Monroe hoops netting big results


There are those who point to the Monroe High School boys basketball team’s 11-1 record going into last night’s home game with J.F. Kennedy and suggest this could end up being a very special year.

Whether or not the Falcons win another game, the players and coaches will carry memories of this season that will last a lifetime.

“I’ve been doing this for 17 years now,” said coach Bob Turco, in his fourth season at Monroe, “and I’ve never been part of something like this. Our players, for lack of a better term, ‘get it.’ Each knows they are part of a special group which can accomplish anything if they play unselfish and put the team ahead of themselves. That’s something we haven’t had to teach. They’ve adopted that attitude.”

That lesson came the hard way. The Falcon players experienced the tragedy of losing former teammate Ryan Walp shortly before the season opened. Walp, while undergoing a harsh treatment of chemotherapy for a form of cancer that severely diminished his strength, continued to be an active member of the team. While Walp graduated in June, he had been close with most current players on the roster and succumbed to the disease in late November.

“The effort Ryan put forth to overcome his disease,” said Turco, “served to inspire us to overcome the adversity teams sometimes face during the course of the season. I think our record speaks of that.”

Monroe will have a return meeting tonight with Colonia, the No. 1 obstacle standing in the way of a Greater Middlesex Conference White Division championship. Earlier this season, the Falcons vaulted out to an 18-point lead in the third period only to see the margin evaporate into a three-point deficit with three minutes to go in the game.

“The kids could have packed it in at that point,” Turco said, “but just like Ryan did as he battled his disease, the kids had the resolve to seize the moment and overcome the adversity of falling behind. We learned a lot about ourselves that night.”

That experience might have been a reason why Monroe overcame Cardinal Mc- Carrick, 64-61, last week. The Eagles have traditionally been one of the best teams in the GMC, and the victory might be a good measuring stick as to where the Falcons stack up with the rest of the county’s best. They will get that opportunity once the GMC Tournament begins next month.

Turco is quick to point out that moving forward, his team’s success will not be measured by wins and losses, but to play with the same desire that has enabled them to establish their record thus far.

From a physical standpoint, desire will continue to be important because the Falcons are usually outsized by their opponents. Brian Rudowitz is a 6-foot-2 junior who is the tallest regular, but what the senior lacks in size he makes up for with heart, often guarding the other team’s biggest player. Rudowitz has developed into a defensive specialist and is averaging two blocks a game.

The two leading offensive players are Steve Blish (6 feet), a senior, averaging 15.6 points a game, while Kenny Pace (6- foot-1), a junior, has become the go-to player, with his average currently at 11.2.

“Kenny has blossomed offensively as the season has progressed,” Turco said. “Teams just can’t concentrate on stopping Blish but have to guard Pace as well.”

The two defensive gems on the floor have been Joe Ruopoli (5-foot-8) and D’Meetri Wilson (5-foot-9), whom Turco calls his lock-down guards.

Turco considers junior Tim Brix, a 6-foot-2 forward, his most valuable player at the mid point in the season because of his aggressive rebounding and ability to “mix it up inside”.

A pair of freshmen, Dan Brix (6-foot) and Ahmid Williams (5-foot-8), along with juniors Tavis Dufner (6-foot-2) and Blake Bascom (5-foot-11) round out the regular rotation.

“During the last couple of years,” said Turco, “we’ve started well out of the gates but kind of hit a roadblock in the middle of the season and lost a couple of games we should have won. I’m confident we won’t duplicate that this year. The rotation is deep enough so that our starters get challenged by our other players in practice. As a result, we have had the opportunity to get better.”

Turco says the school will officially rename the Monroe gym after Ryan Walp during a ceremony on Feb. 12 when Monroe hosts Spotswood. While the new gym at the high school currently under construction will not carry Walp’s name, Turco says that’s not an issue with the team.

“This [the current gym] is where he [Walp] played and where his memory lives,” Turco said.