Long Time Dunellen Head Coach Looks To Turn the Rams Fortunes
|Newly hired Wardlaw-Hartridge boys basketball head coach, Bernie Buniak, pictured at the far left, prepares for the Rams opening round matchup against David Brearley at the 2018 Hopatcong Holiday Tourney on December 26th.|
NORTH EDISON, NJ—Another coaching change that took place during the off-season was the hiring of Bernie Buniak to coach the varsity boys basketball program at Wardlaw-Hartridge. Buniak, who had been the head coach at Dunellen High School, another GMC Gold school for 10 seasons from the 2005-06 campaign to the end of the 2014-15 season.
Prior to taking the head coaching position at Wardlaw, Buniak, who also had coaching stops at Roselle Park and Rahway in his career, served as an assistant to Justin Salton at Watchung Hills in the 2017-18 season. The Warriors, led by standout player and 1,000 point scorer, Dan Pilsbury (1,223 points according to NJ.com), defeated Spotswood in the Championship Game of the 2017 Bound Brook Crusader Classic.
Pilsbury ended up becoming the school’s all time leading scorer in a 64-53 victory over Mendham on Feburary 17, 2018 while the Warriors ended up 20-8 after losing to eventual North Jersey Section 2 Group 4 Champion, Newark Eastside (67-44) in the quarterfinals on March 1, 2018. Buniak built an impressive resume at Dunellen with 6 GMC Gold Division titles during his tenure with the Destroyers.
In addition, Buniak, guided the Destroyers to two North Jersey Section 2 Group I semifinal appearances in 2006 and 2013. In 2006, Dunellen lost to Newark Science in the N2 Group I semis, and in 2013, the Destroyers fell to eventual sectional champ, and state finalist, Jonathan Dayton of Springfield. He also coached two 1,000 point scorers in Dylan Hoski (1,128 points) and the school’s all time leading scorer David Johnson (1,350 points), who is now a senior at Division 2 Kutztown University of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
Buniak, who compiled a 155-101 record in his 10 seasons coaching the Destroyers, took a Dunellen program that was showing signs of success under previous coach, Steve Kania including a share of the GMC Gold crown in 2004-05, and took it to another level while playing tougher schedules that included a number of big schools in the GMC like Sayreville, Spotswood, South Brunswick, Monroe, and Carteret to name a few, and outside the GMC as well. Buniak recorded huge non-conference wins at Dunellen against Roselle Catholic in 2008 (55-50) and Westfield in 2012 (60-55).
Both of those non-conference wins came at the Bernoskie Games at Rahway High School. The victory over Westfield, a Group 4 school from the Union County Conference was particularly special since it came on the heels of a very emotional win over Timothy Christian the night before. In the 45-43 victory at Timothy Christian, the Destroyers knocked off the Tigers, and derailed their GMC Gold Division title hopes when Deon Brown knocked in a shot from half court as time expired. TCS had just knocked off Piscataway Tech the week before at P-Way Tech to put itself in the driver’s seat for the division crown.
The win over Roselle Catholic in February 2008 was also quite special too. In the 2007-08 campaign, Dunellen started off slow with 5 losses in its first 6 games and was 2-6 at one point before winning 10 of 12 capped by the win over RC at Rahway. The win and the hot streak put the Destroyers in position to play South Amboy for the Gold Division championship in South Amboy on February 5, 2008. Dunellen, which had the likes of 2008 GMC Hoops Comeback Player of the Year, Jim Schleppenbach, Jonard Hall (played at Brookdale College), Reggie Thorpe, Rontik Sadler, and current DHS assistant coach, Matt Cianfrone, had a 7 point lead over South Amboy with 1:34 remaining in regulation when the Guvs rallied back and won at the buzzer on a three pointer by Mark Simko to claim the school’s only GMC division championship in boys basketball.
Buniak takes over a Wardlaw program that joined the GMC in the 2010-11 season, but has yet to enjoy much success on the boys basketball court. Despite having a 1,000 point scorer in Justen Davis (1,271 points), who graduated in 2013, the Rams have been in the bottom half of the Gold for its entire time in the conference. Last year, Wardlaw only went 4-19. The previous year, the Rams were only 4-16, and have only been 46-132 since joining the conference eight seasons ago. However, this year’s Rams squad is showing promise under Buniak’s guidance.
So far this season, Wardlaw has only gone 2-5, but has been much more competitive in its losses. Three of the Rams five defeats have come by 7 points or less including a last second loss to David Brearley (41-40) of Kenilworth in the opening round of the 2018 Hopatcong Holiday Tourney, and a four point loss to Central Jersey College Charter (51-47) in the consolation game. Although Wardlaw lost solid scorer, Shalon Wallace from a year ago, it still has sharpshooter Ryan Petela and a talented newcomer in Alvari Myha.
The Rams are coming off a six point win at Calvary Christian on Friday evening, which snapped a five game losing streak. Petela leads the team in scoring with 23.1 points per game while Myha has chipped in with a 16 ppg average. Formerly a member of the Patriot Conference, Wardlaw-Hartridge is a very proud academic institution. A prep school that used to compete with the likes of Gill St. Bernard’s, Rutgers Prep, Ranney, and Pennington among others, prides itself on developing well rounded individuals built to succeed in today’s challenging world.
On a personal note, I’m very happy to see Bernie Buniak back in the GMC. He and Bob Turco, who is back in the league coaching at Bishop Ahr, are both solid coaches and great competitors that have built great track records in the Greater Middlesex Conference over the years. In addition, Buniak is a coach that will adjust his strategy to his talent, and still try to find a way to make the talent competitive even if it doesn’t appear to be so on paper.