By TOM WILLIAMS
The 2021 basketball season at Ocean City High School will always be a season to remember.
Because things were so different.
The 1962 season was a little like that – at least at the end when a rare March storm completely flooded Ocean City and Sea Isle City, forcing the use of a helicopter to continue the South Jersey tournament.
But, this year, the entire season was affected – and the challenges aren’t over yet.
There were no fans at the games until the final week or so when selected parents were permitted. Players didn’t shake hands and couldn’t use the locker rooms. Officials strangely avoided touching the basketball.
It really was different.
But it was also exceptional.
John Bruno’s boys finished 8-1 and won the East Conference of the Cape-Atlantic League. Along the way, senior Gannon Brady set a new school record (28.6) for points per game in a season, finished has career with 1,215 points and became the first OCHS player to lead the CAL in scoring in back-to-back seasons. He also was the South Jersey scoring champion and third best scorer in the state.
Brady didn’t do it alone.
A lineup of talented athletes – multi-sport athletes – combined to produce a championship season with each playing his role successfully. Seniors Joe Repetti, Brady Rauner, Will Drain, Ben Hoag, Brendan Schlatter and Jake Schneider, plus junior Tom Finnegan, joined Brady to form a rotation that was as good as any in the league. They might have been even better but seniors Mike Rhodes and Brad Jamison didn’t play. Rhodes, one of the best defensive big men in South Jersey, had shoulder surgery. And Jamison, who had a versatile junior year as a starter, decided to focus on preparing for his D1 football career at Bucknell.
Brady’s almost unstoppable reverse layups and pull-up threes keyed the offense, the fourth highest-scoring offense in the league. But the 6-7 Finnegan brought a strong inside scoring and defensive game; Drain could muscle it up on the boards with anybody (with Finnegan out the last two games, Will grabbed 23 rebounds); Schlatter brought versatility to the team; Hoag and Schneider were as quick a combination as you could find; Rauner earned a reputation as one of the league’s best defenders; and Repetti, whom some thought might only play in the season opener at Mainland because of a back problem, again demonstrated why he is one of the best athletes in South Jersey.
On the girls side, Paul Baruffi stepped down as head coach after 20 impressive seasons. More on his career is HERE. This year’s team finished 6-5, winning its last two games with its two strongest performances to finish above .500. With what the Raiders lost to graduation from last year’s state final qualifier, it was expected the 2021 team would be a transition team.
The seniors were Marlee Brestle, an intense guard who would dive on the floor or run into a wall to help her team; Stephanie Carey, who provided inside scoring; and Joni Dice, who brought offense and rebounding to the season.
This season these Raiders proved that they could control the more experienced teams on their schedule with their defense and, at the same time, developed new scoring options to replace those that graduated.
Sophomore Avery Jackson and junior Marin Panico developed into open-court scorers, sophomores Ayanna Morton and Tori Vliet began to exert themselves inside and freshmen Frankie Ritzel and Hannah Cappelletti emerged as serious outside threats.
The new coach of these Raiders will have those half-dozen girls back, along with junior Amaya Stanley and freshman Maddy Monteleone, plus a number of players from the junior varsity team.
The boys will need help from its JV program next year, too, and that team was filled with strong, athletic players who had a good feel for the game.
Basketball at Ocean City High School in 2021 was a struggle. But the players and coaches adjusted, even though about 10 games were left un-played. The parents and other fans adjusted, too, watching from home and finding new ways to lend support.
Some might put the 2021 basketball season down into history as a tragedy. In reality, it was a season filled with challenges and accomplishments by two OCHS teams who should look back on the six weeks with pride.
More details are available at these links —
The complete stats for the OCHS boys basketball team are HERE.
All boys box scores are HERE.
The complete girls stats are HERE.
All girls box scores are HERE.
Complete videos of all games played in the Dixie Howell Gym are HERE.
The Cape-Atlantic League all star teams are HERE.
CAL standings, CAL scoring leaders & South Jersey rankings are HERE.
And watch for our complete review of CAL basketball tomorrow.
One final note – the Ocean City basketball community lost another part of its history recently when Steve Wolicki died.
Steve and his twin brother, Mike – both 6-foot-5 – were Ocean City’s twin towers in the early 1970s. As seniors, both were important parts of a South Jersey championship team that reached the state final at Princeton University. Those Raiders – including Brad Bryant, Tim Taccarino, Pop Rackley, Danny Miller, Rick Murrel and Terry Tracey – upset favored Pleasantville in the first round of the NJSIAA Group 2 Tournament and won the South Jersey crown with a 51-50 win over Haddon Township.
Steve only played in three games as a junior because of injury (though his three performances included 53 percent shooting, 80 percent from the line and nine points and nine rebounds per game). On Jack Boyd’s state championship team his senior year, he averaged 6.7 points and 8.5 rebounds a game over the 26-game season.
Wolicki – who served in the Air Force and would become Upper Township’s Postmaster and, later, a service officer for veterans – will always be remembered for his friendly smile and willingness to help. Plus his valuable contributions to one of Ocean City’s six South Jersey championship teams in boys basketball.
Steve Wolicki was 67.