Top 10 Local Sports Stories of 2017

January 11, 2018
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The top local sports story of 2017 as selected by the TRT Sports staff is the Holmdel Boys soccer team winning the state title and earning the #8 national ranking by national website MaxPreps. Photo by Alex Lorenzo

Compiled by The Two River Times Sports Staff

The calendar has turned and it’s time for the Two River Times sports team to head to the winter sports season and begin to find the next batch of great stories happening in our backyard.  Before that, we look back on a the great stories that took the headlines in 2017:

1. Holmdel Boys Soccer Wins State Title, Earns #8 National Ranking by MaxPreps

Holmdel had four different goal scorers in a 4-1 victory against Dover in the Group 2 state finals at Kean University in November.  Dover came into the state finals with defense as its calling card giving up just two or more goals in two games.  Their gameplan was to stifle Anthony Arena, who came into the game with an amazing 35 goals.  For the Tigers, it was mission accomplished as the junior was not able to find the net.  No goals from one of the state’s top scorers might have meant trouble for Holmdel, but the Hornets showed that it truly was a complete team. Four different players scored including Anthony’s cousin Joe.

“We’re an all-around team. We don’t have just skill.  We have effort, we work great as a team,” Anthony Arena said.  “Outside of practices, we come together as a team.  Everyone just wants to be together and that’s what builds chemistry.”

Holmdel finished the season with a 22-1-1 record, with its lone loss coming to Pingry mid-season.  The one tie was in the second round of the state playoffs, a game that the Hornets advanced via penalty kicks.  Holmdel keeper Matthew Lionette was the hero in the triumph over Matawan in round two and strong back line play led by Jack Russo throughout played a pivotal role in a championship. It was the decision of Holmdel’s top players to sacrifice Academy play in lieu of high school soccer that started the early season optimism of a special season.  Twenty-four games later this group saw it through and are well aware of the history that they made.

“We’re the first Holmdel team to win the Shore Conference,” Michael Neff said. “I think honestly, 2010 was great, but I think we were better. No offense.”

Shore Regional won its third straight state championship in November after a dramatic goal by Julia Eichenbaum. Photo by Jay Cook

2. Shore Regional Girls Soccer Make It a Three-Peat

The Number Three was found at every corner around Kean University in mid-November.

Each of Shore Regional’s top-three scorers found the back of the net. An unlikely comeback unfolded with three minutes left on the clock. Three immensely important passes were perfected on Shore’s game-winning drive to the goal. The small Group 1 school captured its third consecutive state championship.

And sophomore Julia Eichenbaum was a catalyst in every one of those scenarios.

A rocket shot flying from Eichenbaum’s left leg with nine seconds remaining in regulation served as the game-winning goal in Shore Regional’s 5-4 Group 1 final win over Glen Ridge on Saturday morning. It was the Blue Devils’ third straight state title and each came against the Glen Ridge Ridgers.

“We wanted a three-peat, that’s what they were saying,” Shore Regional head coach George Moutis said. “And they did it, they gave it their all. They never stopped fighting.”

So, how do they keep on fighting through tough matches to bring hardware home to West Long Branch?

“We give it our all and we do everything that we possibly can to win,” Eichenbaum said minutes after her game-winning goal.

“It’s an unforgettable experience, and I can’t even put it to words because it’s so exciting,” added Hannah Birdsall, who tallied two goals and the game-winning assist. “For the last three years we’ve played amazing and I hope we keep it up.”

Longtime RBC girls basketball head coach Joe Montano celebrates the Caseys 8th state title with senior guard Josie Larkins. Photo by Rich Chrampanis

3. RBC Girls Hoops Wins 8th State Title

Red Bank Catholic girls basketball coach Joe Montano won his eighth NJSIAA girls Non-Public A basketball championship in March with a solid 55-41 win over Immaculate Heart Academy, but he didn’t want to compare teams of seasons past.

“They are all special,” said Montano,” but this is an amazing accomplishment, especially my three senior starters. This is a really good group of kids who put the team first and that is how you get to this spot.”

Montano admits that RBC (27-3) didn’t play its best game, but the Caseys had enough to put down a stubborn IHA team (23-6). It was RBC’s first state title since 2013.

“The mark of a good team is when you don’t play your best game and do what we did today,” said Montano, “but IHA played very well.”

As it has all season, RBC won with defense and a well-balanced offense, and the victory meant a lot to the three senior starters (Josie Larkins, Tia Montagne and Maureen Coakley).

“We’ve waited four years for this,’’ said Larkins, who had 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. “We saw other people before us do this and we also wanted to do it for ourselves. We were eliminated in the quarterfinals the past three years by St. John Vianney.

“We trust each other and our coach,” said Larkins, now playing at the University of Vermont. “He believed in us and I think that is the first year that we believed as much as he did. We’ve been on the other end the past three years and this was our last chance.”

4. RFH Boys Hoops Wins Central Jersey Group 2 Title

With the graduation of all-time scoring leader Brendan Barry, and the absence of 6-7 rebounder and shot blocker Elijah McAllister because of a torn ACL, many area basketball observers didn’t regard Rumson-Fair Haven Regional too highly in 2017.

The Bulldogs, however, had a surprise in store for many of the skeptics with one of their best teams after winning their first ever NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 championship, the A Division Central title and a school-record 26 wins.

“Since they were overlooked, our players took this as a challenge,” said Rumson boys basketball coach Chris Champeau. “They proved everyone wrong.”

Rumson made a statement early by winning its first 11 games, including a win over Shore Conference Tournament finalist Marlboro, but it was its first loss of the season, a tough 49-46 setback to state power Roselle Catholic, that surprised many people.

“Roselle Catholic was ranked No. 2 in the state when we played them,” said Champeau. “We played very well and made a statement in that game.”

Rumson easily won its first two tournament games and that set up its two biggest games against A Central rival Manasquan in the semifinals and A.L. Johnson in the title game. Both were played in front sellout Rumson crowds.

“We played a great game on our home court,” Champeau said about the Bulldogs 61-46 win in the championship game. “The crowd raced onto the floor when the game ended and mobbed the players and coaches, but no one was injured.”

Rumson’s season came to an end when it lost to Camden, 61-46, in the state Group 2 semifinals, but it couldn’t erase what was a memorable season.

5. Megan Douty Helps USA Win World Lacrosse Title

 Fair Haven’s Megan Douty helped lead Team USA to gold in the women’s 2017 Lacrosse World Cup in England. The United States beat Canada 10-5 in the gold medal game.  Douty, an anchor on the USA defense, was named to the 12-person All-World team for her efforts.  As an RFH Bulldog, Douty played in and started every game throughout her four-year high school career. She notched over 100 goals and over 200 takeaways, displaying her playmaking prowess on both ends of the field.

After moving on up to the University of Maryland after high school, she became one of the top defensive players in the country. She was an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Defender of the Year in 2014 and was the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Douty also anchored Maryland’s defense for back-to-back NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015.

“It’s incredible,” Douty said of her career. “I never thought I would get this far.”

6. Antoine and Lewis Continue to Capture the Attention of Basketball’s Elite

It’s no secret that the Ranney duo of Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis are considered two of the best basketball prospects in the country. The dynamic pair of juniors have picked up offers from some of college basketball’s elite programs over the past two years.  With their phones constantly barraged with texts and voicemails, Antoine took notice when Duke University head coach Mike Krzyewski’s name popped up on his phone.  The Blue Devils head man extended an offer to the dynamic shooting guard as recruiting blogs around the nation have taken notice saying Antoine was a top priority when it came to Duke’s class of 2019 recruiting.  Just a few days later, Lewis received an offer from the ACC powerhouse as well.  It is truly a unique situation for one school to have two coveted recruits that are regarded as top 10 in the entire nation.  In addition to the Duke offer, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, Villanova and countless other big name programs are in the race for the services of the Ranney 1-2 punch.

7. CBA Cross Country Finishes 7th Nationally

Cross country runners and their teams made the 2017 season one to remember.

Highlighting the memorable year was Christian Brothers Academy’s harriers. The Colts regained the NJSIAA Meet of Champions title extending their state-record total to 22. It was a perfect season for head coach Sean McCafferty’s runners en route to the MOC. They won the Shore Coaches Invitational, Manhattan Invitational, Monmouth County, Shore Conference and Non-Public A State championships.

For the ninth straight year, the Colts season concluded their campaign at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon on Dec. 2, where they placed seventh.

8. RFH Field Hockey wins SCT and State Title

The Rumson-Fair Haven field hockey team had a dominating 2017, winning its fourth straight Shore Conference title and claiming the Group 2 state championship with a 2-0 win at Bordentown High School.  It was the school’s second ever overall state title in field hockey.

“This (Shore Conference title) was really special for the kids who have been with the program all four years and have brought the program to where it is now,” said Rumson coach Julie Brewington. “We have 14 seniors on the roster and four of them started all four years.

“We had great balance this season and everyone contributed,” she added. “The seniors worked really hard because it is their final season.”

RFH finished with a 21-3-1 record.  Lily Croddick was one of the best players in the state scoring 45 goals and 14 assists.

9. Mater Dei Prep wins Shore Conference Basketball Title

The Marlboro Mustangs shocked the Shore with upsets of No. 2 Ranney and third-seeded Freehold Township in its previous two conference playoff games and had played the Mater Dei Prep evenly until late in third quarter of the Shore Conference Tournament finals when Kyle Cardaci and Elijah Mitchell led a late charge that gave Mater Dei Prep an impressive 54-41 triumph before a near sell-out crowd at Monmouth University.

Mater Dei’s quickness, depth and athleticism proved to be the difference as coach Ben Gamble utilized his strong bench and 11 players saw action. Marlboro, in contrast, had only six players through a good part of the game and that took its toll.

“We had a target on our backs this year because we had won the Shore Conference last year,” said Gamble, who had coached at Cardinal McCarrick in South Amboy before moving over to Mater Dei Prep two years ago when McCarrick closed.

“We were able to prepare our kids this year and toughen them up,” he said. “I knew the history of the Shore Conference and how competitive it was. We took everybody’s best shot and succeeded.

Girvin and jockey Robby Albarado, who closed at 9-1 odds, barely edged out McCracken for a photo finish to win the $600,000 50th Haskell Invitational first place purse. Photo by Jay Cook

10. Girvin Wins 50th Haskell in Photo Finish 

A riveting final stretch at the Haskell Invitational electrified fans, trainers, and owners alike as they collectively watched Kentucky-bred Girvin roar out from last place to win the 50th installment of Monmouth Park Racetrack’s flagship race in a photo finish.

Girvin then turned the jets on for the final stretch, blowing past favorites – Irish War Cry, Practical Joke, and Timeline – to capture the win as the crowd of 35,303 horse racing fans roared.

Despite lacking major name recognition from the three premiere horse races during the summer circuit – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes – the race provided some level of historical significance.

Irish War Cry, ironically sired by Curlin, was bred in New Jersey by Isabelle de Tomaso, the daughter of Amory Haskell, for whom the Haskell Invitational is named after. He ultimately finished fourth in Sunday’s race.

“We didn’t have the Derby or Preakness winner, but we had an excellent field of those that didn’t win those two races,” said Dennis Drazin, advisor to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemens Association and Darby Development, the operators of Monmouth Park. “We had a good, competitive field, the crowd’s over 35,000, perfect weather, and a great race. We’re thrilled.”

This article was first published in the Jan. 4-11, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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