Driving to the basket

 MATT DENTON MATT DENTON Middlesex Community College’s Michael Valentin drives into the lane against the Community College of Philadelphia’s Kenny Brown during the Dec. 3 game played on Middlesex’s home floor in Edison. Middlesex won the game, 73-68.

Depth, talent are keys for Bombers’ boys hoops team

SAYREVILLE WAR MEMORIAL

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

Sayreville War Memorial High School’s boys’ basketball team heads into its season opener Dec. 18 at home against Edison High School with a deep and athletic roster, as coach John Wojcik plans to play an up-tempo style this winter.

The Bombers are coming off a 12-14 showing a year ago, and the coach was generally pleased with his team’s showing in scrimmages against Rahway High School, William L. Dickinson High School, South Brunswick High School and Hamilton High School West. Wojcik did, however, note that his team still has some work to do. “We have a few guys who played varsity, but overall we don’t have a lot of experience,” Wojcik said. “That will come with a little time. I’m going to be looking for someone to step up and take control. We have a few guys who are capable of doing that. I think we’re set to have a strong year.”

Among the key returnees for the blue and gray is forward Jahsim Floyd. The 6- foot-8 junior often plays out on the wing to take advantage of his speed and accurate jump shot. A 3-point threat, Floyd averaged seven points and eight rebounds last year. Defensively, he’s a presence in the paint, where he averaged three blocked shots and, just as important, made opponents alter their shots countless times.

Senior swingman Zach Alessi and sharpshooting guard Andrew Gay are also back. The Bombers will be without junior Jayson DeMild, who was injured during the football season, for the first two weeks of the campaign. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 7.5 points and is also a team leader, Wojcik noted.

Derek Astarita, who got in a few varsity games last winter, will be the point guard. Wojcik has been impressed with the 5-foot- 10 sophomore’s poise. The versatile Gay may also see some time at the point.

“One of the most important things for us will be valuing the ball and not making turnovers,” Wojcik said. “That’s our first priority — taking care of the ball when we have it and then getting a quality shot.

Andrew Willie, left-handed shooting Mitch Strandberg, juniors Henderson Mautes and Michael Gray and sophomore Elijah Clark will also see time in the backcourt. Mautes and Gray are good t3-point shooters as well.

In addition, Ryan O’Leary, a 6-foot-4 junior who transferred from South Amboy High School, gives Sayreville another longrange threat. Ope Olalowka, a 6-foot-4 forward, will provide help up front.

“We have a lot of guards, and we want to use that to our advantage,” Wojcik said. “We have a very quick and athletic team, so we’re going to press and play aggressive defense and get ourselves up and down the court quickly. We’ll be moving guys in and out to maintain the pace.”

After the Edison game, Sayreville will play at South Amboy Dec. 19 in the “Friends of South Amboy” game to benefit former fire chief Ken Walczak. Wojcik’s team hosts Colonia High School Dec. 22. Over the holiday break, the Bombers compete in the Buc Classic at Red Bank Regional High School. Sayreville opens against the host school Dec. 27.

Knights looking to turn ice hockey season around

OLD BRIDGE

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

Despite getting out of the gate 1-2, Old Bridge High School’s ice hockey team is optimistic that will turn around after posting a 12-9-2 mark last season.

The Knights are coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss at Woodbridge High School Dec. 14. The match was scoreless through two periods. The host squad scored twice early in the third session. Old Bridge rallied to dominate the final 10 minutes but could only muster a goal by Steve Saporito. Goalkeeper Dan Rubin was solid, turning aside 35 Barrons shots.

“We had a nice comeback in our previous game. This time it was too little, too late,” Knights coach Damien LoNigro said. “We’re still trying to mold them into a cohesive team, but they’re learning that they have to work for three periods.”

After opening the year with a 5-1 loss to Ocean Township High School Dec. 2, Old Bridge squared off against Monroe Township High School at home Dec. 9. The Knights found themselves down 1-0 after two periods. Third-period goals by Justin Aronson, Peter Hernandez and Tyler Kogut turned the tide for LoNigro’s team.

Kogut, who topped the team in scoring with 25 goals and 28 assists a year ago, leads a solid offense. Aronson is coming off a nine-goal, six-assist season, and Saporita scored five times a year ago. LoNigro is expecting even more from both this time around. Versatile junior Arthur Dzieniszewski scored twice and added 13 assists, while Hernandez, a sophomore, scored two goals and assisted on nine others.

Seniors Anthony Conti, Nora Fogarty, Rob McKiernan and junior Anthony Ferrero provide additional firepower up front along with freshman Martha Dzieniszewska.

The Knights are strong defensively with Rubin back for his third season between the pipes. The senior turned in a goals-against average under 3.00 last winter and is off to a strong start. Junior Matthieu Schroeder is the reserve goaltender.

“Goaltending is our strength,” the coach said. “Rubin’s the kind of goalie who can steal a couple of games for you. He nearly did it against Woodbridge.”

On the blue line, Old Bridge is young, yet experienced. Sophomore James Silva is a solid two-way player who scored a goal and added eight assists last year. Senior Steven Figueroa, sophomore Kevin Haslach and freshman Heather Figueroa are also on the backline. Junior Jack Morris, who has the hardest shot on the team, is back after missing last season with a knee injury.

“This year, we purposely made the schedule a little tougher,” LoNigro said. “It will be a good test for our guys. We need to raise our level of intensity, and I think that will come with time as our younger players mesh with our seniors. Our goal is to hit our stride for the [Greater Middlesex Conference] and state tournaments.”

SPORT SHORTS

The fourth annual Friends of South Amboy charity basketball games will be held Dec. 19 at South Amboy High School.

The three games begin at 4 p.m. when South Amboy’s girls team plays Koinonia Academy. At 6 p.m. Perth Amboy Vo-Tech’s boys will take the court against Mater Dei Prep. In the nightcap at 8 p.m., South Amboy’s boys team will take on Sayreville War Memorial High School.

Proceeds from the games will benefit long-time South Amboy fireman and former chief Ken Walczak, who is struggling with illness.

The Friends of South Amboy is a nonprofit organization whose sole mission is to help local people in need. An ad book will be available for all attendees. Businesses or individuals who wish to purchase space in the ad book should contact Thomas Reilly at 732-721-0853.

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.

Spectra by Comcast Spectacor, which provides venue management, food services and hospitality and ticketing and fan engagement to Mercer County’s Sun National Bank Center, announced a partnership with River Horse Brewing Co. to sell their local craft beer at the Sun National Bank Center.

The newly branded pub area, which is located near section 109 on the Sun National Bank Center concourse, debuted Dec. 8 at the Premier Boxing Champions event and featured River Horse’s IPA, Special Ale and Tripel Horse craft beers.

Knights fall to Vikings in Central Jersey, Group V final

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

 Old Bridge High School quarterback Jake Esposito, left, is under pressure as he looks to make a pass against South Brunswick High School during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V championship playoff game Dec. 5 at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. The Knights fell to the Vikings, 42-0.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Old Bridge High School quarterback Jake Esposito, left, is under pressure as he looks to make a pass against South Brunswick High School during the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V championship playoff game Dec. 5 at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. The Knights fell to the Vikings, 42-0. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR The Old Bridge High School football team’s season came to a disappointing end Dec. 5 with a one-sided loss to South Brunswick High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group V championship playoff game at High Point Solutions Stadium at Rutgers University.

Nevertheless, coach Anthony Lanzafama’s Knights accomplished quite a bit. It was the fourth consecutive winning season for Old Bridge, which plays in the highly competitive Greater Middlesex Conference’s (GMC) Red Division.

In the championship game, however, top-seeded South Brunswick proved too much. The Knights dropped a 20-9 squeaker to the Vikings during the regular season, but South Brunswick seemed in total control this time. It was the 11th straight win for the Vikings (11-1). Old Bridge (8-4) found itself down, 21- 0, at the half, as the Vikings defense limited the Knights to just three first downs. South Brunswick gradually pulled away after the break and won, 42-0.

“It was a tough way to end a good season, but you have to give South Brunswick credit,” Lanzafama said. “Our guys showed plenty of poise and confidence this year, and they got better as the season went along. They handled a lot of adversity on the field and still won games.”

The Knights showed their mettle in coming from behind to defeat both Sayreville War Memorial High School and Edison High School in regular-season matchups. In its playoff opener, also against Edison (4-6), third-seeded Old Bridge lost a 19-point lead but recovered to win a wild 38-35 game. In the semifinals, Lanzafama’s team dominated second-seeded New Brunswick High School (9-2) en route to a 26-12 win. In that game, Old Bridge jumped to a 14-0 lead and watched the Zebras cut it to 14-12 in a 45-second span right before the half. The Knights then dominated the second half to secure their trip to the finals.

In addition, the Knights won their annual “Battle of Route 18” Thanksgiving Day clash with East Brunswick High School, 20-7.

Along the way, the Knights were developing sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski, who has already drawn interest from several colleges. Sitkowski seemed to improve with each game and completed 95 of 185 passes for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year. Two of Sitkowski’s top targets will be back next fall as well. Junior Jake Kudros caught eight passes for just under 300 yards and three touchdowns, and sophomore Anthony Imbimbo hauled in 12 passes for 420 yards and five touchdowns.

In the backfield, irrepressible junior Nick Sodano is coming off an outstanding campaign. The workhorse back carried the ball 176 times and gained 983 yards. He also scored 11 touchdowns — five in his team’s playoff win against Edison.

While the Knights will have to replace much of the offensive and defensive lines, two-way guard T.J. Townsend returns. Linebackers Terrell Braxton, Nick DeMeglio, Michael Abarno and Tyler Haughney will be back, as will Sodano, Kudros and Paul Ferrali in the secondary.

Bomber bowling teams pin high hopes on vets

SAYREVILLE WAR MEMORIAL

By WARREN RAPPLEYEA
Correspondent

With several key players back, Sayreville War Memorial High School’s boys and girls bowling teams look to have solid seasons.

The boys are coming off an 11-3-1 year that saw the Bombers finish third in the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Red Division. The Blue and Gray came on strong in the postseason, winning the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group III and overall Group III titles before falling to Freehold Township High School in the first round of the Tournament of Champions.

Coach Mike Weinert’s team is led by junior Chris DeOcampo, who averaged 215 pins a year ago. Seniors Mark Kozinski and Lucas Leandro averaged 205 and 200 pins, respectively, giving the Bombers a strong trio at the top of the lineup.

There’s plenty of additional experience with seniors Mike Camp, Tyler Santiago and Zack Wranovics. All three hovered around the 190-pin mark while seeing significant playing time last season. Juniors Ryan Johnson and Eddie Peterson both average in the 185-pin range.

“I’m expecting all of our averages to go up because I know all of our guys worked hard in the offseason,” Weinert said. “They also have the experience of bowling in the tournaments last year, and that will help as well.”

As always, the coach has set high goals for his team: winning the Red Division and winning sectional and state titles.

“We want the bar to be high,” Weinert said. Thus far, the Bombers are 2-1. Sayreville has downed division rivals North Brunswick Township High School and Old Bridge High School, but is coming off a loss Dec. 7 to East Brunswick High School. Weinert’s team took third place Dec. 5 in the Bishop George Ahr High School tournament, finishing behind East Brunswick and Roselle Park High School.

Sayreville was set to roll against South Brunswick High School Dec. 10 and will play Woodbridge High School Dec.12. The next day, the Bombers will vie in the Westfield Tournament at Jersey Lanes in Linden.

The girls team, meanwhile, is off to a 3- 0 start and is coming off a 3-1 victory over East Brunswick Dec. 7. After struggling through an 8-8 regular season, Sayreville’s girls built a foundation for this winter by reaching the final four of the GMC Tournament and then taking second place in the Central Jersey Group III tournament.

Senior Mary Kate Kersting leads the Bombers’ girls. She rolled a 260 Dec. 5, which stood up as the top score in the Bishop Ahr tournament, where Sayreville took sixth place. Kersting, who is being recruited by several colleges, averaged just under 200 pins last season.

Fellow seniors Erin Simon and Tiffany Glowacki are coming off a season where they averaged 186 and 180 pins, respectively. Junior Emily Yataco and her sister, Melissa, a soph, each averaged about 160 pins, and more is expected this season.

“The girls made a lot of progress, and we’re looking for even more improvement this year,” Weinert said. “They learned a lot. The bar is higher for them, too. We want to win the division and the state sectional. They’re off to a good start and they’re getting more confident with each game. We have a talented group, and they can go far.”

SPORT SHORTS

The fourth annual Friends of South Amboy charity basketball games will be held Dec. 19 at South Amboy High School.

The three games begin at 4 p.m. when South Amboy’s girls team plays Koinonia Academy. At 6 p.m. Perth Amboy Vo-Tech’s boys will take the court against Mater Dei Prep. In the nightcap at 8 p.m., South Amboy’s boys team will take on Sayreville War Memorial High School.

Proceeds from the games will benefit long-time South Amboy fireman and former chief Ken Walczak, who is struggling with illness.

The Friends of South Amboy is a nonprofit organization whose sole mission is to help local people in need. An ad book will be available for all attendees. Businesses or individuals who wish to purchase space in the ad book should contact Thomas Reilly at 732-721-0853.

Monmouth’s Robinson named National Player of the Week

It’s been a historic season for the Monmouth University men’s basketball team, and December is just beginning.

During the month of November, Monmouth stunned national power UCLA on the Bruins’ legendary home floor, Pauley Pavilion.

The Hawks followed that up at the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Florida, by scoring their first victory over a top-25 team when they beat the University of Notre Dame in the quarterfinals Nov. 27.

Monmouth went on to place third in the tournament, defeating the University of Southern California, 83-73, in the third-place consolation game Nov. 29. It was their second win against a Pac-12 team (after UCLA) this year.

Tournament Most Valuable Player Justin Robinson scored 27 points and set a tourney scoring record with his 77 total points in the three games. Robinson’s scoring output topped the previous record of 73 points set by former NBA first-round pick Michael Beasley in 2007 while playing for Kansas State University.

In addition to being the tournament MVP, Robinson was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Player of the Week and the Lou Jenson National Player of the Week by CollegeInsider.com. Micah Seaborn earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors. The pair were key in Monmouth’s third-place finish at the AdvoCare Invitational.

Robinson hit the game-winning free throws in Monmouth’s 72-71 win over No. 17 Notre Dame in the tournament quarterfinals.

Against USC, Robinson finished with 27 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three assists. He shot 9-of-15 from the floor and knocked home five 3-pointers for the second consecutive game.

Seaborn netted a career-high 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, making four threes for the first time in his young career.

Deon Jones added his fifth career double-double with 14 points and 10 caroms, shooting 4-of-11 and 6-of-7 from the foul line.

Monmouth, now 4-2 on the season, will open MAAC play on the road Dec. 4, visiting Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and then Niagara University Dec. 6.

The Hawks’ first home game of the season is Dec. 13 against Wagner College and will be televised on ESPN3. The tipoff is at 2 p.m.

Monmouth will not return home to West Long Branch until 2016 when the Hawks host Canisius and Quinnipiac University on Jan. 4 and 9.

SPORT SHORTS

The Sayreville U8 Jr. MetroStars are a high-level boys travel soccer team playing for Sayreville Soccer Club in the MAPS league. The team is comprised of 7- and 8-year-old boys from South Amboy, Sayreville, South River and Avenel. They completed their regular season undefeated at 10-0 with 49 goals scored and six goals against. They also played in two tourneys: the Marlboro MegaBlast, going 4-0, and the MAPS Fall Classic, going 2- 2 against the top competition in the state.