GROUP 3 PREVIEW
2011 CHAMPION: Moorestown defeated Ridge, 7-3, for its second state title since 2008.
2012 FAVORITE: Ridgewood. The Maroons possess a wealth of capable scorers, including returning attackmen Max Luing (33 goals), Garcia Logan (20), Peter Reuter (16 goals, 15 assists) and Connor O'Shea (19 goals). O'Shea was a mid-season surprise, scoring 18 of his goals in the final 13 games. Ridgewood also returns outstanding junior goalie Noah Pounds and two starting close defensemen, seniors Tripp Telesco and Ryan Ghaderi.
There is depth and promise among the midfielders, but if there is a question mark to the season, it would be with that unit. Gone are stellar faceoff man Andrew Toner (Gettysburg), versatile leader Vann Jorgensen (Rutgers) and also dangerous Garrett Clarke (Tufts). It will be up to guys like Jack Allard, Billy Maltz and Brandon Grant to step in and solidify the play between the restraining lines.
If the Maroons can produce scoring opportunities out of the midfield and control the ground ball battles, they certainly will put themselves in a position to win this group. That attack line hurts an opponent with its balance and depth, and most of them are adept at both passing and scoring. The defensemen are versatile and Pounds is equal parts scrappy and smart in the cage.
Ridgewood reached the semifinals last year, but the offense fell flat in an 8-2 loss to Moorestown, which went on to win the title. The Maroons last were crowned in 2009 and have earned three championships in Group 3 since '06.
Ridge, the 2010 Group 3 champion and runner-up last year, has moved up to Group 4, and that might seem at first flush like easier access to the title for Ridgewood. But that's not necessarily so. Montgomery rejoins Group 3 after several years in Group 4, and the Cougars should be good enough to seriously compete for the crown.
Ridgewood may very well face the toughest first week in all of New Jersey, with a season-opener Saturday at home against Delbarton, followed by a Tuesday home game against Mountain Lakes and an April 7 clash with Hunterdon Central on the road in Flemington. The Maroons' midfield will be put under a severe test right from the start, particularly against Delbarton and always-physical Hunterdon Central.
The Maroons' 15-6 season last year--which included the Bergen County Tournament title--certainly allowed them to catalogue their 7-10 season in 2010 as a complete aberration. This is one of the proudest, steadiest lacrosse programs in the Garden State. And they're poised to prove that again this spring.
Moorestown: The defending champ returns at least one starter at every position, including junior goalie Dan Willis and junior faceoff man Matt Olbrich. The graduation of twins Chad and Phil Gamble and defender Dane Dickey requires some level of adjustment, but this team is deep, athletic and always motivated. Alex Martinelli and Brent Ogle join Olbrich at midfield. Attackman Michael Handlen was a surprise scoring force as a freshman in 2011.
Morristown: The Colonials appear to have enough weapons to go at least as far as last year, an overtime loss to Ridge in the Group 3 semifinals. Versatile Steven Delargy (51 goals, 35 assists) and Brad Hersh (39 goals, 25 asssists) return to the attack and Connor Dolan (24 goals) and Brian Begley (21) are back to steer the midfield. Morristown also has experience on defense with senior Matt Drake and sophomore Andres Rodriguez.
Shawnee: The Renegades should be in the thick of things in June despite a season-ending injury to Kyle Wigley and a torn labrum that could keep Rob DiOrio sidelined for a prolonged period. Still, there is talent and experience at almost every position. Senior attackman Owen Demmerly led the state with 82 goals last spring, sophomore middie Kyle Borbi netted 39 and junior middie Jake Dean had 24. Marc Yeager and Sean Murray lead a veteran defense.
Montgomery: Lafayette-bound attackman Kevin Wanke (54 goals, 30 assists) was sizzling hot in the second half of the 2011 season, and is likely to resume a similar pace right away. The team's next top four scorers all return, which is going to make it difficult for opponent's to double Wanke without consequences. Josh Reinson (35 goals), Alec Mikrut (30), Jeff Garinger and Matt Paftinos should have the Cougars in the hunt.
Princeton: The Little Tigers have significant holes to fill on defense, but there is a good deal of scoring prowess and balance among the attackmen and middies. Multi-talented senior Kirby Peck (49 goals) returns as both Princeton's top scorer and faceoff man. He can both prolong runs and stop them with his ability on the draw. Coleman Preziosi, Alex Rifkin, Matt Purdy and Zach Halliday will share the scoring responsibilities.
Mount Olive: The Marauders were 14-4 last season, but not sufficiently battle tested for a serious tournament run. Head coach David Gallucci changed that by adding Summit, Hillsborough and Mendham as out-of-conference opponents. Connor Buoye (45 goals) and Tyler McEvoy (30 goals, 22 assists) will spark the offense, and there is strength at the defensive end with returning starters Logan St. John and Austin Nibblet and goalie Brandyn Merkle.
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS