For the better part of a decade Christian Brothers Academy has had a virtual stranglehold on the area’s top prizes, including victories at eight of the last nine Shore Conference Tournaments.
But as teams are finally making their way out onto courses throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties as a brutal winter relents, the sense is that there’s more parity near the top than there has been in quite some time.
The Colts are still right there, returning sophomore Chris Gotterup, who lost in a playoff at the Central-South Non-Public A sectional, and seniors Sean Farren and Jack Doherty, both solid contributors last season. But they lose their top two players, Jerry Wall and Vince Palazzalo, off the team that posted a record-shattering four-man total of 5-under-par 283 at Charleston Springs to win last year’s SCT.
But there’s a rather lengthy list of contenders looking to challenge for the crown, including Rumson-Fair Haven, which returns four starters, Wall, with five returnees, Manasquan and Howell, featuring senior Dawson Jones, the reigning Monmouth County and Shore Conference champion head to Rhode Island in the fall.
And the X-Factor in all of this figures to be Southern, with the Ocean County champions led by senior Jackson Fiel, the two-time defending OCT champ who is looking to become the first SCT winner from Ocean County since 2005.
“”I never count CBA out, but there are a lot of teams that are pretty good this year,” Wall coach Matt Stefanski said. “”Even a team like Southern, they’re rock-solid behind Jackson (Fiel) and could be top-5, maybe even top-3 at the Shore.”
Rumson, which has finished ahead of CBA at two of the last five Monmouth County tournaments, is very strong at the top. Reid Bedell closed out his sophomore season with a 74 at the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, while senior Perry Litwin led the Bulldogs to the South-Central Group II sectional team title.
“”Our guys really made a commitment during the offseason,” Rumson coach Brad Margolis said. “”I think we can really build on last year with the guys we have back. We think this year we can give CBA run for their money.”
Wall, which lost a playoff to Rumson at the Group II sectional and finished ahead of them at the Tournament of Champions, returns sophomore Luke Dougherty, senior Andrew Hatch, who shot 76 at the Tournament of Champions, senior Brian Haggerty and juniors Robert Wood and Ben Campbell.
“”My kids are already talking about it. We want to contend in these tournaments and win one of them,” Stefanski said.
Manasquan was the surprise runner-up to CBA at last year’s SCT. With key returnees like seniors Logan Sabins, Mike Reilly and Jack Burke, junior Brian Lembo and sophomore Austin Deveroux, they could make a run at the title later this month.
There’s little question that Southern is a heavy favorite to take another Ocean County crown when the event is held at Sea Oaks. But with the SCT at Eagle Ridge in Lakewood, another course the Rams are familiar with, the hope is that they can make a major move up the leaderboard.
“”We have experience and depth,” coach Jeff Reilly said. “”Our biggest question is can we make the transition from being a very good nine-hole team to a very good tournament team and do well in the big tournaments. We expect to do well at Ocean County, but we want to do well at Shore Conference and the sectional as well.”
Towards that end, the Rams are headed to Myrtle Beach, S.C. this week to compete in The Palmetto, a three-day tournament featuring 40 teams.
In addition to Fiel, who won last year’s OCT at Eagle Ridge and was fifth at the SCT, the Rams return seniors Chase Clark and Tristian Leming, junior Alex Chiodi and sophomore Matt Rizzo, along with seniors Charles Ferrara and Gerald McNee.
“”(Fiel) is primed right now,” Reilly said. “” He has worked tremendously hard, he’s been to the Tournament of Champions two years in a row, played in the Challenge Cup. He’s in that upper echelon of players and he has some good experience.”
April 1 – Wall Invitational (Jumping Brook)
April 20 – Monmouth County Tournament (Hominy Hill)
April 20 – Ocean County Tournament (Sea Oaks)
April 28 – Shore Conference Tournament (Eagle Ridge)
May 11 – NJSIAA sectionals (various)
May 18 – NJSIAA Tournament of Champions (Hopewell Valley)
FIVE TO WATCH
Dawson Jones, Sr., Howell – Jones emerged as the top player in the area as a junior, winning the Wall Invitational, Monmouth County and Shore Conference crowns, and lost in a playoff for the top spot at the Central-South Group IV sectional.
Chris Gotterup, So., CBA – A consistent performer in his rookie campaign for the Cotls, placing seventh at Monmouth County, tied for third at theShore Conference and lost a playoff for first place at the Central-South Non-Public A sectional.
Jackson Fiel, Sr., Southern – Fiel cruised to a 6-shot victory at the Ocean County Tournament as the defending champion, before finishing tied for fiftha t the Shore Conference and qualifying for the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.
Reid Bedell, Jr. Rumson-FH – A model of consistency as a sophomore, Bedell placed sixth at Monmouth County, eleventh at the Shore Conference before firing a 74 at the Tournament of Champions.
Luke Dougherty, So., Wall – Shot 77 at the Central-South Group II sectional to help the Crimson Knights reach the Tournament of Champions, after firing a 74 at the Shore Conference to finish 10th.
Staff writer Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @SteveEdelsonAPP