Jan. 30 notebook: Division races coming to end, milestone watch, and potential division changes for next year

Three of the four divisions have crowned regular season champions, with Morris Knolls-Hills (Mennen), Morristown (Halvorsen), and Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown (Haas) all locked into the top seeds for their respective cups.

The only one left to figure out is the Charette Division, where Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex holds a three-point lead on both Newton-Lenape Valley and High Point-Wallkill Valley-Kittatinny. All of those teams have two divisional games remaining, and all Bernards needs is a win or combination of 2 points in its final two games against Morris Catholic (Thursday) and High Point (Saturday) to clinch the division title.

Newton-Lenape Valley and High Point are set to face off on Monday, and the winner of that game would have the upper hand for the second seed and would need to win their final league game, and hope Bernards loses out (High Point plays Bernards in the season-finale on Saturday) to have a chance at the division title.

By the end of this week, we will (weather and COVID permitting) know who all has qualified for the cup playoffs and where teams will be seeded. Every day in my morning schedule post, I’ll explain what’s at stake in each divisional game.

Let’s take a moment to recognize some milestones that have been hit this season. The Morris-Sussex area has had five players join the career 100-point club this year, and there are six others who are within striking distance.

— Dylan Shea, Vernon: 135 points (68 goals, 67 assists)
— Thomas Cioce, MO-HO-HA: 117 points (47 goals, 70 assists)
— Tristan Aikenhead, Mendham: 114 points (50 goals, 64 assists)
— Evan Steinbach, Vernon: 105 points (56 goals, 49 assists)
— Leah Stecker, Morristown-Beard girls: 105 points (57 goals, 48 assists)

In addition, here are some players who are close.
— Andrew Low, Morristown-Beard (95 points)
— Aiden Reidy, Mountain Lakes-Boonton (93 points)
— Hollis Humphries, Morristown-Beard (90 points)
— Nicholas Cioce, MO-HO-HA (88 points)
— Ed Karpinski, Park Regional (87 points)
— Christian Mote, Gill St. Bernard’s (82 points)

With three division winners crowned and three teams definitively locked into last place, we can start to get an idea of what the divisions will look like for next season, provided that the league approves the division winners and last place finishers to swap places, and assuming the league sticks to the same, four-division, five teams in each division (six in Haas) format for next year.

Here’s what it would look like….

Mennen: Morris Knolls-Hills, Randolph, Morristown-Beard, Chatham, Morristown (up from Halvorsen)
Halvorsen: Madison (down from Mennen), Mendham, Mountain Lakes-Boonton, KJS United, Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown (up from Haas)
Haas: Roxbury (down from Halvorsen), Park Regional, West Morris, Gill St. Bernard’s, Vernon, Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex (up from Charette, if it holds on to division title).
Charette: Montville (down from Haas), Newton-Lenape Valley, High Point-Wallkill Valley-Kittatinny, Morris Catholic-St. Elizabeth, Parsippany Regional

So, if all of this happens, most notably you’d have Morristown returning to the Mennen after a one-year hiatus. It’s worth noting that Morristown would make that move after graduating 11 seniors from this year’s team. Madison, on the other hand, would move back to the Halvorsen.

You’d also see MO-HO-HA move up to Halvorsen, and Mount Olive as an individual program hasn’t been above the Haas since 2002-03. That’s a team loaded with a junior class this year that should be able to hold up well while moving up a division. Roxbury, on the other hand, was very young this year, and would move down to the Haas for the first time since 2012-13.

If Bernards holds on to first place in the Charette, they’d potentially move up to Haas which is a move that would make a lot of sense. That’s a team with an extremely strong and improving sophomore class, most of its team should be back next year and it has already fared well against Haas opponents in crossovers this year- including a win over first place MO-HO-HA.

This is a very interesting idea brought up by Tim. If you remember, prior to the 2020-21 season, the league used a three-division format for a few years, with six teams in the Mennen and Halvorsen each, and nine in the Haas-Charette Division.

I personally liked having at least six teams in each division. I’m not sure what prompted the MCSSIHL to make the switch before last year back to the four-division format, but with five teams each (six in the Haas). My guess is that with the shortened COVID season last year and teams being limited to a certain amount of games, it made sense to only have teams play eight division games.

Now, I don’t particularly have a problem with the current format. I think having a Cup tournament for all four divisions, with the addition of the Charette Cup last year, is a very good thing. Giving teams in the Charette their own Cup title to play for when some of those teams suffer from low participation numbers can only help those teams as they try to build themselves up.

That being said, some of the crossover results this season have been striking. Morristown, for instance, moved down to the Halvorsen this year after finishing last in the Mennen last year, and has gone 4-0-1 against Mennen opponents- including a win over Morristown-Beard. Mendham went 2-1-1 against Mennen opponents, including a win over Randolph.

There’s 21 teams in the league- imagine if it were three divisions, seven teams per division, and you had Morristown and Mendham in the Mennen Division this year. With it being considered a generally down year for the Mennen with every team being very young, along with the crossover results, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say those two teams would have been at or the very least near the top of the division.

The NJIIHL uses a format very similar to that (one division has six teams). So, hypothetically speaking, IF the league went to that format and promoted the top two teams from each division, this is what it’d look like as of now…

Mennen: Morris Knolls-Hills, Randolph, Morristown-Beard, Chatham, Madison, Morristown, Mendham
Halvorsen: Mountain Lakes-Boonton, Kinnelon-Jefferson-Sparta, Roxbury, Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown, Park Regional, West Morris, Gill St. Bernard’s
Haas-Charette: Vernon, Montville, Bernards-Somerville-Middlesex, Newton-Lenape Valley, High Point-Wallkill-Kittatinny, Morris Catholic-St. Elizabeth, Parsippany Regional

I just thought this was a fun thing to think about here. Again, I think the current four-division format is fine for the reasons I outlined earlier, plus if it went to a seven-team format, that would mean each team plays 12 division games as opposed to eight now. I’m sure some teams like the flexibility of being able to schedule out-of-conference teams to build up their state tournament resumes, which you have more of when you only are committed to eight division games.

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