March 21, 2012

Filing another basketball season into history

Sports Columnist

High school basketball in New Jersey ended this week with a doubleheader in the Meadowlands, which will be followed by a series of all star games. Atlantic City won a state championship and two other Cape-Atlantic League teams won South Jersey championships – the Middle Township girls and Cedar Creek girls.

The very first CAL Tournament was played featuring six boys and six girls teams. Atlantic City won the boys title and Sacred Heart came out on top in girls action. Things might change again next year as the CAL is reportedly considering a return to the four division alignment with an eight-team tournament at the end of the season.

The statistical leaders of the season are available online at However, before we put the 2011-12 CAL season into the books, it is time for our basketball buffet, a list of the best of the just completed season from one point of view.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Matt Bosch, Ocean City; T. John Casiello, Wildwood Catholic; Kashawn Dunston, Atlantic City; Austin Johnson, St. Augustine; Paul Moore, Holy Spirit.
All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Lexi Bruno, Sacred Heart; Julia Duggan, Ocean City; Brittany Harden, Sacred Heart; Reilly Larkin, Ocean City; Kristine Miller, Cedar Creek.
Players of the Year: Matt Bosch and Kristine Miller.
All-Transfer Team: James Baumgardner, Wildwood Catholic (from St. Augustine); GaBriel Chandler, Atlantic City (from Atlantic Christian); Lauryn Fields, Middle Township (from Cape May Tech); Kennedy Johnson, Sacred Heart (from Holy Spirit); Liam McManimon, Holy Spirit (Hun School).
The Predicted 2013-14 Boys All Stars: Isaiah Graves, Atlantic City; Darius Jerkins, Mainland; Jacob Knight, Cedar Creek; Ed McWade, Wildwood Catholic; Junior Saintel, Holy Spirit.
The Predicted 2013-14 Girls All Stars: Lexi Bruno, Sacred Heart; Summer Crilley, Holy Spirit; Lauryn Fields, Middle Township; Kennedy Johnson, Sacred Heart; Mikila Stefanski, Cedar Creek.
The Bench Squad: Atlantic City’s state championship team had a well-balanced lineup – Dunston, Johnson, Montague, Chandler and the Reynolds. But the guys who came off the bench for the Vikings were collectively just as important. Isaiah Graves, Ahmad McKinley, Dennis White and Qua’shaun Dorn gave Gene Allen good minutes and allowed the other players to rest while not reducing the performance level on the court.
The Gaitley Connection: Former CAL star Stephanie Vanderslice Gaitley (Ocean City) is now the head coach at Fordham University. She has commitments from two of the top players in the NJSIAA state finals – 6-2 senior Samantha Clark of St. Rose, who can play inside and outside, and one of the best pure shooters the state has seen in a long time – 5-8 junior Hannah Missry of Jackson.
Best Atmosphere: There are excited crowds at most rivalry games and groups like the Richland Rowdies and Raider Nation enliven the gymnasiums. Cedar Creek’s student section was very impressive supporting its girls team during the NJSIAA Tournament. But the most electrifying atmosphere this season was in Bridgeton. The student section marched into the gym in double file, clapping in rhythm, and created a championship-like atmosphere with constant cheers. The use of music in the gym’s tremendous sound system also made it an exhilarating environment.
Worst Sound System: Though the building is just seven years old, the sound system in the Dixie Howell Memorial Gymnasium at Ocean City High School is the worst in the league. The speakers on the north side do not work so those on the south side are cranked up, created excessive volume on that side and poor sound on the other.
Shot of the Year: There were some great ones. Atlantic City’s Martel Johnson’s three at the buzzer to send the Ewing game into overtime. Key threes by Kashawn Dunston and Dayshawn Reynolds in wins over Ewing and Absegami. Pleasantville’s Shawn Wilson’s buzzer-beater over Holy Spirit and the Christian Laettner-like game-winner by Lower Cape May’s Vance Matthews to beat Ocean City are among many others. But the best shot of the season had to be Tom Catanoso’s game-winner for Middle Township in the semifinals of the CAL Tournament against St. Augustine.
CAL Boys Coach of the Year: There were a number of excellent seasons by coaches this year – Tom Feraco at Middle Township, Mike Jones at Millville, Paul Rodio at St. Augustine, Ocean City’s John Bruno and Sacred Heart’s Kevin Nash, among them. But Gene Allen is a clear choice, taking a team without a superstar that was a mixture of seniors and young players all the way to a state championship. The Vikings used intense defense and were able to win games in the 30s and in the 70s. It was not only one of Allen’s best seasons, it was one of the best coaching performances in CAL history.
CAL Girls Coach of the Year: It is always tough picking a winner with so many terrific coaches. Steve DiPatri, Paul Baruffi, John Leahy, Chris Ford, Sue Repetti, Karen Shutz, Dan McGettigan – there are so many good coaches. But this season’s nod goes to Fran Raph at Cedar Creek. Sure, she had talent. But she brought those young players together into a style of play that made all of them better and guided them all the way into the Tournament of Champions.
Home Court Advantage: There were 19 boys teams and 16 girls teams that had better records at home than they did on the road this season. But the best advantage at home seemed to belong to Middle Township’s girls, who were 12-0 at home and 12-6 on the road. The Atlantic City boys were 10-0 at home and 16-6 on the road. But other boys teams had home advantages. Millville was 8-3 at home and 4-9 away, Oakcrest was 8-3 at home and 6-11 on the road and Ocean City was 9-3 at home and 7-8 away.
Biggest Improvement: A total of 10 boys teams and 10 girls teams won more games this year than in 2010-11. But the biggest jump among boys teams was by Atlantic City’s boys, who won 12 more games this season than in 2010-11. Best among girls teams was Cedar Creek, which won 12 more games this season than last.

The Cape-Atlantic League was a lot of fun in the 2011-12 season. But the two state champs, Atlantic City’s boys and Cedar Creek’s girls, should be very strong again next year. In fact, there are so many talented players returning – especially on the girls teams – that 2012-13 could be even better. And it all starts in less than 39 weeks.

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