By BRIAN CUNNIFF
The suspension of high school sports due to the COVID-19/coronavirus crisis has prevented a few new area coaches from leading their respective teams.
In baseball, Chris Branigan is the new head coach at Middle Township. He has replaced Chuck Dougherty, who retired after last season after winning more than 300 games over three stints as coach that lasted a total of 26 seasons. Dougherty, a 1966 graduate of Middle who as a player was the first in program history to 100 career hits, also won more than 100 games during a seven-season stint as Middle’s head softball coach in the 1990s. All told, Dougherty coached baseball or softball at Middle in five different decades.
Branigan served as a volunteer assistant baseball coach at Middle last spring.
Middle and Wildwood Catholic each have new softball coaches after Lauren Ruef stepped down at Middle and Matt Megines resigned at Wildwood Catholic.
Rachelle Quick, a vice principal at Middle Township High School, has been named as Ruef’s replacement. Todd Cimino, the father of former Crusader star player Emily Cimino, has been named the new softball coach at Wildwood Catholic.
Ruef coached softball at Middle for nine seasons, guiding a program that, despite not being blessed with overwhelming natural talent, was consistently competitive and on a couple of occasions went on surprising state playoff runs. The Lady Panthers were 12-11 last spring. Prior to coaching at Middle, Ruef spent four seasons as the head coach at Wildwood Catholic.
Megines led the most successful stretch in the history of Wildwood Catholic’s softball program. He coached for six seasons, leading the Crusaders to back-to-back South Jersey Non-Public B titles in 2017 and 2018 and an appearance in the 2016 sectional title game. Wildwood Catholic won two Cape-Atlantic National Conference titles under his watch. The 2019 Crusader team, decimated by injuries and hurt with low numbers, still managed to finish 11-7.
Also this spring, Lower Cape May has a new head boys tennis coach in the wake of the resignation of Greg Douglass. He’s been replaced by Chris Eaves and Jason Felsing, who are serving as co-head coaches.
Douglass had coached boys tennis at Lower Cape May for 22 seasons after previously serving as head coach at Wildwood for five seasons. He won 266 matches at Lower Cape May and has 320 wins overall in 27 seasons as a head boys tennis coach. Douglass plans to remain as Lower’s girls tennis coach in the fall. He is also currently an assistant coach in the girls basketball program under Mike Pittman.
In other spring coaching news at Lower Cape May, Anthony D’Aleo has been named the new head golf coach for the upcoming season. He replaces Jeff Wunder, who announced his retirement from coaching last spring after his 21st season. D’Aleo had served as Wunder’s longtime assistant. Wunder guided Lower to CAL conference titles in 2004 and 2007 and the South-Central Group II championship in 2007. Lower won 275 matches under Wunder’s watch.
In other coaching news, Brett Matthews has resigned as the head girls soccer coach at Lower Cape May.
Matthews led the Lady Tigers program for nine seasons. He guided the Lady Tigers to an appearance in the 2011 South Jersey Group III title game and back-to-back CAL National Conference championships in 2013 and 2014.
Lower Cape May has yet to announce a replacement for Matthews.