Tuckerton-Little Egg Harbor Leader Winter Sports Previews

Pinelands Basketball, Wrestling Squads Wrestle With Inexperience This Winter

By DAVID BIGGY | Dec 06, 2019
Photo by: David Biggy Pinelands senior Ryan Skeie

Little Egg Harbor — After losing a slew of seniors to graduation following last winter’s 18-7 season, some might believe the Pinelands Regional boys basketball team is in for some struggles this winter. But coach Fred Johnson is not among that crowd.

“Despite losing so many players to graduation last year, our expectations haven’t changed,” he said. “We make it a point to focus on daily improvement. We expect our returning players to take on leadership roles and help the newcomers adapt to our way of doing things.”

Of course, since taking over as head coach, Johnson hasn’t altered the expectations for his Wildcats – they’re still expected to strive higher, win games and give their best effort every time on the court. But sometimes in the Shore Conference Class B South division, what’s expected and what occurs are two different things. It all depends on consistency.

And if anything, that’s likely what Pinelands will strive for most this season, to remain consistent in all aspects of the game from one day to the next.

Leading that charge will be senior forward Ryan Skeie, an integral force in the paint during the past two seasons, as Pinelands set records for most wins in a season and won state tournament games for the first time ever and then for a second straight season, all while accumulating a 20-8 mark within the division.

Helping him lead the way will be senior Andrew Bartlett and junior Josh Kline. In fact, those three likely will carry a bulk of the workload on offense and asked to step up big on the defensive end of the floor.

“Ryan, Andrew and Josh all played significant varsity minutes last year and will be relied upon heavily,” Johnson said. “They’re not newcomers. They were good, varsity contributors, and they will be asked to play major minutes this year. This rest of the roster will be filled out with players who have not played significant varsity minutes before and are getting their first exposure to varsity basketball.”

Among that batch of Wildcats will be seniors Ed Wilkinson, Anthony Falduto, P.J. Losiewicz, Austin Carney, Bryce O’Rourke, Timmy Towns and Kendrick Harper, as well as sophomores Rian O’Rourke, Darren Barreau and Daniel McCarthy.

The Wildcats will get their season underway on Friday, Dec. 20, on the road at B South rival Donovan Catholic, and then play in the New Egypt Tournament starting Dec. 27.

Wrestlers Focus

On Improvement

In a sentiment likewise to the boys basketball team, head coach Joe Adelizzi’s wrestling squad will rely on several of its leaders to bring an otherwise young and inexperienced group forward throughout the winter.

“We’re very young and inexperienced, with only six wrestlers returning with any varsity wrestling experience,” Adelizzi said. “Wins and losses on the scoreboard are not the focus of the program at this point, but instead we’re looking to develop a strong work ethic and passion for the sport. Those will be the main goals for the upcoming season.”

While the Wildcats seek improvement with each match, Adelizzi knows the Class B South division will have its teams atop the heap – Lacey, Point Pleasant Borough and Barnegat among them – and his crew will take its lumps along the way, but that’s OK, he said.

“What we need most for these guys is mat time,” he said during a recent practice. “We just need to get them out there to wrestle for six minutes at a time, so we can build their experience. We’re not expecting miracles, but we are expecting gradual improvement in an effort to build the program.”

Of course, individually, Pinelands has several quality wrestlers who should make plenty of noise this season. Senior Travis Brown, who went 24-9 and placed second in NJSIAA District 29 at 132 pounds, will be leading the way at either 132 or 138 pounds, while junior Gavin Stewart, 22-11 last season, returns as a Region VII qualifier and will be looked upon for leadership from the 152- or 160-pound spots.

Beyond that duo, the Wildcats are thin with regard to experience. Senior Avery Maski, 16-13 last winter, returns at heavyweight, while sophomore Mateo Mena, 7-4 a year ago, will be the likely choice to take the mat at 220 pounds, and senior Matt Albanese (7-14) and sophomore Eric Helfrich (0-3) are back in the 145- and 106-pound classes, respectively.

As for some of the newcomers, Mason Livio is a freshman “worth keeping an eye on,” Adelizzi said. Livio has been around the youth wrestling scene for a few years and is expected to be a contender for podium spots come the end of February and into March.

The rest of the team includes senior Chris Matusak (145/152); juniors Austin Koeppen (120/126) and Thomas McNeil (220); sophomores Nick Muso (120), Thomas Exel (132/136), Joel Mott (145/152) and Dylan Servis (145/152); and freshmen Jack Carson (106), Mark Siino (113/120), Thomas Rosetti (126/132), Gavin Wagner (138), Jackson Panarra (138/145), Hunter Theuret (145) and Sal Esposito (285).

Pinelands opens the season on the road Dec. 18 against Shore Regional, before competing in the Gator Tournament on Dec. 21, and then traveling to Woodstown High School for its annual holiday tournament on Dec. 28.

— David Biggy

biggy@thesandpaper.net

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