faced with filling huge holes, and Ulmer admits it will be a tough task. However, he will have back junior Trevor Miller, one of the top players in the state. The junior was on the field nearly every play at tight end and linebacker, but

Ulmer said he is looking at putting Miller in positions where he gets more touches and can take advantage of his explosiveness.

Another quality returning player is junior Justin Briggs, who was moved from free safety to linebacker, a move Ulmer says made him an even more effective player.

Also back for his fourth season is Ulmer.

“Our principal, Bruce Peragallo, came to me three years ago and asked if I would take over the program,” Ulmer said. “We went 4- 6 the first year and 6-4 last season. This year’s record is a testament not only to the players but our coaching staff who really developed the program into what it has become.”

Two other area football teams finished the season with victories at the expense of their rivals. St. Joseph High School of Metuchen earned a 35-0 victory over Bishop George Ahr High School Nov. 21 to finish with a 4-5 record in the White Division. The Trojans, also a White Division team but scheduled to move to the Blue Division next year, ended the campaign at 4-6 and have yet to defeat St. Joe’s in the four times the teams have met.

In the annual Thanksgiving Day clash between Edison High School and J.P. Stevens High School, the Eagles prevailed, 35-21, to finish with a 4-6 record. The Hawks ended with a 1-9 mark.

Metuchen was also in the spotlight for the performance of its other fall sports teams. The boys and girls soccer teams made it to their respective sectional finals, while the boys and girls cross-country teams also had success in the state group meets. The Bulldogs’ boys captured the Group I title, while the girls finished fourth in the team standings.

In the state individual gymnastics meet Nov. 14, Bishop Ahr freshman Ariyana Agarwala tied for first place on the uneven bars (9.65), finished tied for sixth in the allaround competition (37.725) and tied for fifth in the floor exercise (9.575). J.P. Stevens’ Shannon Gregory placed ninth in the all-around competition (37.625).

Falcons, Trojans rivalry game takes on greater importance

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

 The Wardlaw-Hartridge School’s Noah Toney signed his National Letter of Intent to accept a track and field scholarship at the University of Virginia. He holds the Wardlaw-Hartridge records in the 400 and 800 meters. Seated with him at the signing are his parents, Seth Toney and Dr. Flora Taylor. Standing, from left to right, are high school coaches Mike Clay, Jamal Burden, Jaclyn Santamaria and Allyson Schieve and Wardlaw-Hartridge athletic director Karl Miran. The Wardlaw-Hartridge School’s Noah Toney signed his National Letter of Intent to accept a track and field scholarship at the University of Virginia. He holds the Wardlaw-Hartridge records in the 400 and 800 meters. Seated with him at the signing are his parents, Seth Toney and Dr. Flora Taylor. Standing, from left to right, are high school coaches Mike Clay, Jamal Burden, Jaclyn Santamaria and Allyson Schieve and Wardlaw-Hartridge athletic director Karl Miran. The annual football game between St. Joseph High School of Metuchen and Bishop George Ahr High School of Edison took place Nov. 21 for the fifth time these rival teams have met.

It could also be the last time the Falcons and Trojans play for the foreseeable future.

According to Mike Wolfthal, Bishop Ahr’s athletic director, the Trojans have successfully appealed to the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) to move from the White Division, where they now play, to the Blue Division beginning next fall. Bishop Ahr will play its six Blue Division opponents, and the three remaining games will be against Shore Conference teams.

There is a chance, however, a regularseason game with St. Joe’s could wind up on the schedule, if not next fall, then in future seasons.

“We have an agreement with the Shore to play our non-division games against teams of similar size in their conference,” Wolfthal said. “But we’ve also been assured by the Shore that it would not stand in the way of [Bishop Ahr] continuing to play St. Joe’s.”

Wolfthal isn’t committed to making any future plans for the program just yet. That’s because Bishop Ahr’s move to the Blue Division could be superseded by a mandate that’s currently being considered, which would pool all non-public high schools that field football teams into one conference with divisions based on their locations. The state association’s executive committee approved the measure at a meeting in May and moved to have it voted on by the state association’s general membership at its meeting Dec. 7 at the Pines Manor in Edison.

Wolfthal said he does not favor the formation of the non-public conference but that he would “wholeheartedly support” whatever the NJSIAA membership decides.

St. Joseph head football coach Casey Ransone was not asked to address the possibility his team would become part of the new conference, but he shared his thoughts on the annual rivalry game with Bishop Ahr.

“It’s just a natural rivalry between two schools who want nothing more than to win the game,” the coach said. “At the same time, each program has great respect for the other.”

Ransone, who will complete his third season at the helm, said even though the game will not be played on Thanksgiving, it will still generate an exciting atmosphere, especially since there is no telling when the two teams will meet again.

Ransone said a Thanksgiving game was something that had been a part of his household since he was born. A native of Hillsborough, his family was a next-door neighbor of Joe Paulino, then coach of Hillsborough High School.

“Our family always attended Hillsborough’s Thanksgiving game with Somerville,” he said. “It was a day the entire community would come out and support the team.”

Ransone’s counterpart at Bishop Ahr, Joe Vigilante, who is finishing his second season as head coach, was also a player for the Trojans and recalled how good it felt to defeat John F. Kennedy Memorial High School when the teams met on Thanksgiving.

“Last year was the first time I coached when we played St. Joe’s, and we came up a little short (21-14 loss),” he said. “But regardless of the score, I’m hopeful that by playing football, our players learned something about themselves that will carry through into their adulthoods.”

Edison High School coach Matt Fulham said his most memorable moment in 11 years as head coach was in 2006 — his second season.

The Eagles were 2-7 and heavy underdogs against Thanksgiving rival J.P. Stevens High School, which made the state playoffs that year.

“We scored in the final seconds and our quarterback, Erik Janz, completed a pass to Mike Campbell for a two-point conversion,” he said. “That won the game, 29-28, for us, and it was quite a thrill.”

Fulham said this year’s game marks the 50th anniversary of the series between the crosstown rivals. At stake, as always, is the King of the Limb trophy awarded to the winning team by the Edison Township PBA.

Metuchen High School coach Bob Ulmer said what he remembers most about Thanksgiving was when he was a player for Bound Brook High School.

“We played Immaculata High School, which was undefeated, and we beat [the Spartans], 7-6,” he said. “It was a standingroom only crowd, and I recall feeling totally exhausted after the game but very proud.

“We’ll be playing our longtime rivals, Highland Park on Thanksgiving, and that’s been a great rivalry, too. It’s when the alumni come home and watch us, and the winner gets the Goal Post Trophy.” The Board of Directors of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey elected Mark Ford as its president at a reorganization meeting held Nov. 16 at the association’s offices in Manalapan.

Ford, one of the leading trainers in Meadowlands history, owns and operates the Mark Ford Training Center. He fills the position occupied for more than a dozen years by Thomas Luchento.

“We made tremendous gains while Tom was president,” Ford said in a prepared statement. “And we will redouble our efforts to expand racing opportunities in New Jersey, pushing ahead with plans for an expanded gaming referendum in 2016. We thank Tom Luchento for his leadership and know he will continue to contribute as a member of the Board of Directors.”

In the election of other officers, Mark Mullen was named first vice president, Robert Boni as second vice president, Chris Ryder as third vice president, Alfred Ochsner Jr. as treasurer and Anthony Romano as secretary.

New Jersey’s two harness tracks — the Meadowlands and Freehold Raceway — have been awarded a combined 200 racing dates for 2016.

The dates were approved at the New Jersey Racing Commission meeting Nov. 18 in Trenton.

Mark Ford, attending his first Commission meeting as president of the Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey (SBOANJ), advised the commission that the SBOANJ was reluctantly accepting the Meadowlands dates as an experiment for 2016.

“We are concerned about losing dates in January and February and replacing them with September and October dates,” Ford said.

The Meadowlands requested 90 dates, Fridays and Saturdays only (plus Sunday, May 8), from Jan. 2 through Aug. 6 and from Sept. 9 through Dec. 31 (dark on Dec. 24]. Post time is at 7 p.m.

Freehold received 110 dates, racing Jan. 1 through May 21 plus Aug. 26 and 27, and Sept. 2 through Dec. 10. Racing days will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays plus three holidays on Mondays — Jan. 18, Feb. 15 and Sept. 5. Dark days are Sept. 1 and Nov. 24. Post time is at 12:30 p.m.

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Eagles keep it close in state sectional football defeat

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

Normally a football team with a 3-5 record doesn’t belong in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V playoffs.

However, Edison High School’s narrow 38-35 loss to Old Bridge High School (5-3) proved the Eagles were more than worthy of being included in the postseason. If not for a last-minute drive that ended on downs in Knights territory, the Eagles might have won the game. And what a punctuation mark that would have been for a team that suffered through three straight losses before upsetting Sayreville War Memorial High School, 20- 19, Nov. 6. It was that victory and the power points that came with it that earned the Eagles the sixth seed in the eight-team bracket.

Despite the close score, Edison head coach Matt Fulham was not interested in talking about his team’s performance being a moral victory, especially since Old Bridge beat the Eagles, 45-27, in a regular-season game in September.

 Metuchen High School’s Carly Lucas, left, screens Shore Regional High School’s Sophie Hauritz to gain control of the ball during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I championship game played in West Long Branch Nov. 12. Shore Regional denied Metuchen’s bid for a state sectional title, 4-0.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Metuchen High School’s Carly Lucas, left, screens Shore Regional High School’s Sophie Hauritz to gain control of the ball during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I championship game played in West Long Branch Nov. 12. Shore Regional denied Metuchen’s bid for a state sectional title, 4-0. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR “Tonight, we had a couple of turnovers in key situations, and that cost us,” he said. “Our mantra all year has been protecting the football and playing physical. When we do that, we’re good, and when we don’t, we’re not.”

Edison did, however, manage numerous outstanding plays throughout the seesaw contest, which included quarterback Haziq Daniels completing 10 of 15 passes with three touchdowns. Old Bridge appeared on its way to an easy victory after scoring three consecutive touchdowns to go up, 19-0, with 11 minutes left in the second quarter. However, Edison stormed back with three scores of its own to take a 20-19 lead at halftime. Another touchdown with just over five minutes remaining in the third quarter extended the margin to 28-19 and an upset appeared possible.

That’s when the proverbial light came on for Old Bridge, as the Knights posted three touchdowns, the last coming with 2:30 on the clock, to give them a 38-28 lead.

Still, Edison refused to toss in the towel. Daniels fired an off-balance aerial to a streaking Ben Baez, who cradled the ball into his arms and ran to the end zone to narrow the Knights’ lead to 38-35.

The Eagles used their three timeouts to stop the clock after three Old Bridge running plays on the next possession netted 4 yards. Faced with a fourth-down, the Knights lined up to punt, but the kicker took off on a run and failed to reach the first down marker, thus handing over the ball to Edison in Old

Bridge territory with 1:30 left.

Despite Edison’s loss, the season is not over. On Thanksgiving, the Eagles will meet crosstown rival J.P. Stevens High

School (1-8), which won its first game of the campaign, 42-6, over William L. Dickinson High School in a state crossover game on Nov. 12. The J.P. Stevens game is the only thing on Fulham’s mind.

“Right now, it’s about this season and getting better, eliminating our mistakes,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids, but it seems everybody in [the Greater Middlsex Conference Red Division] has quality sophomore and junior classes. When we’re finished with this year, then we’ll focus on next season.”

Soccer

The Metuchen High School (16-6) boys’ soccer team finally saw its impressive season come to an end Nov. 13 when South River High School defeated the Bulldogs, 2-0, in the Central Jersey, Group I championship game. Metuchen reached the finals by posting three shutout victories against Highland Park High School, 5-0, New Egypt High School, 1-0, and Burlington City High School, 5-0.

“Losing to South River was tough, especially for the seniors,” first-year Bulldog coach Ed Albanese said. “But we can be thankful we had so many great moments and accomplished so much.”

Albanese credits his team’s success by their approach of “playing the right way — hard with a willingness to fight through obstacles when things didn’t go their way.”

The leading scorers for Metuchen were seniors Cameron O’Connell (19 goals, four assists) and Ryan Josell (15 goals, seven assists).

Albanese, who took over for Ken Graf, complimented the former coach because of what he learned during his 11 years as his assistant.

“Ken established a great tradition here of competing at the highest level,” he said. “I first learned to love high school and college soccer by playing myself and tried to pass that on in addition to what Ken did.”

The Metuchen and Bishop George Ahr High School girls saw their state championship aspirations end as they were defeated in sectional tournament games. The Bulldogs advanced to the championship game by blanking Bound Brook High School, 6-0, New Egypt, 4-0, and Point Pleasant Beach High School, 1-0, before losing to Shore Regional High School, 4-0, in the title game.

The Trojans won their quarterfinals match against Paul VI High School, 2-1, but were eliminated by Notre Dame High School, 3-0, in the Non-Public A South semifinals.

Cross-country

Metuchen’s boys’ cross-country team proved the whole is stronger than the parts by capturing the Group I title without a runner finishing in the top 10.

The race was held at Holmdel Park Nov. 14, with the Bulldogs scoring 112 points to edge Wallkill Valley High School by a point.

Sophomore Jake Beacher was the top Metuchen finisher, placing 11th (17:07), while the order of finish and their times for the Bulldogs’ other races were sophomore Caelen Johnson, 20th (17:27); senior Mike Stonehocker, 27th (17:36); junior Austin Brooks, 30th (17:38); junior James Francobandiero, 32nd (17:43); sophomore Stephen Tang, 40th (17:54); and sophomore Divij Gupta, 42nd (17:55).

The Metuchen girls finished fourth in the Group I race with 140 points after an unfortunate spill by Rachel Suss caused the senior to be unable to complete the course. The other Bulldogs finishers were senior Kristina Lignell, 18th (21:33); freshman Emma Capron, 28th (21:55); junior Rachel Wentnick, 31st (22:02); junior Elizabeth Lawson, 35th (22:08); and freshman Nina Suss, 44th (22:20).

Gymnastics

In the state individual gymnastics meet Nov. 14, Bishop Ahr freshman Ariyana Agarwala, who tied for first place on the uneven bars (9.65), finished tied for sixth in the all-around competition (37.725). She also tied for fifth in the floor exercise (9.575). J.P. Stevens’ Shannon Gregory placed ninth in the all-around competition (37.625).

One-point victory for Eagles sends them to state playoffs

By JIMMY ALLINDER Correspondent

 Metuchen High School’s Mya Stolarski (21) wins the ball in air against New Egypt High School’s Lauryn Laning during the Nov. 5 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I quarterfinals in Metuchen. The Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals with a 4-0 victory.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Metuchen High School’s Mya Stolarski (21) wins the ball in air against New Egypt High School’s Lauryn Laning during the Nov. 5 NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group I quarterfinals in Metuchen. The Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals with a 4-0 victory. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR It took a missed extra-point attempt by Sayreville War Memorial High School with nine seconds left that would have tied Edison High School to breathe new life into the Eagles’ football season.

As a result of the errant kick, Edison (3- 4 division, 3-5 overall) upset the Bombers, 20-19, enabling the Eagles to qualify for the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V playoffs based on power points.

Edison (sixth seed) opens at third-seed Old Bridge High School (5-2 division, 5-3 overall) Nov. 13, which will mark the second time the teams have met this season. On Sept. 18, the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division foes faced each other, with the Knights coming out on top, 45-27. The winner in the sectional game faces the victor of the contest between seventh-seed Freehold Township High School and second seed New Brunswick High School a week later.

Considering how difficult this season has been, the Eagles’ victory over Sayreville was especially gratifying. If not for a 28-26 decision in triple overtime against East Brunswick High School Oct. 2, a loss to Sayreville would have been Edison’s seventh straight. Head coach Matt Fulham, a Sayreville graduate, glowed as he talked about his team’s third straight win against his alma mater (including a forfeit last year).

“A key turning point of the game was Nick Yanik recovering a fumble when Sayreville was driving, then catching a pass and running 66 yards for a touchdown, breaking two tackles [along the way],” Fulham said. “Then there was [quarterback] Haziq [Daniels], who broke a 57-yard run to put us up by a touchdown (20-13) in the fourth quarter.”

Fulham said his team is anxious for the rematch with Old Bridge, not only because it’s the playoffs, but also because he felt his team played better than the final score of the first encounter.

Daniels was particularly impressive, going 16 for 31 in the passing department for 226 yards, including three touchdowns in a game Old Bridge led at the half, 17- 14. Edison’s top rusher, James Stewart, who has 961 yards on the campaign, ran for 144 yards.

Regardless of how Edison fares in the playoffs, the Eagles will visit their crosstown rival, J.P. Stevens High School (0-7 division, 0-8 overall), on Thanksgiving.

An area team which saw its playoff fortunes end abruptly was Metuchen High School (3-1 division, 6-2 overall) which dropped a 27-24 decision to Spotswood High School (5-0 division, 7-2 overall) Nov. 7.

The Bulldogs failed to qualify, while Abraham Clark High School (Roselle) and Raritan High School — two teams with 3-5 overall records — secured berths in Central Jersey Group II. To add salt to the wound, the Spotswood defeat cost Metuchen the Blue Division title. The Bulldogs’ season continues Nov. 14 when it hosts Bernards High School (5- 3) in a state crossover game and concludes on Thanksgiving when the Bulldogs host Highland Park High School (1-3 division, 3-5 overall).

In one of the more entertaining games of the season, the Spotswood vs. Metuchen affair was a see-saw battle during which the game was tied on four separate occasions. The verdict was only decided when the Chargers converted a 30-yard field goal with nine seconds left.

Soccer

In state tournament soccer action, Metuchen’s boys and girls remained in contention for the Central Jersey, Group I title, while the Bishop George Ahr High School girls were alive in South Jersey Non-Public A.

The second-seeded Bulldogs boys (15- 5) advanced to be home in a semifinal game in Central Jersey, Group I against third-seed Burlington City High School Nov. 10, while the second-seeded girls team (17-3-1) hosted third-seed Point Pleasant Beach High School in another semifinal game Nov. 9. The Metuchen girls program won a state title in 2007.

The second-seeded Trojans (18-2) hosted third-seed Notre Dame High School Nov. 9 and, if victorious, will meet the winner of top-seed Holy Cross High School vs. fifth-seed Red Bank Catholic High School Nov. 12 on the higher-seeded team’s pitch.

Gymnastics

Continuing its outstanding postseason performance, the Bishop Ahr gymnastics team captured the North Jersey II sectional title Nov. 7. The team victory comes on the heels of winning the GMC team championship Oct. 24.

As the Trojans’ Ariyana Agarwala did in the GMC, the freshman placed first allaround (38.3) to edge J.P. Stevens’ Shannon Gregory (38.25). Agarwala’s teammate, Skylar Davisson (36.775), also reached the medal stand by placing third.

In the individual events, Gregory (9.55) was first in the vault, Agarwala (9.5) placed second and Davisson (9.4) finished fourth. In the uneven bars, Agarwala (9.675) won the competition, with Gregory (9.275) placing fourth.

Agarwala (9.775) also captured the beam, while Gregory (9.7) placed second and Davisson (9.125) finished fourth. In the floor exercise, Gregory (9.725) won her second gold medal, with Agarwala (9.35) managing fifth.

Bishop Ahr is among 10 teams that will compete for the state team championship Nov. 12 at Montgomery High School. Agarwala, Davisson and Gregory also qualified for the state individual championships two days later at the same site.