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The Shore Conference has expanded from seven divisions to eight for the 2022-23 season and the newest of the division – at least in name – in Class C South. Three of the teams (Jackson Liberty, Monmouth Regional and Ocean) in the newly-formed division competed against one another in the Class C North division in 2021-22 and two others migrated from Class B South. The other team is Shore Regional, which cut its teeth in Class A Central last season.

One thing all six members of Class C North have in common: none of them won a division championship in 2022. Donovan Catholic was the highest finisher in any division with a second-place effort in B South, while Monmouth and Jackson Liberty finished tied for third in a Class C North division paced by perennial Shore Conference power Manasquan.

As if the lack of a returning champion was not enough to make Class C South unpredictable, the three high finishers – Donovan Catholic, Monmouth and Jackson Liberty – all graduated the majority of their contributors from a year ago. That leaves the door open for the rest of the division, especially an experienced Shore-squad and an Ocean team loaded with varsity-proven sophomores. It’s not likely B South will produce a team that goes deep into the Shore Conference Tournament (Shore could be a factor in the NJSIAA Group I Playoffs) but the parity within the division should produce one of the wilder division races in the Shore Conference this winter.

In predicted order of finish 

1. Shore

Shore goes from battling the likes of Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven, Holmdel and Raritan last season to entering the 2022-23 as a tentative favorite to win a division championship and it’s not just because the schedule is much easier. The Blue Devils will be as experienced as they have been since winning a Central Jersey Group I sectional championship in 2014-15, with four returning starters and four seniors a part of their starting five.

Alex George is just entering the second half of his varsity career and is already an all-division player around whom Shore can build its team. A senior core will complement George’s game, led returning starting guards Brett Sweeney and Liam Gajewski, as well as another rotation player in Donovan Hughes. Gajewski (22 three-pointers, 82 percent free-throw shooter) and Sweeney (30 three-pointers) are the top shooting options around George and Hughes, while another senior – Richie Studer – provides some size for the guard-heavy lineup.

Last season, a grueling division schedule sharpened Shore for the NJSIAA Group I Tournament and this year, the Blue Devils are hoping to ready themselves for a deep postseason run by first topping their new division. With one of the division’s oldest, most experienced teams, the conditions would seem ideal for Shore to get it done.

Shore junior Alex George. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
Shore junior Alex George. (Photo: Tom Smith | tspsportsimages.com)
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Head Coach: Erik Mazur, fifth season
2021-22 Record: 13-14 (2-8, fifth in Class A Central)
Key Losses: Aidan O’Brien, 6-4, Center

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Alex George, Jr., 6-1, Guard

Brett Sweeney, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Liam Gajewski, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Donovan Hughes, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Richie Studer, Sr., 6-3 - Guard/Forward

 

Off the Bench

Ben Levy, Sr., 5-10, Guard

Joe Santi, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Gianni Fiumefreddo, Jr., 6-4, Forward

Tyler Jackson, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Brad Alcini, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Bryce Crowe, So., 5-10, Guard

Luca DePaolis, Sr., 5-9, Guard

 

2. Monmouth

While Shore enters 2022-23 with a senior-laden team looking to strike it rich, Monmouth is coming off a season in which it was hoping for the same thing. The Falcons graduated nine seniors from a team that endured an up-and-down season in 2021-22 and while the division schedule Monmouth faced was not quite as unforgiving as the one Shore had to deal with, it did include two games against Manasquan, so winning the division was not a realistic goal.

With three new starters and a part-time starter in sophomore James Curley moving into the starting five, Monmouth is not an obvious, ready-made division champion, but the Falcons will have plenty going for them heading into the season. Other than the easier division slate, Monmouth’s optimism is based on the return of standout 6-foot-3 wingman Ta’haj Wiggins, who opened his junior season as a fringe starter and ended it as Monmouth’s leading scorer and most electrifying talent thanks to his eye-catching athleticism.

New starters Jake Bauer, T.J. Thomassen and Dan Kikta will fill in the three open starting spots alongside Wiggins and Curley and a pair of underclassmen – freshman Jaylin Reeves and sophomore Kevin Pharo – could make an impact similar to the one Curley made a year ago. The Falcons can ride Wiggins to a degree, but in order to finish a climb to a division title, that supporting cast will have to quickly round into form.

Head Coach: Jeff Sfraga, sixth season
2021-22 Record: 11-13 (6-6, tied third in Class C North)
Key Losses: Kevin Telesford, 6-4, Forward; Aiden Denton, 6-2, Guard; Gerald Wiggins, 6-0, Guard; Nelson Harris-Thomas, 6-4, Center; Brandon Ligon, 5-10, Guard

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Jake Bauer, Sr., 5-9, Guard

James Curley, So., 5-11, Guard

T.J. Thomassen, Sr., 6-1, Guard/Forward

Ta’haj Wiggins, Sr., 6-3, Forward

Dan Kikta, Jr., 6-2, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Shane McCauley, Sr., 6-2, Forward

Kevin Pharo, So., 6-3, Forward

Jaylin Reeves, Fr., 5-10, Guard

Kyle Desai, Sr., 6-1, Guard

Ty-Zhon Kelly, Sr., 5-7, Guard

Joe Esposito, Sr., 5-8, Forward

Caelin Szymanski, Sr., 5-10, Guard

 

3. Ocean

Of all the teams in the new Class C South, the highest ceiling for 2023 may very well belong to Ocean. The Spartans were one of the Shore’s youngest teams a year ago and will remain that way heading into this coming season. The core is comprised of three sophomores in Zayier Dean, Ron Richardson and James Sobieski – all of whom started as freshmen and with Dean leading the way as an all-division selection. Two more sophomores could join them as contributors this year in Noah Ngiyen and Ben Robinson and freshman Aidan Saint Louis will add some impact to the bench.

Brandon Loughlin will be an x-factor for Ocean because he offers to traits that are rare on the Ocean roster: size and senior leadership. The 6-foot-5 senior worked his way into the lineup last season and will be entrusted to handle much of the dirty work in the paint to allow the Dean-Richardson combination to thrive. Junior Keith Allen, meanwhile, is the other starter and will represent a junior class that will begin to make its mark for Ocean this season.

It could very well be that Ocean will need another year to mature into a division-title contender and factor in the postseason, but the current sophomore group has already taken some lumps at the varsity level and made progress over the course of their collective freshman season. Without a clear favorite in Class C South, the young Spartans may be ready to arrive on the Shore Conference scene.

Head Coach: Ryan Pringle, third season
2021-22 Record: 6-18 (2-10, sixth in Class C North)
Key Losses: Justin McMahon, Sr., 6-3, Guard/Forward; Ethan Brawer, 5-10, Guard; Cord Birzin, 6-4, Forward

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Zayier Dean, So., 5-10, Guard

James Sobieski, So., 5-9, Guard

Keith Allen, Jr. 6-0, Guard

Ron Richardson, So., 6-3, Guard/Forward

Brandon Loughlin, Sr., 6-5, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Aidan Saint Louis, Fr., 6-2, Guard

Noah Nguyen, So., 5-8, Guard

Ben Robinson, So., 6-0, Guard/Forward

Juelz Mendez, Jr., 6-1, Guard/Forward

Devon Simms, Jr., 6-4, Forward

Lu Salvatore, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Carmen Salvatore, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Liam Yefet, Jr., 6-5, Forward

 

4. Donovan Catholic

Of all the teams in Class C South this season, Donovan Catholic was the closest to the top of the standings in any division, with the Griffins finishing second in Class B South behind Manchester, then going on to reach the Shore Conference Tournament quarterfinals thanks to an upset of St. John Vianney. That, however, was with a senior-loaded team in 2021-22, so for the Griffins to make the successful transition to a new division, they will have to hit the ground running with an almost-entirely-new starting lineup.

Seniors Brian Farrell and Pete Farlekas each return with starting experience, although that was limited in 2021-22. In Farrell’s case, an injury sidelined him for most of his junior year, but he returns healthy for his senior season and he showed as a sophomore that he can be an impact player on a nightly basis. Farlekas, meanwhile, will be one of the division’s better interior players and could provide Donovan Catholic with an advantage over its division foes on most nights.

With only two regulars back, Donovan Catholic will turn to senior Dylan Espineli and juniors Jack Malek and Matt Gerrity to fill open spots in the back court. Sophomore Ryan Jacobs and freshmen Kai Pritchard and Emanuel Gerena are potential impact underclassmen, although Jacobs and Gerena will not be ready for the start of the season due to injury, according to coach Mike Kearney. If the Griffins can stem the tide of injuries and inexperience, the division is winnable enough for a championship season, especially with a healthy Farrell leading the way.

Head Coach: Mike Kearney, 25th season
2021-22 Record: 16-9 (10-2, second in Class B South)
Key Losses: Kyree Drake, 5-8, Guard; Jalin Butler, 6-2, Forward; Alex Melon, 6-0, Guard; Dylan Orosz, 6-6, Forward; Vin Coburn, 6-2, Guard; Dan Schwartz, 6-5, Forward; Nunes Bukula, 6-4, Forward

Projected Lineup (Returning starters in bold)

Dylan Espineli, Sr., 5-9, Guard

Jack Malek, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Matt Gerrity, Jr., 6-1, Guard

Brian Farrell, Sr., 6-2, Guard/Forward

Pete Farlekas, Sr., 6-3, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Ryan Jacobs, So., 6-0, Guard

Nick D’Addetta, Sr., 6-0, Guard

T.J. Johnson Sr., 6-0, Guard

Chris Miranda, Jr., 5-8, Guard

Kai Pritchard, Fr., 6-3, Forward

Kevin Leny, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Todd Lambertson, Jr., 6-2, Forward

Emanuel Gerena, Fr., 5-10, Guard

 

5. Jackson Liberty

Coming off a program-record 16-win season in 2021-22, Jackson Liberty will try to quickly rebuild the roster after losing four key contributors – including a pair of all-division players – from last year’s squad. After Jackson Liberty’s previous 15-win season in 2018-19, the Lions went into a two-year swoon, the likes of which they will be trying to avoid this time around. The two situations were very different, so coach Don Connor is hopefully that his young team won’t have to toil for too long.

The term “young” applies to Jackson Liberty about as well as any team in the Shore Conference. The Lions will play opening night without a senior on the roster, beginning with a starting five that features two returning contributors from the regular rotation. Dylan Teopaco returns after starting at point guard as a sophomore a year ago, while sophomore Jayson King got significant minutes – at times as a starter – during his freshman campaign. Junior Lukas Latvys will step into a bigger role this season, while Corey Hartnett and juniors Dylan Caldeira and Charlie Callahan look to step in and produce right away.

Jackson Liberty returned more experience in 2019-20 following its Class B South championship season than it does this season, but the 2018-19 team was more reliant on one player (Daniel Sofield) than kast year’s Lions team was. The foundation and competitive expectation remain intact and with a pretty balanced Class C South division, Jackson Liberty might lack for experience but not for hope.

Head Coach: Don Connor, third season
2021-22 Record: 16-11 (6-6, tied third in Class C North)
Key Losses: Phanique Dupree, 6-5, Forward; Dahkareo Pritchett, 6-0, Guard; Channing Williams, 6-1, Forward; Dallas Weisse, 5-11, Guard

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Dylan Teopaco, Jr., 5-9, Guard

Jayson King, So., 5-11, Guard

Lukas Latvys, Jr., 6-0, Guard

Corey Harnett, So., 6-0, Forward

Dylan Caldeira, Jr., 6-0, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Charlie Callahan, Jr., 5-11, Guard

Rocco Malangone, So., 5-10

Jesse Renouf, So., 6-2

Kuri Renouf, So., 6-2

Justin Uteg, So., 5-10

Tommy Cito, Jr., 6-0

Stevi Nole, So., 6-2

 

6. Lakewood

The last two seasons of boys basketball at Lakewood have been a struggle, to say the least. The Piners had trouble fielding a team in the COVID-ravaged 2020 season and while last season was not a while lot better with respect to wins and losses, at least the team was more competitive and did secure a win. Now, Lakewood actually returns most of its starting lineup, as well as head coach L.J. Clark – a longtime assistant under former coach Randy Holmes and also the current head football coach.

With much more stability this season, the Piners should be considerably more competitive. Senior Derrick Marsh leads the crop of returning starters after averaging 14 points per game as a junior, with fellow seniors Jamir Rivera, Keyon Tims and Jayvon Gonzalez playing supporting roles. With 6-foot-4 senior Solomon Brown also coming off the bench, Lakewood boasts more senior experience than most of the teams in its division.

There is still lots of work to be done and challenges around every turn for a rebuilding Lakewood program, but the Piners have much more reason for optimism than they had either of the past two seasons and it should show in the results this season.

Head Coach: L.J. Clark, second season
2021-22 Record: 1-14 (0-12, seventh in Class B South)
Key Losses: Matt Vargas, 5-6, Guard

Projected Lineup (Returning Starters in Bold)

Jayvon Gonzalez, Sr. 6-1, Guard

Derrick Marsh, Sr., 6-2, Guard

ZahMir Anderson, Jr., 5-10, Guard

Jamir Rivera, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Keyon Tims, Sr., 5-10, Forward

 

Off the Bench

Solomon Brown, Sr., 6-4, Forward

Ramel Anderson, So., 5-9, Guard

Alex Colon, Jr., 6-0, Guard

 

Class C South Starting Five (with 2021-22 Stats)

Zayier Dean, Ocean (14.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.87 steals)

Alex George, Shore (12.8 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals)

Ta’haj Wiggins, Monmouth (12.0 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.15 blocks)

Derrick Marsh, Lakewood (14 points per game)

Brian Farrell, Donovan Catholic (8.0 points in 2021)

 

Breakout Players to Watch

Jayson King, Jackson Liberty

James Curley, Monmouth (5.7 points, 1.0 assists)

Ron Richardson, Ocean (9.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists)

Pete Farlekas, Donovan Catholic (2.8 points, 2.6 rebounds)

Richie Studer, Shore (5.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 17 3-pointers)

 

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