COLUMN: Reviewing CAL Hoops 2019-20

By TOM WILLIAMS

High school basketball ended suddenly almost three weeks ago. Four Cape-Atlantic League teams still had a game to play, three of them in state finals. It was a season with no snow postponements that was cancelled early by a deadly virus.

Those four CAL teams were South Jersey champions this season – the boys from Atlantic City, Wildwood Catholic and St. Augustine, plus the girls from Ocean City. Only once – in 1979 – have more than four teams won South Jersey titles. Back then, 41 years ago, it was Ken Leary’s Pleasantville, Bernie McCracken’s Wildwood and Jim Mogan’s Sacred Heart on the boys side and two girls teams – Joe Fussner’s Atlantic City and Pat Dougherty’s Ocean City.

This marked the 10th straight year that at least one CAL team has captured a South Jersey title and the 49th time in the last 50 years.

Wildwood Catholic, which scheduled everybody short of the 76ers, won the CAL Boys Tournament for the third straight time and the fourth time in seven seasons. And the Atlantic City girls won the tournament for the first time and became overall CAL champs for the second time.

Now it is time for the annual basketball buffet, a bunch of stats and links plus lists of the best of the just completed season from one point of view.

Scoring champions: Ocean City junior Gannon Brady (21.9) was the boys leader and Oakcrest junior Nay Nay Clark (24.5) was the top girls scorer. Clark also led South Jersey scoring and was the first Oakcrest girl to lead the CAL since Jeanne Mohr in 1974.

Other boys stat leaders: Jordan Stafford of St. Joseph had the best shooting percentage; Mainland’s Luke Mazur made the most three-pointers and Wildwood Catholic’s Martin Anguelov had the best three-point percentage; Marcus Pierce of St. Joe made the most free throws and Carlos Lopez of Egg Harbor Township had the highest percentage from the line; The Prep’s Matt Delaney led in rebounds, Jahlil White of Wildwood Catholic in steals, Jacob Hopping of Wildwood Catholic in assists and Mike Rhodes of Ocean City in blocked shots. Pleasantville (72.0) scored the most points per game and Atlantic City (46.9) gave up the fewest. Lots more boys stats are available here.

Other girls stat leaders: Marianna Papazoglou of Wildwood Catholic had the best shooting percentage and led in assists; Ocean City’s Abbey Fenton made the most threes and Mainland’s Madi Hafetz had the best three-point percentage; Haleigh Schafer of Absegami made the most free throws and Gabby Turco of Wildwood Catholic had the best free throw percentage; Our Lady of Mercy’s Jaiden Harris led in rebounds, Nay Nay Clark of Oakcrest was first in steals and Mainland’s Kylee Watson blocked the most shots. Wildwood Catholic (58.1) scored the most points per game and Middle Township (31.7) gave up the fewest. Lots more girls stats are available here.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Gannon Brady, Ocean City; Matt Delaney, St. Augustine; Jacob Hopping, Wildwood Catholic; Taj Thweatt, Wildwood Catholic; Jahlil White, Wildwood Catholic.

All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Marianna Papazoglou, Wildwood Catholic; Ciani Redd-Howard, Atlantic City; Kira Sides, Middle Township; Gabby Turco, Wildwood Catholic; Kylee Watson, Mainland.

Players of the Year: Taj Thweatt and Kylee Watson.

New Jersey’s Best: Watson, headed for No. 2 ranked Oregon in the fall, is the first girl from the CAL to be named Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year. She joins the league’s only male winner, LaMarr Greer of Middle Township, who was chosen in 1994. This year’s boys winner is Cliff Omoruyi of Roselle Catholic, who just committed to No. 30 Rutgers..

The Predicted 2021-22 CAL Boys All Star Team: Dylan Delvecchio, Cape May Tech; Tom Finnegan, Ocean City; Elemarko Jackson, St. Augustine; Daniel Skillings, St. Joseph; Jahmir Smith, Holy Spirit.

The Predicted 2021-22 CAL Girls All Star Team: Quanirah Cherry-Montague, Atlantic City; Camryn Dirkes, Mainland; Sanai Garrison-Macon, Atlantic City; Cea’anai Jackson, Atlantic Tech; Egypt Owens, Vineland.

This year something new is added. In all the 10 stats categories, only two directly pertain to defense, which is pretty much half of the game. So, lets create all-defense teams and who better to ask than the coaches who study opposing teams on Hudl looking for weaknesses and strengths.

Boys All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Nassan Blakely, Atlantic City; Kevin Foreman, St. Augustine; Jacob Hopping, Wildwood Catholic; Jaquan Mace, Mainland; Mike Rhodes, Ocean City; Taj Thweatt, Wildwood Catholic.

Girls All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Maddie Barber, Middle Township; Maddie Brestle, Atlantic City; Lauren Mirsky, Ocean City; Quanirah Cherry-Montague, Atlantic City; Kylee Watson, Mainland.

All Transfer Team: Martin Anguelov (Lower Cape May to Wildwood Catholic); Carlos Lopez (Williamstown to Egg Harbor Township); Marcus Pierce (Middle Township to St. Joseph); Henry Rovillard (Atlantic City to Holy Spirit); Daniel Skillings (Highland to St. Joseph).

Once again, this year, officials were assigned both by the longtime IAABO board in the area and by independent assigner John Rodio. It added new quality officials to the quality officials who had already been working in the area. And it continued to make things better. Why not give the officials some recognition? So, once again, lets ask the coaches.

All-Official Team (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Dwight Davis, Myron Hendricks, Rick Lipford, George McClain, Rob Murtha, Steve Selby.

Cleanest Court: Holy Spirit – its not that the others aren’t clean but, with Jamie Gillespie, it is a science.

Biggest Improvement: The biggest jumps in wins from 2018-19 among boys teams this year was 11 by Atlantic City and eight by Atlantic Tech. Among girls teams, Atlantic City and Our Lady of Mercy both improved their win total by seven.

Injury of the Year: Sophomore guard Camryn Dirkes, who was one of the top freshmen in South Jersey the year before, missed the entire season for the defending state champions. Her absence was a major loss to the Mustangs.

Crusader Quartet: By the end of the season, Wildwood Catholic started a team that included four players who had scored more than 1,000 points in their careers – Taj Thweatt, Jahlil White, Jacob Hopping and Martin Anguelov. That has only happened once before in CAL history. It was in the 1995-96 season when Clifton Jones, Jamar Perry, Noel Gonzalez and Rob Strickland each scored their 1,000th point for Ken Leary’s Pleasantville Greyhounds.

Another Verizon Fios Salute: Coverage of CAL basketball expanded through the broadcast media – the league’s coverage is probably as thorough as any league in the state. And, while live radio coverage has been around for decades, video streaming continued to progress this season. Matt Ulmer, the Dean of Stream, again covered games online all over South Jersey with his camera and laptop this year. Quinn Broadcasting streamed many games in Cumberland County. Coastal Broadcasting again covered Cape May County with Brian and Buddy celebrating 25 years at the mike. (They both started in their teens.) And 97.3-ESPN expanded its coverage. Look for the quality coverage to continue next year.

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: Paul Rodio and Dave DeWeese guided their teams to South Jersey championships against tough competition. Dan Williams pulled together another team to win a conference title. And Paul M. Rodio took his young team up a level at St. Joe. But the choice is clearly Gene Allen. After a struggle last season, Allen brought his team together and produced another South Jersey championship, his seventh. And, along the way, he became the all-time leader in victories at Atlantic City, a school with a long history of success.

CAL Girls Coach of the Year: Paul Baruffi, Steve DiPatri, John Leahy, Scott Betson – these four coaches have proven their worth again and again. And they did it once more this year. Bob Lasko at Absegami, Tom McNelia at Our Lady of Mercy and Atlantic Tech’s Jackie Siscone all had their teams playing good basketball this season. But the Coach of the Year selection is a Viking sweep. Atlantic City’s Jason Lantz brought along his young team through a tough schedule with patience and confidence and guided them to the CAL Tournament championship.

Shot of the Year: This year featured game-changing three-pointers by Abbey Fenton and Luke Mazur, power drives by Matt Delaney, slicing drives by Marianna Papazoglou and ambidextrous reverse layups by Gannon Brady. But the shots of the year were the large variety of dunks by Taj Thweatt. Whether it was an alley-oop from a teammate or a tomahawk to complete a fast break, it was the dominant shot of the season. Take your choice, there were dozens and dozens of them.

Game of the Year: There were quite a few, as there are almost every year. Ocean City’s upset of Mainland in the South Jersey Girls Group 3 final. St. Augustine’s win over Paul VI, the top seed, on the road in Non-Public A. Mainland’s win over Holy Spirit in the CAL Tournament without leading scorer Jake Cook. Or that rare 16 beating a 1 when EHT knocked off top-seeded Toms River North in the Group 4 boys first round. There were more. But the one game that stands out is Wildwood Catholic’s overtime loss to Camden in the middle of February. They were the top two teams in South Jersey and they produced a game worthy of those rankings.

You can check out the Online 25 final South Jersey rankings, CAL standings and dozens of Joe Fussner’s unique brackets, box scores and other links here.

The Cape-Atlantic League basketball season was filled with success again during 2019-20. A lot of talent graduates but there are a great many exciting players returning. So things should be entertaining again next season – which is just 37 weeks away.

In the meantime, stay safe and be cautious.

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