Heath built legendary cross-country program at CBA


Tim Morris

The words “great” and “legend” get thrown out 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. Yet he ranks the national-record 343 dual-meet victories as the highlight of his 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. Yet he ranks the national-record 343 dual-meet victories as the highlight of his 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 fare 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 crosscountry 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.

Jaguars’ expectations stay high for wrestling season



It’s a challenge to find wrestlers at Jackson Memorial High School to replace Brody Graham — who placed third in the state tournament — as well as four-year starters like Fred Terranova, Hunter Reese, Jarret DiGiantomasso, Sean Leahey and Connor Bohringer.

Graham, a heavyweight who has embarked on a college football career at the University of Pennsylvania, was 39-3 last season, while Bohringer, a state qualifier, was 27-3 at 182 pounds and Terranova won 26 bouts at 120. Leahey at 152 and DiGiantomasso at 160 both advanced out of district to regions.

The bar is high for this year’s group, but coach Aaron Gottesman believes he has wrestlers improving daily who will achieve their own success by the end of the season. He feels they’ll also guide Jackson Memorial to another strong season like last year, when the Jaguars reached the NJSIAA Group IV final, losing to Phillipsburg High School. They also finished in second place in the Shore Conference A South Division and the Shore Conference Tournament, runners-up in both to Brick Memorial High School. Jackson Memorial was ranked No. 8 in the state.

“Goals never change to finish as one of the top teams in the state. This team is no different,” Gottesman said. “Many have been wrestling in their third or fourth year, and they continue to progress. They’re coming along pretty steadily. If everyone gets to their weight level, that’s their key to progressing.”

It starts Dec. 19 at the Robin Leff Tournament hosted by Southern Regional High School.

Leading the way for the returnees are juniors Tim Hamann, who was 29-10 and fourth in Region VI at 145 pounds, and Matt McGowan, who moves up from 106 pounds, where he was 24-8, to 126 pounds. There also are seniors Mike Spino, who was among the top six in the region in a 28- 10 season at 120, and Tanner Kelly, who was district champion in an 18-8 season at 170.

Freshman Carsten DiGiantomasso will begin his quest for the success enjoyed by his older brother, Jarret, when he wrestles at 106 after an outstanding career at Carl W. Goetz Middle School.

Also looking for wrestling opportunities at the lower weight classes are junior Jeremiah Nash and sophomores Kevin Hogan and Tyler Mitrosky. After Spino, who looks to succeed Terranova at 120, and McGowan at 126, Ryan Bohringer and John Moss look to fill in at 132 or 138. Bohringer won five bouts as a freshman last season and was on the roster of the two-time state champion football team. Moss was injured much of last wrestling season.

Sophomore Logan Reese, Hunter’s younger brother, and senior Mike Christie are working toward opportunities at 132 and 138.

The 145-pound spot is not determined, and senior Jay Epperly looks to step in at 152.

After that, four wrestlers who started on Jackson Memorial’s football team will look to fill in some of the gaps. Kyle Johnson, a senior who was quarterback for the football team and played on the baseball team, looks to be a regular at 160, where he saw spot action last season. Dan Bergeron, a junior, also is pushing for an opportunity there. Kelly is solid at 170, where sophomore Justin Martin-Culet also is training at that weight and at 182 pounds. Sophomore Dave Lemay could fill in either at 170 or 182.

Adante Davis, a senior who was 18-12 in the upper weights, should see action at either 195 or 222. Davis was a defensive back on the football team along with senior Chris Mondello, who was the center, and Larry Richardson, who was an offensive guard. Both wrestle at either 195 or 220. Senior Edgar Soriano also has looked sharp at either weight.

Another offensive lineman on the football team, Austin Ostrander, is back after sitting out last season and should be the heavyweight. He was 16-11 as a sophomore.

Liberty Lions look to experienced wrestlers as leaders



Jackson Liberty High School wrestling coach Mike Eddy is not looking back, which is hard to do with the graduation of the Russo brothers — Mike and Matt, who each reached the 40-win plateau, with Mike finishing sixth in the state at 126 pounds.

Both were District 21 and Region VI champions.

Also graduated are 20-bout winners Nick McConell, Brian Mathieu and Brendan Busacca.

But Eddy believes he can live for the present with the talent he has back from last season and young talent coming up for the Liberty Lions to make a bid to repeat as Shore Conference B South Division champions. Last year was their first division title since 2012 and their winningest season ever at 21-7.

That will be put to the test as early as Dec. 23 with a home match against Manchester Regional High School, as well as Jan. 13 in a bout at Point Pleasant Borough High School that could be another winnertake all in B South. The Lions wrestle Jackson Memorial High School Jan. 15.

“We have a bunch of guys who have been on the team the last three or four years, and they’ve really improved,” Eddy said. “They went to camps, wrestled in the summer and belong to clubs. Guys with experience like that can help in the long run.”

The closest thing to success in that weight area dominated by the Russos was senior Niles Jackson, who was 16-12 wrestling at 132 pounds last year. Gurpreet Singh will fill in at 138 pounds, where Matt Russo wrestled last year.

Shawn Praza, a sophomore, wrestles at 126.

Josh Bollard, who was 7-5 at 106 pounds as a freshman last season, should get 20 wins, according to Eddy. Older brother Jeremy Bollard, a senior, looks to surpass last year’s 24-8 season and thirdpalace finish in the districts at 152 pounds. He’ll wrestle at 160.

Nick Pellegrino, a senior, was 23-12 at 113 pounds last season. Jair Hatch, who won three bouts last year and has shown improvement, can wrestle at either 113 or 120.

Freshman Kevin Devenney at 145 pounds was the top wrestler at Christa McAuliffe Middle School. Marc Palmieri, a .500 wrestler who was 15 pounds below the 170-pound weight class he competed in, will drop to 160. Eddy said Tyler Kalmowitz can make some noise at 170 pounds after finishing 25-6 last year competing at 152 and 160 pounds.

Jerald Goodman, a senior who was 25- 12 at 182 pounds, moved up to 195. Chris Pondish, a senior, sat out last year with an injury and will wrestle at 220 pounds. He was 13-9 as a sophomore at 182.

Jared Dizenzo, who was 28-7 at 220 last year, moves up to heavyweight for his senior season.

Eddy believes his team is consistently good up and down the lineup, but how those wrestlers continue to progress will determine whether Jackson Liberty can fulfill the tall order of finishing better than the fourthplace showing it had in District 21 last year.

Young Jersey Blues positioned for region hoops tourney run

Staff Writer

 Brookdale Community College’s Aaron Trimble, left, a Howell High School graduate, looks to pass the ball to an open teammate after Ocean County College defenders collapse around him during the Dec. 10 game played in Brookdale’s Collins Arena. The Jersey Blues, who are off to a 9-2 start, edged the Vikings, 71-69.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Brookdale Community College’s Aaron Trimble, left, a Howell High School graduate, looks to pass the ball to an open teammate after Ocean County College defenders collapse around him during the Dec. 10 game played in Brookdale’s Collins Arena. The Jersey Blues, who are off to a 9-2 start, edged 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’s 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 wining 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., then Union County College visits Jan. 16 at noon.

Lancers await challenges as defending Non-Public A champs



Armed with a full slate of returning players, the St. John Vianney High School girls’ basketball team, will embark on the new season with high expectations.

All of the Lancers who carried St. John Vianney to the NJSIAA Non-Public A title last season will be back in action. So a year after surging to the Tournament of Champions with no seniors on the varsity roster, the Lancers are stocked with experienced, talented players. It does not come as a surprise, then, that St. John Vianney is ranked by MaxPreps.com as the No. 1 team in New Jersey.

Still, a merciless schedule awaits. As in past seasons, the Lancers have penciled in as many powerhouses as they could fit in the regular-season calendar, strengthening a schedule that already includes games against the Shore Conference’s fiercely competitive A Central Division. The Lancers are well aware that the path to defending their state championship will be a rough one.

“It’s exciting in one aspect to have the attention and everybody looking at us, but we have to understand that we are going to get everybody’s best when we step out on the court. We are going to go through a full season of getting everybody’s best,” head coach Dawn Karpell said.

With that understanding, the Lancers believe they are up to the task. The Lancers will go to battle with a star-studded senior class that includes point guard Kelly Campbell, who is entering her fourth year as a starter. The DePaul University commit averaged 14.7 points last season.

Campbell will be joined in the backcourt by fellow seniors Kellie Crouch, Tina Lebron and Vanessa Pinho. Senior forwards Gigi Caponegro, Zoe Pero and Megan Furch, along with junior Kim Evans, will be part of a formidable frontcourt. The 6-foot- 3 Evans was second on the team in scoring a year ago.

The Lancers will benefit from a strong junior class that consists of Evans, Courtney Dobrzynski, Julia Ramos, Riley Kehoe and Abby Anderko. Freshman Sarah Karpell and sophomores Madison Doring and Sarah Furch will also contribute to a deep roster for the 2015-16 season.

“I’m excited that we not only have a lot of seniors, but juniors. We have a lot of experience back — many girls who have been through our program for two and three years,” Karpell said.

The number of veterans allows the ninth-year head coach to push the Lancers further than she did last season, focusing on more than just the fundamentals.

“I can get on them for the little things,” Karpell said. “We know that we are going to be heavy favorites on most nights. We want to make sure that we take advantage of mismatches.”

St. John Vianney will be thrown right into the fire. The quest for another state crown begins on the road Dec. 19 in a showcase against Matawan Regional High School. The opener will be followed by a divisional game at home vs. Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School Dec. 21. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

The Lancers will then travel to Orlando, Florida, to face elite teams from around the country at the KSA Holiday Basketball Tournament after Christmas.

From the gym at St. John Vianney to Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, the Lancers do not expect any breathing room to start the new season. Their January schedule includes Christ the King High School, Eastside High School (Paterson), Gill St. Bernard’s School and Manasquan High School — one of the team’s strongest A Central opponents. The first matchup of the season between St. John Vianney and Manasquan will come Jan. 8.

“We’re going to get challenged early on. With such a veteran group, we set things up to challenge ourselves,” Karpell said. “We’re going to play some of the top-tier teams in the state when we get back from Orlando.”

The Lancers drew up their daunting schedule in order to be 100 percent ready for the postseason. After all, St. John Vianney has a big goal in mind: back-to-back state championships.

Changes being considered by NJSIAA for non-public schools


High school football in New Jersey may change dramatically in 2016 as a result of the NJSIAA’s vote to create a separate conference for non-public high schools.

NJSIAA members voted, 215-128, Dec. 7, with two members abstaining, to make the change. However, there is a possibility that the decision could be overturned by state Education Commissioner David C. Hespe.

In addition, the NJSIAA voted, 216- 212, to create two non-public districts and one non-public region for wrestling.

“If the commissioner believes this is not in the best interests of the schools, he can rule against it,” Red Bank Catholic (RBC) High School Athletic Director Joe Montano said.

While such a decision is not likely before Jan. 1, Montano noted that there is a precedent.

In 2009, a rule that would have public and non-public schools competing in separate divisions at the district and region tournaments was rejected by Lucille Davy, the education commissioner at the time.

For his part, Montano, who is also the secretary for the Shore Conference, said he was disappointed by the NJSIAA vote. He added that the votes were sparked by a push from several dominant Big North Conference schools that have long done well in both sports. “At RBC, we take great pride in being a member of the Shore Conference, and we work hard to follow all of the rules,” Montano said. “Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues with the rules throughout the state for public and non-public schools.”

Should Hespe accept the vote, Montano said RBC would first consult with the diocese and then possibly other schools to determine a course of action, if any.

“What’s next?” he asked. “Another sport? Total separation? How far can this go? I don’t know what this means for the NJSIAA. That is a private governing body, and schools are voluntary members. Any school can leave if it wishes. St. Benedict’s left to play as an independent and play schools from out-of-state. I respect what they did.”

When asked if RBC could leave the NJSIAA, Montano said, “First, we’ll wait for the commissioner to make a decision. Then we’ll look at what our options are and make a decision.”

The RBC athletic director added that until a decision is final, it will be difficult for schools to finalize overall athletic schedules as football dates will have a ripple effect for field usage and transportation.

“This is not just about football and wrestling; it affects every sport,” he said. “Still, no matter what happens, the teachers, staff and coaches here at Red Bank Catholic are going to make sure it’s a great situation for our kids.”


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 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.

Top Notch Training Academy is holding a Winter Team Training Series. Contact to schedule a time and date for team training this winter at 866-315-5313 or info@topnotchsportscenter.com.

Top Notch Sports also offers goalkeeper training at its new training center at 111 Route 35 in Aberdeen. Training is offered on a year-round basis.

Training employs Brazilian methods that are renowned worldwide. Learn the correct goalkeeping techniques used by the professional goalkeepers. Classes will be held from beginner to collegiate player level.

Trenton will be the motorsports entertainments epicenter with the nation’s most competitive monster trucks as they invade the Sun National Bank Center Feb. 12-13, 2016. See these incredible 10,000-pound, car-crushing giants compete in Racing and Wheelie Contests, and then rock the house with amazing Freestyle Action during the Monster X Tour.

Tickets and Pit Party Passes are available online at www.ComcastTIX.com, by phone at 1-800-298-4200 or in person at the Sun National Bank Center box office. Group discounts are available by calling 609-656-3234. Ticket prices will increase $2 day of show.

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.

Between defenders

 STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR 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 host Jersey Blues held on to beat the Vikings, 71-69.

Jaguars secure back-to-back state football championships


 Jackson Memorial High School’s Mike Gawlik (8) goes up and over the Brick Memorial High School defense to score one of his three touchdowns in the Jaguars’ 42-14 victory over the top-seeded Mustangs in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV championship playoff game Dec. 5 at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. Gawlik also passed for a touchdown as seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial won its second straight Central Jersey, Group IV title.  STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Jackson Memorial High School’s Mike Gawlik (8) goes up and over the Brick Memorial High School defense to score one of his three touchdowns in the Jaguars’ 42-14 victory over the top-seeded Mustangs in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV championship playoff game Dec. 5 at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway. Gawlik also passed for a touchdown as seventh-seeded Jackson Memorial won its second straight Central Jersey, Group IV title. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR There was a time when Jackson Memorial High School’s football team looked ordinary, losing three games in a row after winning the first three.

But by the end of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV championship rout of Brick Memorial High School, 42-14, at Rutgers University’s High Point Solutions Stadium Dec. 5, the Jaguars again looked extraordinary, just like a year ago, in winning their fifth state title — all since 2000.

Last year, the Jaguars topped Middletown High School South, 21-18, for the same playoff title.

Many first-year starters and young players were on the field for only the second time the school has claimed back-to-back state titles.

“Seeing these kids overcome adversity is what stands out,” said Jackson Memorial coach Walt Krystopik, who has been with the program through all five state championship seasons since coming on board in 1998, the last five as head coach. “All the other times coming off championship seasons, they were expected to win [again]. Last year’s team had come off a [Shore Conference] A South title the year before. But this was a young group of kids with a lot of first-year starters.”

The team minimized mistakes and adjusted to the physical brand of football played by Brick Memorial, Brick Township High School and Toms River High School North during its early-season slump, said Krystopik.

“There was a learning curve, and they learned their lesson in the three losses and came out the better for it,” the coach said.

Mike Gawlik again was the workhorse, carrying the ball 32 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns as the Jaguars quickly dispatched the team that had beaten them, 28-7, in a Shore Conference A South Division matchup at the end of that three-game slide. From there, it was five victories over the final six games and an 8-4 final record.

But it wasn’t just the junior halfback’s touchdown runs of 1 and 27 yards in the first two quarters, followed by a 20-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Kyle Johnson that staked Jackson Memorial to a 21-0 lead. After Brick Memorial quarterback Tim Santiago narrowed the lead with a 20-yard touchdown run, it was Gawlik’s 49- yard pass to Johnson in the third quarter that made his performance extraordinary as well. He then scored on an 11-yard touchdown run later in the quarter to raise the lead to 35-7.

“I would compare [Gawlik] to some of the best kids I’ve coached here in my time at Jackson,’’ Krystopik said.

Gawlik set up his first touchdown by running 58 yards off a screen pass from Johnson on third down and long to Brick Memorial’s 1-yard line. He scored two plays later.

He never came off the field, playing every snap on the defensive side as well. Gawlik said he was inspired to play for a great sendoff for the seniors, particularly those on the offensive line who opened up holes for him throughout the season, such as Chris Mondello at center and Austin Ostrander at guard — as well as Dylan Smith, who was injured for most of the season. The other starters who also opened up holes were juniors Mitch Mills, with Sean Martin rotating in, at tackle and Larry Richardson at guard and sophomore Joe Hurley at tackle.

Johnson capped the scoring in the title game with a 34-yard touchdown run early in the final quarter.

Jared Calhoun kicked six extra points and also was a contributor on both sides of the ball throughout his senior season.

Jackson Memorial’s defense, meanwhile, yielded yardage to Brick Memorial’s triple option that grinded out 263 yards on the ground as well as 78 in the air, but it knuckled down near the end zone.

Tyler Towns was a steadying influence throughout the season and will be missed as he graduates in the spring along with linebacker Nick Papandrea, two-way stalwart Vin Lee and Kyle Lona, a reliable performer at free safety. Dan Barker, a senior, was one of the starters at quarterback, but A.J. Tolmachewich, who did well when he started at quarterback in two victories, returns for his junior season.

New Egypt Jr. Pee Wees compete for Multi-Region title


New Egypt’s Junior Pee Wee Pop Warner Warriors football team, which won the Division III Eastern Region championship last month, is one win away from adding the Multi-Region championship at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

The Warriors are now 14-0. They play the Capitol City Steelers of North Carolina at noon Dec. 10.

“To win this, it will be our toughest game of the year. So we have to play our best defensive game,” head coach Larry Peslak said after the Warriors advanced Dec. 7 with a 28-0 victory over the Hollister Vikings of California. “We have to continue playing a suffocating, stifling defense like we have all season. This is a Division I team (largest draw of players) that dropped down to a Division III, a big team, and we’re small town New Egypt. It’s David vs. Goliath.”

Fullback Joe Laezza, an instrumental figure for the Warriors, who are making the farthest postseason advance ever of any Burlington County team, opened the scoring against the Vikings with a 5-yard touchdown run as he followed a block by lineman Jack Kudrick and bulled over two defenders into the end zone to cap a long, first-quarter drive. It was his 16th touchdown of the season. Kudrick followed with the conversion kick, which is worth two points in Pop Warner football, for an 8-0 lead.

Halfback Adam Harris then took a toss and swept to a 30-yard touchdown run for his 23rd touchdown of the season. Kudrick’s conversion kick made it 16-0. Marcus Hicks scampered 8 yards for a touchdown on a power play up the middle late in the first half, but an errant snap foiled the conversion try and left the score 22-0. Wide receiver Jake McGhee capped the scoring off a 10- yard option pass play from Harris late in the third quarter — only the second touchdown pass by the Warriors all season. McGhee caught the ball just short of the goal line and pivoted into the end zone.

Defensive tackle Ashton Sempervive spent almost as much time in the backfield as Hollister’s skill players did while Laezza backed him up strongly at middle linebacker. Peslak said his team did not allow a first down in the game, reminiscent of the regular season when his team allowed only six points before the postseason.

“This is not a surprise. These kids have been together a long time,” Peslak said. “I know how good they played last year on a younger team against stronger teams when they went 10-2 and were division champs advancing to the region and only lost there, 7-6, to Phillipsburg.”

New Egypt won the Eastern Region, 14-7, over the Chili Lions of Rochester, New York. Chili scored on its first possession and was shut down from there. Laezza scored the deciding touchdown on a 3-yard run, set up by his own 30-yard pass reception.

Laezza’s 3-yard touchdown run in overtime lifted New Egypt to a 12-6 Eastern Region semifinal victory over the Smyrna-Clayton Eagles from Delaware. Harris scored a touchdown in the first half on a short run. Earlier, New Egypt beat the Hillsborough Dukes and Edison Shamrocks by 34-0 scores.

The team (ages 8-10) currently has outscored its opponents a combined 340-19.

Peslak has been coaching in the program since 2009, starting with this same group of players when they were very young and moving up with them each year. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at the high school level at Howell, Jackson and Manchester Regional and developed his philosophy of running the Delaware Wing-T as the primary formation in his multiple offense from athletic director Pete Meehan while they were at Howell. Meehan had played that style at Middletown High School North under the late Vic Kubu.

The Warriors have two offensive units that often run plays within the same series. The first unit includes guards Jalen Jordan and Tony Henry, tackles John Percodani and Sempervive and center John Chaney. Laezza, Kudrick and Harris run the ball for quarterbacks Luke Peslak and T.J. Johnson, who alternate bringing in the plays. Jack Cole and McGhee are wide receivers.

The second offensive unit consists of guards Mason Kloc and Carter Hughes, tackles James Jakob and Fred Gibbs and center Jaelen Carroll. Percodani plays fullback and Jaden Good and Hicks are running backs, while Kevin Bassita and Kyle Horner are wide receivers for quarterbacks Peslak and Johnson.

The 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Bob Kudrick includes Carter Kuey and Hunter Johnson sharing time at nose tackle, Sempervive and Brett Darienzo at tackles, Laezza and Harris at inside linebacker, McGhee and Jordan at outside linebackers, Peslak and Kudrick at cornerback and Hicks and Johnson at safety.

“Things came together for this team midway through the season,” coach Peslak said. “They jelled and elevated their level of play from there.”

The rest of the coaching staff includes Drew Kloc and Tony Hicks heading special teams and Ralph Darienzo and Rob Sempervive coaching the offensive and defensive lines, with Sempervive also coaching linebackers.