By BRIAN CUNNIFF
When official Brian Adair tossed the ball into the air at 3:59 p.m. on Monday, the first scrimmage involving a Cape May County high school basketball team got underway.
It’s a far cry from last season, when the action didn’t begin until after the Christmas holidays and was limited to a 15-game regular season due to restrictions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many teams didn’t even get to play 15 games.
As of this moment, there’s supposed to be a move toward normalcy with the high school basketball season. Teams are permitted to play their full normal allotment of 26 regular-season games. There are Cape-Atlantic League and Tri-County Conference tournaments scheduled. There is still a state tournament scheduled.
But we’re already seeing that the pandemic still has a strong grip on the proceedings. Some scrimmages have already been canceled.
There are sure to be shutdowns and more postponed and canceled games.
But, assuming we do have a full season, there are some very neat storylines to follow locally.
Here are some of them:
THE NEW COACHES: There are four new head coaches in the county. On the boys side, LaMarr Greer has taken over for Tom Feraco at Middle Township and Anthony Raffa has stepped in for Dave DeWeese at Wildwood Catholic Academy. That’s two of each school’s all-time greats returning to their alma maters to replace two legendary coaches. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
On the girls side, Mike Cappelletti has moved up from an assistant’s role to take over for Paul Baruffi at Ocean City, which won numerous championships during Baruffi’s storied career. And at Lower Cape May, former longtime Caper Tiger boys coach Pat Holden has taken over for Mike Pittman.
Also of note on the girls side, former Cape May Tech head coach Ginny Roma-Traber is now an assistant coach on John Leahy’s staff at Middle Township. Former Lower Cape May head coach Scott Douglass is now assisting Holden at Lower Cape May. And Bob Fusik, who resigned as Trenton Catholic’s head coach over the summer after turning that program into one of the best in the country, is now a volunteer assistant at Wildwood.
THE NEW CAL ALIGNMENT: The Cape-Atlantic League has undergone a dramatic realignment. Breaking from tradition, the league’s boys and girls alignements are completely different, meaning a school’s boys team could be playing one school at home while its girls team is playing another on the road.
Here are the new three-conference alignments:
Area coaches have expressed mixed feelings about the new alignments. In theory, they were supposed to create competitive balance across the entire league. However, an argument can be made that four of perhaps the top five or six teams in the league are in the United Conference on the boys side, with Egg Harbor Township, St. Joseph, Holy Spirit and Lower Cape May. And then on the girls side, we see Absegami, Atlantic City and Mainland in the American Conference. They’re three of the entire league’s best four or five teams.
In addition, the new alignment has somewhat bizarrely separated longtime natural rivals. For example, it’s quite ridiculous that Ocean City and Mainland aren’t in the same conference in either boys or girls basketball. It also doesn’t make much sense to see Lower Cape May and Middle Township in opposite conferences.
YOUTH IS SERVED: Many of the Cape May County boys and girls basketball teams will feature young rosters this winter. On the girls side, Wildwood Catholic, Lower Cape May and Cape May Tech are expected to start as many as three underclassmen, if not more. On the boys side, Lower Cape May has experience but is still sophomore and junior dominated, Middle Township will roll out a team featuring lots of talented freshmen and sophomores, Wildwood has just three seniors and no juniors in its program, Wildwood Catholic has just one healthy senior and Cape May Tech and Ocean City will each feature rather young sides.
RIVALRY WEEK: The first full week of the regular season will feature some intriguing matchups of local teams in boys basketball. For starters, Cape May Tech hosts Middle Township and Wildwood Catholic travels to Ocean City on opening night on Friday, Dec. 17. Then, after the weekend, it’s Ocean City at Cape May Tech Monday, Middle Township at Wildwood Catholic Tuesday, Wildwood at Cape May Tech Wednesday and Middle Township at Lower Cape May Thursday.
It should be quite a week.
Those are just some of the storylines as we get set for the wonderful journey that is a high school basketball season. There certainly will be more. Many more.