COLUMN: Reviewing CAL basketball in 2021-22

By TOM WILLIAMS

The fastballs are being delivered, the batons exchanged and the tee shots are flying. Spring sports in the Cape-Atlantic League are underway.

But first, our final wrap-up of the CAL basketball season.

Mainland’s girls were South Jersey Group 3 and CAL Tournament champions. Ocean City and Wildwood Catholic were also girls conference champs with Egg Harbor Township, St. Augustine and Middle Township winning conference titles in boys basketball.

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: Egg Harbor Township senior Carlos Lopez (21.7) was the boys leader, the first player wearing silver and black to lead the CAL since Terence Ward in 1997 and 1996. Atlantic Tech senior Grace Speer (22.2) became the first from her school – female or male – to be the CAL’s top scorer.

Other boys stat leaders: Lopez led the CAL in three-pointers for the second straight year; Jaden Merrill of Millville led in rebounds, Jay-Nelly Reyes of EHT in steals, Yamere Diggs of Vineland in assists; and Egg Harbor Township’s Anthony Colon in blocked shots. St. Augustine (67.1) scored the most points per game and Atlantic Tech (42.6) gave up the fewest. Lots more boys stats leaders are available HERE.

Other girls stat leaders: Absegami freshman Reese Downey made the most threes-pointers; Emma Peretti of Hammonton grabbed the most rebounds (she averaged a double-double); Downey led the league in steals; Absegami teammate Jackie Fortis was first in assists; and Atlantic City’s Quanirah Cherry-Montague had the most blocked shots. Mainland (57.1) scored the most points per game and the Mustangs (35.5) also gave up the fewest. Lots more girls stats leaders are available HERE.

All Cape-Atlantic Boys: Elijah Brown, St. Augustine; Anthony Colon, Egg Harbor Township; Cohen Cook, Mainland; Yamere Diggs, Vineland; Carlos Lopez, Egg Harbor Township.

All Cape-Atlantic Girls: Quanirah Cherry-Montague, Atlantic City; Camryn Dirkes, Mainland; Reese Downey, Absegami; Emma Peretti, Hammonton; Grace Speer, Atlantic Tech.

Players of the Year: Carlos Lopez and Camryn Dirkes.

The Predicted 2023-24 CAL Boys All Star Team: Semaj Bethea, St. Augustine; Elijah Brown, St. Augustine; Cohen Cook, Mainland; Jamir McNeil, Middle Township; Kenny Smith, Hammonton.

The Predicted 2023-24 CAL Girls All Star Team: Kasey Bretones, Mainland; Reese Downey, Absegami; Sabrina Little, Holy Spirit; Kaci Mikulski, Wildwood Catholic; Adelina Wilks, Bridgeton.

How about some nostalgia.

The Flashback All-CAL Boys Team from 20 years ago (2001-02): Tim Bowser, Millville; Scott Greenman, St. Augustine; Michael Haddix, St. Augustine; Marc Milbourne, Holy Spirit; Andrew Morrison, Wildwood Catholic.

The Flashback All-CAL Girls Team from 20 years ago (2001-02): Jen Daniels, Holy Spirit; Lana Harshaw, Wildwood; Monica Johnson, Wildwood; Shaune McLaughlin, Mainland; Kim Ordille, Holy Spirit.

The 2001-02 Players of the Year: Michael Haddix and Monica Johnson.

In 2020, something new was added to our end-of-season summary. In all the 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 were ties in both the boys and girls voting, so we have seven players on each team.

Boys All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches): Rashee Bell, Wildwood Catholic; Cohen Cook, Mainland; Jamir McNeil, Middle Township; Jay-Nelly Reyes, Egg Harbor Township; Angel Smith, Bridgeton; Jahmir Smith, Holy Spirit; Jamie Tyson, Mainland.

Girls All-Defense (selected by the CAL coaches): Kimmy Casiello, Wildwood Catholic; Quanirah Cherry-Montague, Atlantic City; Camryn Dirkes, Mainland; Jada Elston, Middle Township; Jackie Fortis, Absegami; Kira Murray, Holy Spirit; Grace Speer, Atlantic Tech.

Once again, this year, officials were assigned both by the longtime IAABO board in the area and by independent assigner John Rodio. To recognize the best, we again asked the coaches. There was also a tie, giving us seven.

All-Official Team (selected by the CAL coaches): Frank Basile, Ron Bokunewicz, Amanda Feldman, Joe Fussner, Myron Hendrick, John Rodio, Steve Selby.

The 2022 winners of the Boo Pergament Memorial Awards as the CAL’s Most Improved Players are Cohen Cook of Mainland and Kaci Mikulski of Wildwood Catholic. The Ken Leary Memorial Award to the highest ranked CAL boys basketball team goes to Egg Harbor Township. And The Joe Fussner Award to the highest ranked CAL girls basketball team will be displayed for another year by Mainland.

1K Coach: Probably the biggest CAL basketball story was the COVID-related illness and remarkable recovery by St. Augustine coach Paul Rodio. Though his condition seemed dire for a while, he recovered, never missed a game and led his young team to a conference championship and the CAL Tournament championship game. Rodio should join Bob Hurley and Jeff Jasper as the only New Jersey basketball coaches with 1,000 career wins next season.

Injury of the Year: Wildwood Catholic’s 6-7 center Nick Montalbano won the Boo Pergament Award last season as the CAL’s most improved player. But he never got demonstrate his continued improvement as a senior this winter because of season-ending knee surgery. His absence radically changed Wildwood Catholic’s fortunes.

Quad Scorer: Jabril Bowman of Bridgeton became that rare athlete to lead his team in scoring all four years of high school.

More Verizon Fios Applause: Coverage of CAL basketball expanded through the broadcast media – and it was frequently necessary because of the limitation 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 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 and Coastal Broadcasting again covered southern Cape May County. Plus, Half Pint Productions covered St. Joseph, Hermit Broadcasting did St. Augustine games and Absegami TV covered the Braves. Look for the quality coverage to continue next year.

Dan Williams

CAL Boys Coach of the Year: Paul Rodio, South Jersey’s all-time win leader (990) had another great season. Cameron Bell produced a record-setting team at Egg Harbor Township, Paul M. Rodio kept St. Joseph near the top; Carlos Lebron guided Bridgeton to its best season in seven years; and Kyle Dhyne (Holy Spirit), LaMarr Greer (Middle Township) and Mike LaTorre (Millville) each made strong coaching debuts. But the nod goes to Dan Williams, who led the young Mainland team to victory in the CAL Tournament with a great run from the No. 8 seed.

Scott Betson

CAL Girls Coach of the Year: Steve DiPatri, Bob Lasko, Jason Lantz, John Leahy, Mike Cappelletti and Tim Whitworth all guided their teams to successful seasons, in most cases against challenging schedules. Any of them could be a solid choice. But the Coach of the Year is Mainland’s Scott Betson, who blended a team of young players with a couple solid senior leaders to become the CAL’s only South Jersey champion and to reach the sectional final a fifth straight year. The Mustangs’ only three losses came to teams in the state’s Top 10.

Shot of the Year: You kidding? This is the easiest selection of the season. The sideline shot by St. Augustine sophomore Semaj Bethea in the CAL Tournament semifinal to beat Holy Spirit was not only the season’s most remarkable shot but made the game the season’s Game of the Year. Bethea took the in-bounds pass from Rory Friel inside the opposite foul line with somewhere around three seconds left and Spirit leading by a point. He dribbled four times across half-court and tossed the ball while floating in the air approximately 30 feet away near the sideline. Upon further consideration, make this the CAL shot of the century, until somebody finds a way to top it.

You can check out the Online 25 final South Jersey rankings (a total of nine CAL teams are included in the rankings), the CAL standings and highlights from other seasons HERE.

It was nice to have a full Cape-Atlantic League basketball season this year and a lot of talent graduates. But there are a great many exciting players returning. Things should be entertaining again next season, which will include some schedule changes plus new CAL conference alignments. And its only about 39 weeks away.

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