In the beginning of last season, the Manasquan boys basketball team went largely unnoticed among the basketball heavyweights in the Shore Conference.
The Warriors were picked to finish third in the now defunct Shore Conference Class C Central division and were not ranked in the Asbury Park Press preseason top 10.
Slowly, the Warriors two star players Jimmy Walsh and JR Hobbie helped put Manasquan into the spotlight with a strong second-half run in the regular season and they also spearheaded impressive runs in both the Shore Conference and the NJSIAA tournaments.
This season, the Warriors want the respect from opening weekend as one of the top teams in the Shore Conference and Walsh, a senior forward, and Hobbie, a senior guard, intend to prove that to all the doubters out there.
“I thought last year we fulfilled our expectations. A lot of people didn’t know who we were but by the end of the year people knew who we were. I thought we got better as the season went on which is very important and I thought we peaked at the right time and we finished pretty strong,” said Walsh, who averaged 17.2 points and 15.4 rebounds per game last season. “Now that the bull’s eye is on our back. Every day in practice is that much more important and we have to get better at every practice. If we take care of the little things and play like we know how to play, I think we will be a tough team to beat.”
The Warriors begin the season ranked second in the APP top 10 with Walsh and Hobbie anchoring the starting lineup and they will be joined by returning starters junior guards Tom Toole and Jack Fay. Manasquan coach Andrew Bilodeau said that senior forward Chris Keane was the fifth starter on Friday night and that senior forward Sean Yerks, junior guard Nick Gilly and junior forward Ryan Kavanagh will be the key reserves to start the season.
“This year, it is going to harder to get open for shots, so I’ll get to handle the ball a little bit and try to take guys off the dribble,” said Hobbie, who averaged 21.4 points per game last season and went 204-for-235 (86.8 percent) from the free throw line and made 82 3-pointers, which led the Shore Conference last season. “I’m going to really look to be active on the defensive end and get some steals and some easy buckets. I want a banner up there in the school gymnasium and to have a ring.”
Banners and rings come with winning championships and the Warriors feel with four returning starters from a team that went 21-8 last season, they are in a strong position to not only win the Class A Central division, their new division from the recent Shore Conference realignment, but also challenge for the Shore Conference Tournament title and an NJSIAA sectional title.
“Honestly, I think that moment really was in the last game we played at Lakewood in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinal. From the moment we tipped off it was a different mindset,” Bilodeau said. “We didn’t play well but our attitude was just really positive. They’ve always had good attitudes and what I mean by attitudes is that they expected to win the game and you can just feel it the whole night.”
The No. 4 seed Warriors lost to Lakewood, 55-50, in that NJSIAA CJ Group III semifinal but put a scare into the top-seeded Piners down to the last minute of the game. In the Shore Conference Tournament, the No. 10 seed Warriors advanced to the semifinals before losing to eventual SCT champion and No. 3 seed Neptune, 70-41. In the regular season, the Warriors finished tied for second with Point Boro in the Class C Central division, which was won by Lakewood.
With the new season already started, Walsh and Hobbie also have some personal goals they would like to accomplish while keeping Manasquan in the headlines.
“I want to be the first 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds guy at Manasquan. 1,000 points is reachable and 1,000 rebounds is definitely reachable if I put up the numbers that I put up last year,” Walsh said.