COLUMN: Reviewing CAL Hoops in 2021

By TOM WILLIAMS

After a 40-week gap, high school basketball resumed in the Cape-Atlantic League in late January. The Season of COVID was without NJSIAA tournaments or a Cape-Atlantic League Tournament and limited teams to a maximum of 15 games.

It was a struggle but, in the end, the athletes got to play and there were many highlights. Ocean City boys and Middle Township girls won the CAL East Conference championships. The Egg Harbor Township boys and Absegami girls were North Conference champs. And there were co-champions in the West – St. Augustine and St. Joseph boys, Our Lady of Mercy and Vineland girls. In addition, the CAL is awarding “Non-Public conference championships” to both Holy Spirit teams and to the Wildwood Catholic girls for finishing second to a public school.

This is traditionally the time for the annual basketball buffet, a bunch of stats and links plus lists of the best of the just completed season. Lets get it started.

Scoring champions: Ocean City senior Gannon Brady (28.6) was the boys leader for the second straight year, also the South Jersey scoring champ and third in the state. Wildwood Catholic senior Marianna Papazoglou (24.5) was the top girls scorer, also setting a new school career scoring record. She was third in South Jersey and ninth in the state. Papazoglou also led the CAL in scoring in 2017-18 as a freshman.

Other boys stat leaders: Matt Delaney of St. Augustine had the best shooting percentage; Carlos Lopez of Egg Harbor Township made the most three-pointers and Keith Palek of St. Augustine had the best three-point percentage; Jahmir Smith of Holy Spirit made the most free throws and Lopez had the highest percentage from the line; Angel Smith of Bridgeton led in rebounds, Ja’Heem Frederick of Atlantic City in steals, Martin Anguelov of Wildwood Catholic in assists and Ahmad Brock of Egg Harbor Township in blocked shots. St. Augustine (70.9) scored the most points per game and Atlantic City (40.7) gave up the fewest. Lots more boys stats leaders are available HERE.

Other girls stat leaders: Kaitlyn Boggs of Mainland had the best shooting percentage; Our Lady of Mercy’s Sydney Prescott made the most threes and Carly Murphy of Wildwood Catholic had the best three-point percentage; Emma Peretti of Hammonton made the most free throws and Jada Elston of Middle Towndship had the best free throw percentage; Cea’anai Jackson of Atlantic Tech led in rebounds and Jackie Fortis of Oakcrest was first in steals, assists and blocked shots. Our Lady of Mercy (61.8) scored the most points per game and Mainland (29.5) gave up the fewest. Lots more girls stats leaders are available HERE.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Gannon Brady, Ocean City; Matt Delaney, St. Augustine; Carlos Lopez, Egg Harbor Townshoip; Marcus Pierce, St. Joseph; Jahmir Smith, Holy Spirit.

All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Jaiden Harris, Our Lady of Mercy; Kate Herlihy, Middle Township; Marianna Papazoglou, Wildwood Catholic; Emma Peretti, Hammonton; Haleigh Schafer, Absegami.

Players of the Year: Gannon Brady and Marianna Papazoglou.

The Predicted 2022-23 CAL Boys All Star Team: Elijah Brown, St. Augustine; D.J. Germann, Egg Harbor Township; Alex Konov, Wildwood Catholic; Archie Lawler, Lower Cape May; Jahmir Smith, Holy Spirit.

The Predicted 2022-23 CAL Girls All Star Team: Quanirah Cherry-Montague, Atlantic City; Kira Murray, Holy Spirit; Jada Elston, Middle Township; Egypt Owens, Vineland; Emma Peretti, Hammonton.

Last year something new was added. In all the 10 stats categories, only two directly pertain to defense, which is pretty much half of the game. So, we created all-defense teams. And who better to ask than the coaches who study opposing teams on video looking for weaknesses and strengths. There was a tie in the boys voting, so we have six players.

Boys All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Nassan Blakely, Atlantic City; Ahmad Brock, Egg Harbor Township; Brady Rauner, Ocean City; Jahmir Smith, Holy Spirit; Jordan Stafford, St. Joseph; Dave Zarfatti, Wildwood Catholic.

Girls All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Jada Elston, Middle Township; Jackie Fortis, Absegami; Katie Herlihy, Middle Township; Egypt Owens, Vineland; Lila Schoen, Mainland.

Once again, this year, officials were assigned both by the longtime IAABO board in the area and by independent assigner John Rodio. Lets hope that next year they will eliminate that silly procedure of not handling the ball. To recognize the best, why not ask the coaches.

All-Official Team (selected by the CAL coaches and selected media): Frank Basile, Ron Bokunewicz, Mike Collins, Dwight Davis, Myron Hendrick, Steve Selby.

The 2021 winners of the Boo Pergament Memorial Awards as the CAL’s Most Improved Players will be selected and announced next week.

Tri-Co Salute: Though this is about the Cape-Atlantic League, Wildwood was one of the original CAL schools and the Warriors stole the last week of the season. Taking advantage of an opportunity supplied by the Tri-County Conference (and no other) Scott McCracken’s team swept to the conference boys championship. And Teresa Cunniff’s girls made a strong showing, as well. Maybe some day the Warriors will come back to their roots.

Cleanest Court: Holy Spirit is the repeat choice. It’s not that the others aren’t clean but, with Jamie Gillespie, it is a science.

1K Coach: Though the team’s season was shortened by COVID exposure, Middle Township’s veteran coach Tom Feraco reached a milestone this year. He became only the second Cape-Atlantic League basketball coach to coach 1,000 games. Feraco finished his 37th season with a 732-270 record, a total of 1,002 games. The Prep’s Paul Rodio leads with 1,217.

Injury of the Year: Center Mike Rhodes from Ocean City had shoulder surgery that kept him out of action all season. The 6-5 senior led the CAL in blocked shots last year and was one of the top shot blockers returning in the state. That is in addition to shooting 62 percent from the field. With Rhodes in the lineup, the Raiders – who had a very good season anyweay – could have played with anybody.

Like father, like son: Pleasantville’s Noel Gonzalez, who played at St. Joseph his freshman year, made history when he scored his 1,000th point. His father also scored more than 1,000 points playing for Ken Leary at Pleasantville. It is believed that only four other father-son combos have each scored 1,000 in CAL history – the Leahys (Jim-Dan) at Wildwood Catholic and Middle Township (John); the Len Burrells at Oakcrest; Antwan Dozier and his son, Sahmir Jones, at Pleasantville; and Pat Holden at Lower Cape May, who actually had a son (Patrick) and daughter (Lauren) also score over 1,000.

Trifecta Scorers: There were three players in this shortened season who led their teams in scoring for the third straight year or more. Jabril Bowman of Bridgeton was the only boy to do it. There were two girls and they both did it the maximum of four straight years – Marianna Papazoglou of Wildwood Catholic and Haleigh Schafer of Absegami.

More Verizon Fios Applause: Coverage of CAL basketball expanded through the broadcast media – and it was necessary in the absence of fans. 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 with his camera and laptop this year. Quinn Broadcasting streamed many games in Cumberland County. BFA Productions offered live streams, Bill Shallcross continued his award-winning productions, Coastal Broadcasting again covered Cape May County and 97.3-ESPN got some games on the radio, though half its schedule was cancelled. Plus there was lots of additional video streams. Look for the quality coverage to continue next year.

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: Paul Rodio, South Jersey’s all-time win leader (967) had another great season. So did John Bruno and Gene Allen. Cameron Bell produced a strong team at Egg Harbor Township, Jamie Gillespie prepared a young group for the future and Dave DeWeese had his team ready but never got much of a chance. But Paul M. Rodio gets the Coach of the Year nod. He coached his team effectively throughout the season but he had to do much more. He kept his players together when it wasn’t sure St. Joseph Academy would open and kept them focused while playing a season completely filled with road games.

CAL Girls Coach of the Year: Paul Baruffi brought his team along in what turned out to be his final season. Steve DiPatri became the first CAL coach to reach 500 wins. Scott Betson, Bob Lasko, Tom McNelia, Will Breese and Tim Whitworth produced solid seasons. And Jason Lantz struggled with injury and COVID limitations. The Coach of the Year is Middle Township’s John Leahy. No. 5 all-time in CAL wins (323) he guided a team comprising an all star player and a group of younger girls to an undefeated season in the CAL’s toughest conference.

Games of the Year: There was no one game that stood out – though the Camden-St. Augustine finale came close. On the boys side, there were the two Prep-St. Joe games that included Rodio showdowns; Ocean City’s back-to-back wins over Wildwood Catholic and Atlantic City; Cedar Creek’s upset of Holy Spirit that cost the Spartans a share of a championship; and Egg Harbor Township’s season-ending win over St. Joe. Among girls games there was Middle’s win over Wildwood Catholic; Absegami’s defeat of Holy Spirit to break their tie; Atlantic Tech’s win over Spirit that cost the Spartans a co-championship; and the two Vineland-Our Lady of Mercy games that were split but featured a 50-point swing. For a season with so many problems, there were a lot of interesting and important games.

You can check out the Online 25 final South Jersey rankings (a total of 10 CAL teams are included), the CAL standings and highlights from other seasons HERE. And the CAL all stars, selected by the coaches, are HERE.

The Cape-Atlantic League basketball season was strange but mostly filled with success stories during 2021. A lot of talent graduates but there are a great many exciting players returning. Things should be entertaining again next season – which might be 39 weeks away if normalcy returns.

In the meantime, stay safe, get vaccinated, wear your mask and be cautious.

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