NJ boys lacrosse: Group 2 preview
GROUP 2 PREVIEW
2011 CHAMPION: Summit defeated Chatham, 7-6, in five overtimes to claim its third consecutive Group 2 title and fourth state championship in seven years. Summit has been shifted to Group 1.
2012 FAVORITE: Chatham. The Cougars lost three big scoring threats to graduation--attackmen Nick Guida, Sean Whiteman and Jack Eisenreich--but should remain a dangerous squad on offense due to both its surplus of weapons and style of play. Chatham was a balanced scoring unit last season, one that flourished in transition and was deep enough to withstand injury or an off day for one of the veterans.
Senior middie Matt Proto scored 30 goals and had 18 assists, junior Sam Carson had 26 goals and 13 assists, senior Cory Heidaran collected 21 goals and five assists and senior Kyle Howard-Johnson netted 20 goals last season for Chatham (16-6). The Cougars also can expect scoring assistance from senior attackman Quinn Frenzel, junior middie Paul Hackett and sophomore middle David Gill.
Gill was a surprising standout on faceoffs last year, though also proved that he was more than a specialist. He was squaring off with some of the best draw men in New Jersey and holding his own on most occasions. Hackett is also a quality faceoff man. That means the Cougars will be able to put some teams on their heels with quick transition goals off the face, and also put the brakes on a sustained rally by their opponent.
Chatham (16-6) was embroiled in a number of fierce battles last year, winning five games by two goals or fewer and losing four by two or fewer. The Cougars won more close games than they lost in late May, and that experience is bound to be a useful resource for this season's returning players. The Fitch-Pitt Division is no place for the weak-willed, and last year's juniors and sophomores found that out in a hurry.
Chatham does have some holes to fill on defense, though returns a quality goalie in senior Corey Fritts. He was the determining factor in several of those late-season white-knucklers, and now he's going to play a big part in the growth of the current defense. Thomas Stephan, headed for Notre Dame, is the lone starter back from the close defensive unit. Senior Chris Adams, a pole last year, also will contribute.
Chatham opens its season at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at home against South Jersey power St. Augustine and follows that up with challenging games Monday against West Essex at home and Thursday on the road against Madison.
Somerville: The Pioneers went 14-4 and reached the state semifinals last year with a scoring force comprised almost entirely of sophomores. Attackmen Matt Raposo (36 goals, 42 assists), Dan Remoli (56 goals, 17 assists) and current soph Logan Lablond (22 goals) and middies Michal Waterfield (29) and Casey McAdam (19 goals) all return, just a little stronger and wiser.
Mendham: The Minutemen graduated their five top scorers, but still have several score stoppers in place. Senior goalie Tyler Avallone, headed for Syracuse, will step in front of any ball at any time, and that is a confidence booster for veteran defensemen Stephen Graziano and Luke Tamburello.
Ramapo: First-year coach Tom Albano said his club would be one that rides hard and runs under just about all circumstances. That uptempo approach could help the Raiders overcome a heavy loss of firepower. Zach Hirsch (28 goals) is the top returning scorer. Justin Rice, Alex DiClemente and Lawrence Pontrelli anchor a strong defense.
Montville: Returning attackmen Brian McCormick, Ryan O'Lear and Jake Haimson combined for 94 goals last spring to help the Mustangs to a 12-9 record. Kevin Wolfson and Rafael Correa head up a solid midfield group, which offers depth and experience, but there were heavy losses on defense. Kevin Thorton, Austin Strickland and Paul Romeo are first-year starters on the close unit.
Hopewell Valley: The Bulldogs return a surplus of talented scorers, including seniors Taggart Whittaker (51 goals), Elliot Rose (32 goals, 47 assists) and Ryan Mahn (32 goals). Mike Birkhofer and Chaz Bell also expect to take an active part in the attack. Senior Kyle Hoehn returns in goal. Senior Drew LaPointe and junior Murf Butler lead the defense.
Manasquan: The Warriors faded toward the end of last season, but could show staying power this season with an experienced, athletic group. Connor Reilly, Joe Murphy, Ben Lucas and Connor Grogan pace a balanced offense. Kodie McNamara, one of the top juniors at the Shore last season, and Zach Vasilenko anchor the defense.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS