There was plenty of excitement in boys and girls basketball at Toms River High School North. And not just because the Mariners play their home games at the nearly 4,000-seat Pine Belt Arena, which features a professional style scoreboard and video screens.
North’s boys team was 28-3. The Mariners set a school single-season wins record, besting the 25-3 mark they put into the books in 2012. They won Shore Conference Class A South at 14-0. They advanced to the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championship game, losing at home to traditional state power Shawnee in triple overtime. They earned a berth in the semifinals of the Shore Conference Tournament in which they fell to Mater Dei Prep.
They won a school single-season record 19 straight games. And they wound up in the championship game of the WOBM Christmas Classic, succumbing to Freehold Township at home.
“It was a fun year–definitely a good ride,” said North coach Rory Caswell, named the Coach of the Division in Class A South. “We just had a great group of kids. There was not a single bad egg in the bunch. They were great kids to deal with, especially the seniors, some of whom I had for either three or four years.”
North’s girls also generated plenty of buzz, winning 27 games–the most in the 16-year tenure of coach Vicki Gillen–and losing just four. The Mariners captured Class A South at 14-0, rose from seventh seed to win the WOBM Christmas Classic with a home victory over fifth-ranked Point Pleasant Boro and fell to Cherokee in the SJ IV championship game. And they won their first 19 games of the campaign before falling to Central Jersey Group III champion Neptune in regular-season action.
“It was a lot of fun to coach the girls,” said Gillen, named the Coach of the Division in Class A South. “We stressed teamwork from Day One. You can sneak in a couple of extra wins when you have that. We overcame issues like injuries to win games and we won a lot of them. I could not be more impressed with the way this group surprised people.”
Rhoden on target: Senior guard Jaden Rhoden paced the Mariners, averaging 24.6 points per game. The 6-foot-2 Rhoden scored nearly 1,200 career varsity points. Rhoden was selected to play in the state and Shore Conference all-star games. He was named Player of the Division in Class A South. He was a first-team All-Shore selection.
“He was kind of our jack of all trades guy,” Caswell said. “He led us in scoring and rebounding most nights. He was our stat sheet stuffer. He was extremely strong as when he went to the basket not many people got in his way. He has a strong jumping base and is an extremely explosive athlete.”
Rhoden and 6-foot-3 senior guard Mike Nyisztor were responsible for one of the most memorable nights in program history.
Both scored their 1,000th career varsity points in a win over Central Regional that gave the Mariners the Class A South title. Nyisztor averaged 15.3 points per outing. Nyisztor, a first-team All-Class A South and a second-team All-Shore selection this season, finished his career with nearly 1,140 varsity points. Nyisztor was selected to play in the Shore Conference all-star game.
“He was lights out and was probably one of the best shooters in the Shore Conference over the last few years,” Caswell said. “He made more than 70 three-point shots for the third straight year this season. We played five guards for the most part and he did a lot of rebounding for us. He had no problem with that as he averaged almost six rebounds per game.”
The starting point guard was 6-foot-3 senior Darrion Carrington, who put up a norm of 12.2 points per game. He was a first-team All-Class A South choice. He was chosen to play in the Shore Conference All-Star game.
“He basically ran the show and everything ran through him,” Caswell said. “When we had our early losses, he was still getting healthy from playing football.”
Caswell said Carrington led the Shore Conference in assists for the third straight season, averaging 6.3 per game this year.
“He set the school’s career varsity record with more than 500 assists,” Caswell said. “He could have scored 1,000 points, but he looked to make the right basketball play. He looked for his teammates rather than forcing the offense. He got into the paint (inside) when he wanted to and that made us very difficult to guard, especially with the shooters we had.”
Nyisztor will play baseball for Rutgers University. Carrington is off to Yale where he will play football.
“They are basically part time basketball players who have excelled,” Caswell said.
Travis Holland was the fourth player to score in double figures, averaging 10.7 points per showing as he put his 6-foot-5 height to good use.
“He keyed a lot of our presses,” Caswell said, “and was always at the top of our zone presses. He got a lot of steals and made a lot of deflections. He was also good at driving by the other team’s big man.”
Other key players were 6-foot junior guard Holden Petrick, 5-foot-10 senior guard Mike Husni (who will play football at Marist) and senior shooting guard Sean O’Donnell. Petrick averaged almost 10 points per game. Husni was the team’s sixth man and O’Donnell put home nearly 55 treys.
“When people collapsed on Rhoden and Nyisztor, Petrick was able to knock down shots and open things up for them,” Caswell said. “Husni had nothing but heart. He was our leading rebounder on many occasions. He went in there and made plays and got deflections and rebounds and did whatever was asked. Teams would have to go out and guard O’Donnell. He knew his role.”
The Mariners slayed opponents with speed.
“We tried to beat people with our speed and we wanted them to go small on us,” said Caswell, 35, a former North player. “We just tried to speed people up. Our kids bought into it. We knew the half court game was not our strength. We focused on pushing the ball and making it a full court game.”
North baffled adversaries with different defenses.
“We mixed it up with a lot of matchup zones, man-to-man looks and a couple of different zone presses,” Caswell said. “We prided ourselves n using a lot of different defenses and on mixing things up.”
North was 72-14 overall over the last three seasons. It won Class A South a year ago at 14-0 and captured the crown at 13-1 the previous season, losing only to Southern Regional. Caswell has guided the Mariners to four Class A South championships in six seasons at the helm.
“We have had a nice three-year run with these kids,” said Caswell, who was assisted this year by ex-North players Bob Urie and Tom Deriggi. “It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. People used to say, ‘It’s still Toms River North. It’s still Class A South. It’s still Ocean County.’ Now, even the Monmouth County teams count us among the top teams.
“When I took over the program, we wanted to get that multi-sport athlete. Those players have helped us. We have been very lucky over the past five or six years. We have had good kids who play together. They have bought into what we are trying to do. I have heard horror stories about other schools.”
Caswell coached the Ocean County College men’s team to the 2011 National Junior College Athletic Association Division III Region XIX Tournament title. The Vikings finished fifth in the NJCAA Division III Tournament in 2011.
“Probably the biggest difference in college and high school basketball is the shot clock,” he said. “I wish they would have it in high school. It would completely change the game as it would add so much more strategy. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening here anytime soon.”
Look for Caswell to remain in coaching for a long time.
“I enjoy the relationships with the kids,” he said. “The number one thing is you get out there and practice each day and you see kids grow through four years. A lot of our former players come back and attend our games. They talk to our current players in our locker room and that is a pretty cool thing.”
Mariners overcome injury: The season did not start off well.
Sophomore point guard Brielle Bisogno tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee last fall when the Mariners won the SJ IV girls soccer title and missed the basketball season. Much was expected from Bisogno as she started for the Mariners as a freshman on the varsity.
Krystal Hund, a 5-foot-5 junior and another soccer player, emerged and North enjoyed one of its finest seasons in program history.
“She had big shoes to fill as she was our sole point guard,” said Gillen, who was selected to coach in the Shore Conference all-star game. “I felt she did great (Hund averaged 5.8 points and 2.8 assists per game). She stepped into a role that she was not familiar with. She is a tremendous athlete who is as tough as nails. She made us hard to press as her left hand was as good if not better than her right hand. We were very rarely pressed because of her speed and her ability to break a press. We were able to play at own pace.”
Seeking confidence and perhaps an identity, the Mariners felled Point Pleasant Boro after ousting second-seeded Sayreville and third-ranked Ewing, which bested Neptune in the CJ III championship game.
“We had a lot to prove as the seventh seed,” Gillen said. “The seeding meeting was early in the season so it was hard to figure out where to seed the teams in the tournament. I did not know what the makeup of my team would be. When we got our seed, I told our girls, ‘We are in a good spot. Win some games we should not win. We can win this thing.’ ”
Gillen brought out a banner from 2004–the previous year the Mariners won the tournament.
“We said, ‘Let’s get another one,’ ” she recalled. “We beat a good team in the final and kind of went from there. That tournament gave us confidence going into the regular season. We were not picked to win Class A South and we used that as motivation.”
North had plenty of balance as three players scored in the double figures.
Ashley Tutzauer, a 5-foot-6 senior guard, averaged 15.83 points per game and finished her varsity career with 1,319. She was a second-team All-Shore selection this year and the Player of the Division in Class A South. She was chosen to play in the Shore Conference and state all-star games.
Tutzauer’s mother, the former Mary Ellen Bayes, was a scoring machine at North where she coaches the girls freshman basketball team. Tutzauer rained home 83 treys and netted 88 of 109 free throws for 80.7 percent.
“Ashley was born into the game,” Gillen said. “She can flat out shoot the lights out. She was face guarded every single night as people tried to deny her the ball. She was one of the best players we had at shooting off the screen. She opened up her game and used her talent to go to the basket, which opened up her shooting from the outside. She was one of our most loyal kids. She is a program kid. She wants to win.”
The 5-foot-10 Jenna Paul averaged 15.87 points per game. She bucketed 133 of 167 free throws for 79.6 percent and knocked down 23 shots from downtown. Paul was a first-team All-Class A South selection.
“When Ashley was face guarded, it opened up the floor for Jenna, who was difficult to guard,” Gillen said. “She was very strong at going to the basket.”
Amanda Johnson, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, put up a norm of 10.8 points per game. She canned 96 of 124 free throws for 77.4 percent and bombed home 28 treys. She was a first-team All-Class A South choice.
“She played out of position,” Gillen said. “She is very versatile. She can get to the basket and is difficult to defend as she can also play underneath. She was our utility player. She can play anywhere on the floor in our man-to-man and zone defenses and she can run the offense.”
Lindsay Cabey, a 5-foot-8 junior forward, averaged 4.0 points per game.
“She hit some big three-point shots,” Gillen said. “She was a very consistent player and a huge part of our success. She lacked size, but she competed under the basket.”
Other contributors to the team’s success were 5-foot-9 freshman guard Kristina Johnson, 5-foot-5 junior guard Heather Cheslock, senior Ryann Maier and 5-foot-5 freshman guard Jamie Wyckoff.
“Kristina gave us some great minutes off the bench and she can score,” said Gillen, an ex-Toms River East player. “She is a very versatile player who we can put in different spots. Heather was a great defender. She gave us a lot of energy and was another player who knew her role when she was on the floor. Jamie gave us speed and athleticism. She came in and did her job when she was asked to.”
The assistant coaches were former North player Lauren Skripko, Ryan Dering and Jackie Berry.
“It was one of our better years in terms of the girls playing for each other,” Gillen said, “and they had a lo of fun doing so. We were ranked as high as 10th in the state despite playing in the very tough Shore Conference.”