NJ boys lacrosse: Group 1 preview
GROUP 1 PREVIEW
2011 CHAMPION: Glen Ridge, with 9-8 victory over Mountain Lakes, for its first NJSIAA title.
2012 FAVORITE: Summit. The Hilltoppers are back in Group 1 after claiming the Group 2 title the past three years and earning Tournament of Champions crowns in 2009 and '10. Summit (23-1) suffered a number of key graduation losses and Group 1 is loaded with talent, so this prediction is far from a coronation--even with high-scoring Nick Kilkowski, steady midfielder Ryan Bringewatt and defensemen Will Weber and Stef Stadlinger back in uniform and with head coach Jim Davidson still roaming the sidelines under his weathered Summit baseball cap.
Mountain Lakes, Glen Ridge, Madison, and perhaps even Kinnelon and Rumson-Fair Haven, are sure to have something to say about this when the state tournament gets underway in late May.
Summit had a state-record 68-game winning streak snapped by Bridgewater-Raritan, 6-5, last June in the T of C final, and that was obviously a crushing blow then to the Hilltoppers. With a new season dawning, though, the pressure to uphold that magnificent streak is now erased. Summit can just go out and concentrate on playing well and improving each day instead of maintaining a legacy. That added freedom could translate into trouble for opponents.
Of course, Summit, with its infusion of new starters at all positions, must tend to the task of making steady improvements if it plans to thrive again the highly competitive Fitch-Pitt Division. Many stars are gone from that record-setting group, but Summit's opponents are not going to care about that when they faceoff against the Hilltoppers this year. Any victory over Summit this season will still be regarded as a major upset. That might not be fair, but, hey, that’s sports.
The Rutgers-bound Kilkowski (63 goals last season) is one of the craftiest scorers in New Jersey, though he will be an easier target for defenders this season with Sonny Round (Lafayette) and Mike Ford (Middlebury) no longer at his side. Juniors Austin Carbone, a converted middie, and Mattt Maier join Kilkowski on attack this spring. Kilkowski will probably have to adjust his game a bit and become more of a distributor, but he is good enough to handle the job.
Bringewatt, headed for Holy Cross, Tom Celmer (Marist) and David Kalin (UPenn) will round out the first midfield for the Hilltoppers. Weber, Stadlinger (Bates), Billy Hadley (Ithaca) and junior pole Tyler Carbone anchor the defense in front of senior goalie Alex Salazar (Tufts), the capable backup last season to Pete Badgley.
Summit opens its season March 31 at Westfield and follows with a game in Long Valley April 3 against West Morris. Circle April 30 as a key date for the Hilltoppers: That's when they battle neighboring Chatham in a rematch of last spring's thrilling Group 2 championship won by Summit, 7-6, in five overtimes.
Mountain Lakes: Tyler Batesko and Dan Badolato anchor a typically strong Lakers defender. Attackman Rob Orazietti and Jon Broome pace what should be a balanced offense. Tim Flynn, the state's all-time winningest coach, enters his 33rd season with a 537-115 record and nine state titles to his credit.
Glen Ridge: The Ridgers graduated numerous seniors from their championship squad, but still have offensive firepower with Matt Lander (35 goals), Colin Goldstein (29) and Jameson Smith (27) back to steer the offense. Glen Ridge has a talented junior goalie in Shane Doss.
Madison: The Dodgers will definitely miss all-round standout Colin McLinden (Fairfield), though Billy Battaglia (41 goals), Mike Clemente (15) and Christian Scarpello seem fully prepared to assume the scoring responsibilities together. Senior Eamon Epstein leads the defense.
Kinnelon: Its young group last season rebounded from a 2-6 start to finish at 9-10. Kobi Frankel (21 goals), Brian Gnad (17) and Greg Budd---three of the Colts top five scorers--all return to pace the offense. Sophomore John Calia was impressive in his limited starts in 2011.
Rumson-Fair Haven: The Bulldogs graduated over 100 goals, yet still should be able to ring up decent numbers with Jack Curran (36 goals), Michael Clarke (23) and Ryan McCausland all returning. Senior goalie Arthur Tildesley played a key role behind Rumson's Shore Conference Tournament championship last spring.
Bernards: The Mountaineers lost several talented scorers, but do have a top faceoff man in junior Jon Diamond, and that commodity can always help a young offense grow quickly. Bernards does have reliable scorers back with Pat Kenny (23 goals), Devin Ray (18) and Griffin Connor (17). They'll simply just have to take more shots than last year.
Mahwah: The Thunderbirds said goodbye to a strong senior class, yet have become too solid a program in recent years to be discounted. John Peyton, a steady faceoff man, and Bob Collins lead the midfield. Senior Mike Spera is back in goal.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS