Surprising CBA exceeding coach’s expectations

Upset of No. 1 St. Patrick


Staff Writer

CBA’s Derek Becker drives around St. Patrick’s Corey Fisher during the Colts’ upset win at the Battle on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park on Jan. 14.  CBA’s Derek Becker drives around St. Patrick’s Corey Fisher during the Colts’ upset win at the Battle on the Boardwalk in Asbury Park on Jan. 14. CBA basketball coach Ed Wicelinski never expected this year’s team to reach the third week of January with only one loss on its ledger.

He didn’t expect the Colts to be ranked No. 3 in the state, either, and he never, ever thought they could beat top-ranked St. Patrick’s.

But, lo and behold, the Colts have accomplished all of the above and then some, much to the surprise of their veteran coach.

In fact, the No. 1-ranked team in the Shore Conference took a sparkling 13-1 record into Tuesday’s home game against Ocean Township.

Then again, you can’t really blame Wicelinski for being just a bit surprised. After all, CBA returned only one starter from last year’s 26-3 team that won another Shore Conference championship and the South Jersey Parochial title before losing in the state finals.

No wonder Wicelinski admits he didn’t expect his team to be where it is right now.

CHRIS KELLY staff CHRIS KELLY staff “Actually, I didn’t really,” the Colts’ 26-year head coach said. “But we’ve played excellent defense and rebounded very well. And we’ve gotten some very balanced scoring, which we needed.

“We had been struggling offensively,” he added. “We had been in the 50s, but lately we had gone up a notch and scored in the 60s, and in our last game we scored 71. So we’re getting better offensively.

“But the key has been defense and rebounding. It always is.”

That was probably never more evident than in CBA’s 53-52 overtime victory against St. Patrick’s a week ago Saturday in the Battle on the Boardwalk at the Asbury Park Convention Center. St. Pat’s was not only ranked No. 1 in the state, but sixth in the country and came in with only one loss.

“They play a very national-like schedule and lost a game in Florida early in the season,” Wicelinski pointed out.

Meanwhile, CBA also came into that game with only one loss, a 56-55 setback to St. Anthony’s of Jersey City in early January. The win over St. Patrick’s upped the Colts’ record to 11-1, and they followed that up with a one-sided victory over Howell last Tuesday, and then beat Freehold Township 71-62 last Friday.

“They [Freehold Township] are one of the better teams in the Shore Conference, too,” Wicelinski noted.

But while CBA returned only one starter from last year, it helps that it was Dan Werner, the Colts’ talented senior forward who scored his 1,000th career point in the Jan. 17 win over Howell. The North Carolina State-bound Werner is regarded by many as the most complete player in the state.

“I think so,” Wicelinski said. “I’m a little prejudiced, but other people are starting to appreciate him.”

And with Werner leading the way, CBA has taken its usual place among the state’s elite teams. The Colts, a perennial power, won the Parochial state championship in 1995 while advancing to the state finals in 2000 and again last season.

“But this is a different team,” Wicelinski insisted. “We have only one starter returning, and that’s Dan, and only two or three other players who got some experience last year.”

One of those players is senior center Tim Andree, who came off the bench a year ago and “played some crunch time,” according to Wicelinski.

Craig Woehnker, a senior forward, and junior guard Spencer Van Wagoner also came off the bench last season, but “played sporadically,” Wicelinski said.

“We really came into the season with very little varsity experience,” the veteran coach added, “and I probably booked one of the toughest schedules in years. So where we are right now is a surprise.”

Andree, Woehnker and Van Wagoner have all joined Werner in the Colts’ starting lineup this season, while the fifth starter is junior point guard Derek Becker, a member of last year’s undefeated junior varsity squad.

“That team was comprised primarily of guards, and four of them have come up and are our core guards this season,” Wicelinski said.

Besides Becker and Van Wagoner, sophomore Michael Kuhn and junior Willie Grier have also seen time in the backcourt for CBA.

“We thought that since our guards had so little experience, we would struggle a little, and we have,” Wicelinski said. “But we’ve won because of our defense and rebounding. They’ve been excellent.

“That’s kept us in any close games and given us the opportunity to win those close games. And hopefully it’s given us the experience now to win down the stretch and come playoff time.”

And with that experience, the Colts are suddenly a team than can go 10-deep.

Junior forward Matt Higgins “has also given us some valuable time off the bench,” Wicelinski said, while seniors John Haspilaire and Sean Light “also come off the bench to help.”

“I really thought we’d be sitting at this point of the season with five or six losses,” Wicelinski said. “But we have only one loss and that was by one point; so, we’ve done well.”

The Colts are still ranked No. 3 in the state but have since passed St. Patrick’s.

“After they lost to us, they lost their next game, also by one point, to Rice High School of New York City,” Wicelinski said. “So now they’ve slipped below us in the state rankings — unfairly, probably.”

Wicelinski hopes the Colts keep surprising him and the rest of the state, but he knows there’s still a lot of season left.

“We still have to play the second round of our conference games,” he said. “We play everyone a second time and the Freehold Township game began the second round. We also have a couple of nonleague games, including one against Chester, Pa., which is a traditionally nationally ranked team, and then we have the playoffs.

“But beating St. Patrick’s definitely gives us the confidence that we can play with almost anyone.”