‘Tis the season—for competition. Let our annual guide give you a glimpse into the electrifying high school match-ups that lies ahead.
Year in and year out, the South Jersey sports community always seems to deliver an exciting product, and this winter figures to be no different as the competition is only rising as the temperatures fall. While many area stars have taken their game to the collegiate level, several are returning to their high school teams and new ones are ready to emerge and take their sport by storm.
The journey from season-opening practices in November to championship contests in February and March should once again be a thrilling one, and Suburban Family magazine is starting the ride with a preview for boys and girls basketball, boys and girls swimming, and wrestling. The following is a look at some of the top teams in those sports from 15 local high schools: Bishop Eustace, Camden Catholic, Cherokee, Cherry Hill East, Cherry Hill West, Eastern, Gloucester Catholic, Haddonfield, Lenape, Moorestown, Moorestown Friends, Paul VI, Seneca, Shawnee and Washington Township. Remember, these teams represent just a sampling of the top talent South Jersey has to be proud of, so pay attention; you never know where the next underdog or championship team will come from.
The Olympic Conference, despite losing top players like Carson Puriefoy of Bishop Eustace and Ron Curry of Paul VI, should once again be home to the most competitive boys basketball in the area.
Defending American Division champion Eastern, which went 24-4 and lost to eventual state champion Atlantic City in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals last year, is projected as a Top 5 team in South Jersey. The Vikings return a second-team All-South Jersey player in 6-foot-2 senior swingman Devon Bell, who averaged 13.4 points per game last year. He’s joined by two other key frontcourt players, senior forward Avery Walker and junior center Matt Klinewski, although Eastern will have to replace last season’s starting backcourt.
Lenape will push Eastern in the division and Group 4, as it brings back two starters from a 19-9 team in senior forward Tabu Gaither and senior point guard Sawyer Hand. The Indians are also expecting senior guards Kendall Green and Marquis Perry, junior center Cole Moody and junior forward Cameron Green to contribute. “With a few players returning with varsity experience and the addition of some young talent, I think we should be very competitive in the league,” says Lenape coach Chuck Guittar.
Also in the American Division, Cherokee returns three players that started as sophomores in guard Kyle Kahriger, forward Kevin Wixted and center Jake Powell, and coach Michael Albanese expects the Chiefs to improve on their 9-15 record. Cherry Hill East lost several top players from last year’s South Jersey Group 4 finalist team, but should remain solid behind sophomore guard Jake Silpe. Washington Township lost its top three scorers from a 12-15 team, but brings back three starters in seniors Cody Morrone, John Williams and Ryan Maiden. “We should be a much more athletic team this year and, with the addition of some good talent coming up from last year’s JV team, we should be a deeper team as well,” says Minutemen coach Matt Kiser.
In the National Division, Paul VI returns two starters in junior forwards Jay Howard and Matt Risse as well as sixth man Sameen Swint from a team that reached the South Jersey Non-Public A final, but the Eagles no longer have the services of Curry, the South Jersey Player of the Year who is now at James Madison University.
Camden Catholic has only one starter back from a 14-13 squad, but he’s a good one. Kyle Green, a 6-5 senior swingman who has committed to Temple, led South Jersey in scoring last year at 22.7 points per game.
Bishop Eustace said goodbye to several of its top players, including Puriefoy, but has returning talent from last year’s South Jersey semifinalist 23-6 team, which includes 6-6 senior R’yn Bland, an honorable mention All-Non-Public selection. Seneca looks to improve after a down 2-20 season in 2011-12.
In the Patriot Division, Shawnee is the favorite thanks to its experienced nucleus. The Renegades return seven of their top nine players from a team that went 23-6 and reached the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals, led by senior guards Josh Borrelli and Ryan Bodnar. Junior Rodney Williams is back to lead Cherry Hill West after averaging 18.9 points per game as a sophomore.
In the Colonial Conference, perennial power Haddonfield has four of its top six players and three starters back, led by sharpshooter Billy Griffin, who averaged 12.7 points per game, four-year starter Chris Biddle and brothers Nick and Robby DePersia. The Bulldawgs went 22-8 and lost in the Group 2 finals last year, and expect to make another postseason run. “We play a very difficult out-of-conference schedule that will hopefully prepare us for the playoffs,” says coach Paul Wiedeman.
In the Tri-County Conference, Gloucester Catholic must replace top player Rob Alessandrine but should again be competitive thanks to its brand of intense man-to-man defense. The team includes 6-4 senior Michael Schawaryn, who helped lead to team to a 17-11 season.
Washington Township is coming off back-to-back South Jersey Group 4 championships, but this year could be different. The Minutemaids return seven of their top eight players from last season and now are looking to make the leap to state champions.
Junior twin sisters Kelly and Kylie Giedemann lead the way, but they’ll have plenty of help. Washington Township has a lot of depth at the forward position with seniors Paige Anastasi, Morgan Cosgrove and Maureen Fleming and junior Jess Monte, while junior guard Bella Siravo is poised for the starting lineup.
It’s a scary thought for the rest of South Jersey, but the Minutemaids could actually improve on last year’s 27-4 record.
“We’ll be better than last year; we’re all back together,” Siravo said this past summer. “We definitely want to be (in the state final) this year, that is our goal. So we’re going to keep working toward that.”
A team that could challenge Township in the Olympic American is Lenape, which the Minutemaids edged in last year’s S.J. semifinals. The Indians lost All-South Jersey second team forward Brianna Wylie but return just about everybody else from a 24-5 team.
Cherry Hill East is expecting a big year from senior Darby Festa, who was All-Olympic first team and All-Group 4 last season, as it looks to improve on its 8-16 record. “We play in a tough conference, so we are looking to play more of a spoiler role within the conference and maybe steal a few wins there,” Cougars coach Kim Keyack says.
Cherokee has nine seniors back, led by point guard Maddie Etkins, while sophomore post Taylor McGlashan returns to the starting lineup and is one of a talented group of underclassmen. “Our future is bright with a strong sophomore and freshmen class,” Chiefs coach Shannon Bretz says.
Eastern finished 11-12 a year ago and returns senior Jewel Wilson, an All-Group 4 player.
In the National Division, Seneca is coming off a tremendous season in which it won its first-ever South Jersey Group 3 title. The Golden Eagles must replace South Jersey Player of the Year Brittany Snow, as well as senior guard Taylor Watson, but has talent returning in junior guard Erica Snow.
Paul VI lost four-year starter Adriene Small from last year’s team, which suffered a tough two-point loss to Gloucester Catholic in the first round of the playoffs. But senior Morgan Harris brings experience to the point guard position as a three-year starter and is joined by returning starters Jacky Carty and Gabby Brown and sharpshooting transfer Kiana Ye.
“We think we can make a run at the conference and hopefully get a home playoff berth,” Eagles coach Donna Camardo says. “We have good leadership and good chemistry this season, which will most definitely help us attain our goals.”
Bishop Eustace must replace All-Non-Public first-team guard Jackie Browne from a 14-9 team, but does return senior Taylor Hudspeth, an honorable mention All-Non-Public player.
Camden Catholic went 18-8 last year but graduated four seniors, three of whom are playing in college. “Our outlook for this season is bright,” says coach Chris Palladino. “We are very young, but it should prove to be fun. ... Our conference is always tough but hopefully in the end we will be in the thick of things.”
In the Olympic Patriot, All-Group 4 forward Olivia Askin, who averaged more than 12 points per game as a junior, leads a terrific Shawnee squad that went 19-4 and made the S.J. semifinals.
Elsewhere in South Jersey, Gloucester Catholic graduated four starters and its sixth man from a team that went 20-6. But the Rams are excited about junior transfer Becky Pund and senior guard Cara McHenry.
Moorestown Friends is looking to build on a 14-11 team but must replace All-Non-Public guard Kelcie Evans. Moorestown reached the South Jersey quarterfinals last year and also has high hopes in returning starter senior Maura Talvacchia, who made 31 three-pointers last season, and junior Emily Filoon.
Moorestown finished 10th in the state rankings last year when it went 16-2, won the South Jersey Coaches Invitational and advanced to the state semifinals. This year, the Quakers could be even better.
All-South Jersey swimmers Zachary Fong, a sophomore, and Will VanFossen, a senior, lead a group of 50 boys on the squad. Add to the mix versatile newcomer Alex Martin, who coach Jeff DeNick calls “the best freshman in all of New Jersey,” and expectations are high.
“We have a lot of experience and we’re excited about the season,” says DeNick. “We hope to be among the state’s best all season long.”
Gloucester Catholic is also coming off a terrific season after going 11-2 and losing to Pingry in the state finals. The Rams graduated about half of that team, so depth is a problem, but they return two outstanding seniors in Devin McCall—the Gloucester County Swimmer of the Year who was second-team All-State—and Nick Marks, who was second-team All-South Jersey.
Shawnee lost a top swimmer in Andrew Fleisher from a 7-5 team, but thinks it can improve with several talented swimmers returning and Fleisher’s brother Jacob Fleisher, a freshman, joining the fold.
After going through several rebuilding seasons, Washington Township is primed for a “breakout season,” according to coach Bill Albertson. The Minutemen return most of last year’s team, including Justin Harvie, Eric Emerson, Mike Mercurio, Jake Lightman, Nick Schillaci, Chris Ale and Adam Klavens, and expect to contend for a division title.
Haddonfield lost South Jersey Swimmer of the Year Will Manion from a squad that ended last year ranked 12th in the state. The Bulldawgs should remain a threat led by senior Ryan Richards, who was All-South Jersey in the 500 freestyle.
Cherry Hill East was 15th in the state last year and brings back star diver Ethan O’Neill, who became the school’s first state diving champion last year and was just the second freshman to win states in the event’s 82-year history.
Despite losing an All-State first-team freestyler in Courtney Patterson from a team that finished third in the state rankings, Cherry Hill West remains super talented. Junior Jenna Zagoren leads the way for the Lions after being named All-South Jersey in the 100 free and two relay events.
Junior MaryKate Davis, who was third-team All-State in the 500 free, joins second-team All-South Jersey diver Mikaela Gekas-Robinson as key returners for Bishop Eustace, which finished last year ranked sixth in the state.
Cherokee made the state semifinals for the first time since 1986 last year, but graduated some important members from that team. Coach Ann Rychlik is counting on sophomores Isabel Obregon and Morgan Sage and junior Emily Werth to carry a young squad this season.
Kevin Nolan is entering his 26th season as the coach at Gloucester Catholic and has high hopes for a girls team that went 7-2 and lost a very close meet in the state quarterfinals. “We are returning almost the whole team from last year so we expect better things,” says Nolan, who praised the Rams’ depth.
Haddonfield was 10th in the state in 2012 and returns a host of talented swimmers, including Emily Rollo, Katie Kurtz and Julie Sheehan, while Shawnee will follow the lead of junior Julianna Foss, who was All-South Jersey second team in the 200 individual medley, and Cherry Hill East has a terrific backstroker returning in senior Jaimie Brookover.
Seneca will have a separate girls team after being co-ed for the last nine years. The Golden Eagles return team MVP Emma Grant, a sophomore, in the distance relay events, as well as captains Caroline Royston, Izzie Castiglioni, Sam Will and Marissa LaFay. Wrestling fans in South Jersey should be flocking to Cherry Hill this year to watch Camden Catholic, which is aiming for its 10th straight state championship and has the weapons to do it.
The Irish are loaded again, led by senior T.J. Miller, a state champ in 2011 who finished third in the state last year at 145 pounds. Tyler McBride, a District 27 and Region 7 champ, and Alex Smyth headline Camden Catholic’s talented junior class.
Eastern brings back 10 wrestlers to its starting lineup, including junior Colin Mitchell, a state placewinner who won region and district titles at 120 pounds in 2012. “The team will be much improved this year and should be contending for a Top 5 (spot) in South Jersey,” says Vikings coach Bob Stinson.
Cherokee reached the South Jersey semifinals last year and returns All-Group 4 wrestlers Jimmy Goldschmidt, Alex Baider and Joe Lemerise, while Washington Township’s outlook is solid thanks to returners Dylan LaPalomento, a district champ, Mike Van Horn and Steve Passerella.
Cherry Hill East expects to improve with 11 returning starters, including Region 7 qualifier Daishi Goto and fellow seniors Dan Bendik, Max Caldas, Aaron Gomez, Jerry Peralta and Quinn Sanchez.
Seneca was a playoff team in 2012 when it went 19-5 and sent six to the Region 7 Tournament. The Golden Eagles are looking for seniors Brandyn Bush (22-10 last year), Niles Murphy (16-11) and Tim Will (10-9) to be leaders for a team that graduated six starters.
District champion Mark Papaneri is back for his junior season at Cherry Hill West, which was 15-11 last year. Also returning are district placewinners Tyler Brake and Mike Marini.
Haddonfield (17-8 last season) and Shawnee (14-5) will look to build on appearances in the South Jersey semifinals, while Moorestown is also coming off a solid 7-4 season with all-conference wrestler Walter Fox. Over at Bishop Eustace, returning senior Michael Lenihan was a 113-pound, First Team All-Conference wrestler in 2011.
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 9 (November, 2012).
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