So there’s a hands-down individual favorite heading into next Monday’s NJSIAA Tournament of Champions at Hopewell Valley.
Defending champion Peter Kim from Metuchen, who finished at 5-under-par 67 at Hopewell Valley for a three-shot victory a year ago. And in winning the Central/South Group I sectional earlier this week, Kim fired a 64 at Town & Country in Woodstown, eight shots better than anyone else on a windy day thanks to a round that included seven birdies and an eagle.
But anything can happen, and there are plenty of individual players capable of pulling off an upset, while the team titles, including the overall champion and sectional crowns, are up for grabs.
Defending team champion Burlington Township did not qualify this year, but runner-up Christian Brothers Academy will be there. The Colts, who won the state championship two years ago in record-setting fashion at Neshanic Valley, will be looking for their fifth state title since 1998.
Among the top challengers, Metuchen won their section with a team total of 302, the lowest of any qualifier around the state, followed by Bergen Catholic, last year’s third-place finisher, and their 307 at Valley Brook on Tuesday. CBA posted a 312 at Mountain View in Ewing on Monday, while Cherokee’s total was 313 at Linwood.
Middle Township, tied for fourth a year ago, shot 322 in winning the Central/South Group III title on a very difficult Running Deer course in Pittsgrove, while Watchung Hills, the North Group IV winner, has been strong all season.
“Hopefully we’re going to learn from our experiences last year and come out stronger this time,” said CBA junior Vince Palazzolo who, along with junior Jerry Wall, shot 75 last year at Hopewell Valley.
Individually, Wall, the Shore Conference champion, and Palazzolo, have been solid all season, while CBA senior Patrick Hussey was medalist at the sectionals.
Two other Shore Conference players, however, are capable of challenging for the individual title.
Rumson-Fair Haven’s John Edler, who won the Monmouth County Tournament, lost a playoff to Wall at the Shore Conference and won a section title, is enjoying a strong senior season. His older brother, Charlie, won the individual title in 2009.
Howell sophomore Dawson Jones won a sectional for the second straight year, after finishing second at the MCT and third at the SCT.
The girls’ Tournament of Champions is set for May 23 at Cherry Valley in Skillman, where Red Bank Catholic’s Taylor Totland will defend the title she won a year ago at Trump National in Colts Neck.
Totland will have plenty of competition for the top spot from the likes of Montgomery’s Alice Chen, who finished a shot behind Totland at this week’s team qualifying sectional, where Montgomery beat RBC by two shots.
Then there’s Ridge’s Hana Ku, who leads the defending team champions. Ridge finished 32 shots clear of second place RBC a year ago, and Ku finished tied for second, a shot behind Totland.
“I’m really happy with the way we’re coming into the event,” said RBC coach Bill Kusch. “We played well at the sectionals, but obviously we have to play a lot better next week.”
On Tuesday, Ridge captured the North Jersey team section, posting a score of 330 at Stanton Ridge. Ku finished as the medalist with a 70.