Previewing Monday’s Morris County NJSIAA Quarterfinals

Monday has the potential to be perhaps the most hectic day of the NJSIAA State Tournament.

All 16 games of the quarterfinal round on the boys side will be taking place on the same day. In total, six of those games will involve teams from Morris County, as they’ll look to advance to the semifinals on Wednesday and Thursday.

Additionally, in the girls state tournament, Morristown-Beard and Randolph will face off in the quarterfinals to see who advances to the semifinals.

Here is a look at each game involving Morris County teams.

NON-PUBLIC
2-Delbarton vs. 10-St. John Vianney, 4 p.m. at SportsCare Arena
Delbarton will look to avoid the same fate as the last state tournament two seasons ago, when the Green Wave were bounced in the quarterfinals at home by Gloucester Catholic.

This year’s Delbarton team has been strong from the very beginning of the year, led by one of, if not the top goaltender in the state in junior Jason Cai, who has posted an eye-popping .955 save percentage along with eight shutouts. It also has a very balanced group of forwards in junior Trip Pendy, Duncan Stewart, Max Pendy, Jack Genovese, and Nick Faccone. It is coming off a dominant 4-1 win over St. Joseph of Metuchen, in which it out-shot the opposition by a staggering 44-9 margin.

St. John Vianney, on the other hand, made a statement in its opening round game, defeating seventh-seeded Princeton Day on the road, 3-2. It boasts some firepower up front in forwards Jack Allen (15 g., 24 a.), Rob Calice (13 g., 17 a.), and Mike Reed (12 g., 14 a.). Goalie Dan Shallcross has a .933 save percentage and has been strong all year for the Lancers, which are looking to make the semifinals for the first time since 2002.

11-Morristown-Beard at 2-Don Bosco Prep, 8 p.m. at Ice Vault
Morristown-Beard has been on quite a roll as of late, winning six straight games en route to a Mennen Cup title as well as a dramatic road win over sixth-seeded Seton Hall Prep in the quarterfinals.

Now, it has its sights set on a semifinal berth for the first time since 2014, when it reached the final and was co-champions with Christian Brothers.

It will have its hands full against a Don Bosco program which has established itself as a premier program in the state in the past few years, winning its first state championship in 2018-19 before finishing as the state’s No. 1 team last winter after a Gordon Cup title in a COVID-shortened season. This year’s iteration of the Ironmen have plenty of players who can score, between Matt Imbriano (18 g., 10 a.), Kris Krumins (18 g., 10 a.), Ty Oller (12 g., 20 a.), Lukas Peterson (4 g., 16 a.), and Cooper Snee (5 g., 17 a.). It has a pair of reliable goaltenders as well in Ethan Marich (.920 sv%) and James Tarabocchia (.948 sv%).

Morristown-Beard will need another big performance out of its top line of Noah Jones (22 g., 17 a.), Andrew Low (13 g., 20 a.), and Hollis Humphries (31 g., 23 a.). That line directly contributed to five of the team’s six goals in its win over Seton Hall Prep, and is clicking like few other lines in the state right now since Jones was moved to forward at the beginning of this winning streak. If it can get some production out of its second and third lines, and gets another big game in goal from freshman Casey Connor- who has been on a roll as of late- Morristown-Beard has the formula to pull another upset in the state tournament.

The teams also met this season on Jan. 25, which was a 4-1 win for Don Bosco Prep.

PUBLIC A
8-Morristown at 1-Livingston, 4 p.m. at Codey Arena
Morristown regained its form in its first round win over Watchung Hills, as it won 4-0 and looked like the polar opposite team from the one that lost to Mendham by the same score in the Halvorsen Cup final just eight days earlier.

It will now get the opportunity to take on a Livingston squad which has been a buzzsaw from the beginning of the year. The Lancers are 20-3-3, and have six wins over teams currently ranked in the NJ.com Top 20. It has no shortage of players who can score in Austin Vecchio (22 g., 23 a.), Danny Grossbard (23 g., 17 a.), Dillon Schultz (12 g., 20 a.), and Zach Silva (14 g., 17 a.) leading the way.

Morristown may not have the same level of offensive firepower that Livingston does, but it is a group that has proven all season that it can get enough scoring and play really strong defense in front of its standout goalie in Dylan Peck. Peck has a .932 save percentage this year with six shutouts.

The key to pulling the upset here would be by getting a goal from one of its top forwards in Francis Zaklukiewicz, Jack McKenna, Harry Santen, Liam Wilson, Nick Romano, or Jackson Byrne early. That’s exactly what happened in its first round win over Watchung Hills- McKenna scored three minutes into the game, and the team stifled the Warriors the rest of the way en route to a shutout win.

PUBLIC B
8-Randolph at 1-Northern Highlands, 4 p.m. at Sport-O-Rama in Monsey, N.Y.
This is the second meeting of the year between these teams, with Northern Highlands getting a 3-1 win on the road back on Jan. 21.

Randolph, which is the defending Public B champions from 2019-20, has perhaps one of the youngest rosters of coach Rich McLaughlin’s nearly 30-year tenure. That youth and inexperience showed in its first round win over Princeton, when it built a 5-0 lead before giving up five-straight in a span of five minutes to tie it. It ultimately got the 8-5 win, but if it is going to have a chance to take down one of the top teams in New Jersey in Northern Highlands, it will need to play a much tighter game defensively- especially if it gets a lead at any point. It has players who can score in Jase Zangara, Zach Gallo, and Andrew George, among others, but it will need a strong defensive performance in front of junior goalie Connor Thomas to have a chance.

However, it is hard to find a weakness on this Northern Highlands team. It has six players with over 20 points this season, and 12 who are in double-digits. It can score with ease. It can play strong defense as evidenced by the 1.48 goals per game it has allowed. It has maybe the best public school goaltender in the state in Daniel Moor, who has a .941 save percentage.

10-Mendham at 2-Rumson-Fair Haven, Red Bank Armory at 8 p.m.
Seemingly every year in the state tournament, there is at least one dark horse team that makes a deep run. Could Mendham be that team this year?

Based on its play as of late, there’s no reason to think not. The Minutemen have bounced back from a four-game mid-season slide to win four in a row, including a dominant Halvorsen Cup title win over Morristown and a 3-2 win on the road over seventh-seeded Glen Rock in the first round. Senior Tristan Aikenhead is playing like a man on a mission right now, posting four-consecutive games with three or more points, including a hat trick in the Glen Rock win. Goalie Gavin Thrun has only gotten better as well, stopping 26 of 28 in the win over Glen Rock and all 19 in the Morristown win. There is a lot to like about the way this Mendham team is playing at the moment.

But this Rumson-Fair Haven squad will be Mendham’s biggest test to date. It has won seven in a row, including a 2-1 overtime win over Middletown South in the Handchen Cup final, before rolling to a 6-0 win over Ramsey in the first round of the state tournament. Forwards Brett Pritchard and Connor Spagnuola are two dynamic threats for the Bulldogs, and goalie Ryan Kuras has been solid all year with a .921 save percentage.

PUBLIC C
1-Morris Knolls-Hills vs. 9-Woodbridge-Colonia-JFK, 6:30 p.m. at Mennen Arena
As the top seeded team, Morris Knolls-Hills goes into this game as the clear favorite. But a quick look at the numbers for this Woodbridge squad show that it better be very, very careful in this game.

This team has a top line which has two players with 91 points each in Ryan Lukko (56 g., 35 a.) and Hubert Polchlopek (29 g., 62 a.). Even though this team hasn’t faced the level of competition that Knolls-Hills has this season, those types of numbers don’t get put up by accident. Morris County got its first look at this team on Friday, when it defeated Mount Olive-Hopatcong-Hackettstown, 9-5 in the first round at Mennen Arena. Morris Knolls-Hills’ defensemen led by Dante Tironi and Bryan McCarter- along with goalie Aidan Marvin- will have their hands full in this game.

That said, Morris Knolls-Hills has been preparing for the postseason since the start of the year. It has played eight games against teams currently ranked in NJ.com’s Top 20- to zero for Woodbridge. While it only has one win in those games, it did finish at the top of the standings in the always-difficult Mennen Division this season. It is very light on postseason experience after graduating most of its roster from the back-to-back Public A titles in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but this team does have a good amount of depth, led by sophomore Luke Dickerson (25 g., 21 a.), Kyle Thornton (20 g., 17 a.), and Jake McCloud (9 g., 18 a.).

GIRLS
1-Morristown-Beard vs. 8-Randolph, 4 p.m. at Twin Oaks Ice Rink
Morristown-Beard will play its first game of the state tournament in this one, after earning a bye in the preliminary round as the top seed. It has been a dominant team all year, losing just one game to a New Jersey opponent- a 3-2 loss to Princeton Day in the Prep Tournament semifinals on Feb. 3.

The Crimson have seven players with 20 or more points this season in Jessica Sperling, Lilli Warnock, Logan Sutera, Leah Stecker, Kailin Kane, Carly Greer, and Brooklyn Chen. It is absolutely loaded at both forward and defense, with a very strong goalie in Gracie Meyers (.930 sv %).

Randolph, on the other hand, is coming off a 6-4 win over Immaculate Heart in the first round. The Rams built a 6-1 lead in that game, before giving up three goals late in the third. It is going to have its hands full in this one, if the meeting between these teams on Feb. 14- an 8-0 win for Morristown-Beard- is any indication. It will need big games from Joelle Yurchuk, Anna Stock, and Steph Martin, combined with a big performance in goal from Stephanie Xhumba, in order to pull the upset.

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