By TOM WILLIAMS
The 2021 high school basketball season begins tomorrow and, like the sports seasons that came before in 2020, it should be a challenge.
Ocean City High School is in the temporary East Conference of the Cape-Atlantic League with Atlantic City, Cape May Tech, Lower Cape May, Mainland, Middle Township and Wildwood Catholic. You can check the CAL alignment of the boys teams HERE, and the girls teams HERE. The standings will be updated each night on those pages.
The Raiders open tomorrow with Mainland – boys in Linwood, girls in the Dixie Howell Gym. On Thursday, the boys are home with Lower Cape May and the girls travel down county to Erma to face the Tigers. Links to the complete OCHS boys and girls basketball schedules are HERE.
Because fans are not permitted in New Jersey high school basketball games (Bob Adams was stopped over the weekend, dressed as a custodian, trying to sneak in to a scrimmage) an effort has been made to make sure all OCHS varsity games will be streamed. The home games will be streamed by Prime Events and the schools that host the Raiders’ away games have indicated they will stream those games. There is also an effort to make live streams of the junior varsity games available.
You can link to all of these streams through OceanCitySports.com by going HERE.
There will be no NJSIAA basketball tournament this year and the CAL declined to hold one, as well. All of the special events – like the Battle By The Bay and ESPN Girls Shootout – have also been cancelled. The only thing the teams will be trying to win are the three CAL conference championships.
And there are a couple changes in the conference championship races.
If a public school wins a conference and a non-public is second, that non-public will be named the “Non-Public Conference Champion”. The same would be true if a non-public team finishes first – the second place team would be the “Public Conference Champion”. Also, since cancelled games could limit some team’s schedules, the conference champions will be determined by won-lost percentage but a team must play a certain number of games to qualify.
Now, lets look at the Raiders.
John Bruno starts his 32nd season with a 428-360 record, tops all-time at OCHS in career wins and fourth all-time in CAL history (behind Paul Rodio, Tom Feraco and Ken Leary). He had his top eight players returning from last year’s 17-10 team but Mike Rhodes will miss the season after shoulder surgery and Brad Jamison has decided to focus on preparing for his football career at Bucknell.
But Gannon Brady is back. He led the CAL in scoring last year at 21.9 points per game. His 590 points was the fourth highest total in one season at OCHS (trailing Derrick Yeoman, J.D. Asselta and Bill Fisher) and he enters this season needing 42 points to become the 14th player in school history to score 1,000 career points. He is committed to Fordham for baseball.
Joining Brady from last year’s rotation are seniors Joe Repetti, Brady Rauner, Will Drain and Ben Hoag and junior Tom Finnegan. Repetti, coming off a record-setting football season, was second on the team in steals last year and led in assists per game. He has nursed an injury in the pre-season. Rauner is a talented three-sport athlete who frequently drew tough defensive assignments last year. Drain, a big part of the OCHS line in football, brings a physical presence inside. Hoag, headed to Virginia Wesleyan for baseball, is especially effective on the pressure defense. And Finnegan averaged over 10 points a game last year and should be one of the league’s best big men.
Bruno also expects help from Brendan Schlatter, who played in nine games a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line. And Jake Schneider, the record-setting football player who is playing varsity basketball for the first time and adds a high level of athleticism.
Paul Baruffi enters his 21st season with a 423-124 record, the school record for career wins and third in CAL history (behind Steve DiPatri and Dave Troiano). His Raiders won the South Jersey Group 3 championship last year, upsetting Mainland in Linwood in the final, and won the state semifinal before being left in limbo. The season was stopped by COVID-19 concerns before they could play Ramapo in the state final. Gone from that team are Abbey Fenton, Emma Finnegan, Lauren Mirsky and Delaney Lappin.
Four players return with significant experience – seniors Marlee Brestle and Stephanie Carey, junior Marin Panico and sophomore Avery Jackson. A pair of sophomores – Tori Vliet and Ayanna Morton – will join that quartet to form the basis of the OCHS rotation. But Baruffi expects to go deeper with his substitutions this year.
The key players for this year’s team seem to be the type Baruffi likes on defense – intense and athletic – but the first six between them only averaged a little more than 16 points a game combined last year. With last season’s big scorers gone, the Raiders will need a couple players to step up and become scoring threats.
And the schedule will be challenging with two games each against Atlantic City, Wildwood Catholic, Middle Township and Mainland,
It will also be interesting to watch the officials this season. First of all, there will be no center jump to start the game. Games are scheduled to start with a coin flip with the winner getting the ball. And the officials have been instructed not to handle the basketball during the game. Just a few more changes forced by COVID-19.
Lets hope the season is completed with as few forced postponements as possible so that these student-athletes get to play. And lets hope, with no fans in the gyms, that everybody will get a chance to watch these games online and get some measure of satisfaction and enjoyment.